By Pat Fish
A fine day to take a leisurely stroll with the MeetUp through our favorite Live Oak trails bordering Lake Cachuma, the jewel of local riding opportunities.
Five riders, 3 lady equestrians and 2 cowboys, 4 horses and 1 mule.
People who visit the cities of California just don’t know how much of the landscape is like this, no one home all the way to the horizon except the wild things and a few cows and horses. And for us in Santa Barbara, access is just half an hour away.
I did let out an audible gasp when we turned a corner in the trail and I saw that this tree at the bend in the trail had collapsed.
This is a photo I took in April 2018, when grass was lush and the tree was a perfect frame for the mist shrouded waters beyond.
The lake makes rides here so special, as we track along the sides of the hills and then loop back around to have a view of it.
When we get to a special vantage point with Cachuma in the distance I always like to take portraits of my riding companions, to gift them in thanks for being good company on the trail with me.
Noe Pena Alvarez is our very special compadre, riding his stallion Marcos.
Jamie Buse on her racehorse Mosca is my most dependable sidekick.
Victor Hernandez is a pal of Noe’s, riding the borrowed Hurache.
And Christina Hernandez bravely set out for her third trail ride ever on the borrowed and very gentle Mariposa.
We tracked through the forest trails, descending 600 feet to the lake level and the wide plateau.
Directly past the coastal range is the ocean, but you’d never know it back here where in the heat it felt like we were exploring the Serengeti.
And there, at the edge of the plateau, what do we see?
Jamie always has an eagle’s eye, and not only called our attention to the bucking horses but also to the coyote who was hunting in the grassland near them.
These are horses that don’t want to be ridden. So instead they live a wild life here, and are gathered up and taken to rodeos where they put on a lively show bucking off the brave cowboys who do their best to hang on ’til the bell.
They look mild mannered and peaceful, but don’t let it fool you. They’ve been selectively bred for generations to buck-a-roo !
Horses like Marcos are also the product of selective breeding, but in his case the goal is to produce a magnificent war horse with energy and beauty. His mother is Mariposa, an Azteca, but his father was a full Andalusian stallion so he has 3/4 of the good looks and firey attitude of the Spanish horses.
Mariposa is a Mexican rodeo Azteca, meaning she is half quarterhorse and half Andalusian, and is the proud mama to Marcos. She definitely knows her job. She recently taught her owner’s son Chewy to ride, and so she was chosen for Christina because she’s a reliable ride.
And then there’s Huarache, a quarterhorse who was taught to do the Mexican Dancing Horse routine for parades and it stuck. So poor Victor went bouncing down the trail all afternoon. I counted, and Huarache took twice as many steps as Tobe mule did to get to the same place, with a little jounce with every step.
And then, of course, Tobe the hybrid whose mother was a Rocky Mountain mare and his daddy was a Mammoth Jack Donkey. He is gaited, so his ride is extra smooth, and he has a brain more like a donkey so he takes it all in stride. A most sensible fellow.
The Santa Ynez Valley Riders recently donated some picnic tables under oaks out on the plateau, so we diverted from the trail to check them out.
Unfortunately either the bucking horses or the resident deer have begun munching on the boards.
At this point Christina, who was being a good sport but was nevertheless quite the tenderfoot, decided she needed a break. So she utilized the picnic table to rest and hydrate and eat some candy, and we all agreed to head back to the starting point.
It was sad to see how many of the oaks next to the ones shading us were dead now. They live for hundreds of years, but in the past decade that I have been riding here regularly I have seen so many of them fail.
While we took the break I decided I’d photograph the saddles in use because they were so different in style.
First this fancy white Mexican style saddle that sets off Mariposa’s dark coloring perfectly.
Another in Mexican style with red accents to complement Marcos’s white color (when he does not have trail dust on him.)
And a third in Mexican style with the massive horn and fancy tooling for Hourache.
Mosca is sporting the ultimate in cowboy practicality, a very simple Californio working ranch saddle.
Tobe always has a spring in his step when we turn around. All equines like to think they are headed back to get the tack off and stand in the shade with some hay and carrots as their reward for work well done.
But there they were again
Some even followed alongside us the length of the wide grassland, perhaps curious about what we were doing there.
I drew this logo last year for the coordinated effort to save these trails, and we persevere in our efforts to keep them safe.