Winter Solstice Victory ride at Live Oak
By Pat Fish
The view we love, looking out from the Live Oak trail toward Lake Cachuma on the horizon.
The Horse and Mule Trail Riders in the 805 MeetUp was proud to organize a Winter Solstice celebratory ride to commemorate the recent judicial decision to return the Live Oak trails to EQUESTRIANS ONLY !
I did my part by drawing the logo above, and a small and persistent group of riders never gave up on turning back the agenda of the bureaucrats who wanted to open the trails to bikes. It will now remain the ONLY trail system in all of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties dedicated to use exclusively by equestrians.
Anderle, by far the most experienced Santa Barbara judge when it comes to environmental law, shredded the county’s argument that the project was exempt from environmental analysis because it fell within the purview of a major planning document on Lake Cachuma and its environs authored 12 years ago.
Anderle took pains to praise the legal briefs filed by both sides over a dispute that he characterized as having been contentious and acrimonious. If anything, he understated the heat of the battle. Last January, county planners issued what’s known as a “Notice of Exemption,” meaning that the project — opening up the trail to multiple uses — would not be subject to an EIR. If anyone objected, the county argued, they had 35 days to act.
Anderle mocked county arguments that the pertinent documents had been posted on a clipboard and placed on a table that was visible from the front door of the Administration Building. “The public’s right to challenge an action … cannot depend on their ability to peer through a glass door to read a clipboard lying flat on a table,” the judge ruled.
For equestrians the issue is simple. In two entire counties this is the ONLY tiny trail system that we can ride without fear of being run down or smashed into by mountain bikes. When the "Pilot Project" was announced it was under the guise of an equity and inclusion agenda, saying everyone should be able to have access to all trails. But bikes can go on every other trail, many of which have now become simply too dangerous for equestrian use.
Today we rode out with a Grandfather who was patiently and carefully teaching his tiny Grandson to ride. He had a lead rope running over to the second horse, and his Grandson was a brave lad and obviously determined to live up to expectations.
But it turns out they'd been out riding the day before, and sometimes the tiny cowboy needed to get off and walk. Anyone who has experienced sore muscles from riding can be empathetic.
Now, imagine a mountain biker with headphones in their ears blasting death metal careening at top speed around that corner, potentially spooking the horses and running over the boy. It is to prevent such dangerous "conflicts among trail users" that a very persistent group of us have been giving testimony at zoom meetings and in person. And for now, we have success.
And little Jameson never quit, although sometimes he got so slow walking that his Grandpa would hoist him back up in the saddle so they could keep up with the group.
The biggest change in Live Oak over the past decade is the death of such a large number of the venerable oaks. Ones like this that mark crossroads are struggling, and out on the plateau many are collapsing. We stick to the trails and tread lightly on the land.
It is my tradition to take portraits of everyone at the first overlook from which we observe Lake Cachuma.
Here first are today's very special riders: Grandpa Terry Brown on Sweetheart the Halflinger and Grandson Jameson Dzamba on Sneak the sorrel Quarterhorse.
CC Beaudette-Wellman on Woody the senior Quarterhorse/Paint
Jamie Buse on Mosca the Appendix Thoroughbred
and of course your author, Pat Fish on Tobe the Rocky Mountain mule
From there we proceeded on the winding trail down to the plateau.
Looking out inland you see pure California, no one home except some cows belonging to the Rancho San Fernando Rey and the wild creatures. As we slowly move by at 2.3mph the calm expanse of landscape leading up to the horizon refreshes the soul.
This sentinel stump marks a fork in the trail, leading off to the left to the riverside or to the right to the larger plateau. In the decades I have been riding here this hollow standing trunk gets smaller every year, among so many ghosts of trees I never knew.
The trail leads out onto this large open area, where we often see the resident cattle and bucking horses.
Today Tobe and Jamie both riveted on movement in the distance, close to the lake edge
a herd of deer, always such a please to observe, unconcerned about us this far away.
We chose to go only as far as an intersection where sometimes we continue on, committing to a 10 mile ride. But today since none of us, including the animals, were sufficiently "legged up" we opted to turn around at the 3 mile point.
Much better to ride frequently than to try for an endurance goal. Good companionship and safety are always the paramount concerns.
As soon as we turn back toward the starting point all the animals get a spring in their step. Until that moment they've been conserving their energy, not knowing what they'd be asked to do.
After years of trails together Tobe and Mosca and Woody are very much at ease on forays into the woods.
So we amble along, careful to avoid ground squirrel holes in the dirt, recognizing familiar landmarks from previous rides.
It seems as if in just the time from one ride and the next more oaks are dead. The man who runs the cattle and horses here tells me he is very busy repairing the border fences, where falling limbs and trees have crashed down on sections of fence. He also said he's been amazed at the number of times he's found gates wide open or "closed" in such a way that was very ineffectual. Before hikers were allowed on the land horse riders did not stray onto the Rancho San Fernando Rey land, but now he knows people are going through the gates because of the "creative" ways they attempt to close the gates behind them. First rule of a cowboy: leave a gate like you found it.
Sometimes vultures take notice of us and circle hopefully above.
We are unperturbed. Bad enough when we descend back into the City we will have to deal with politics and pandemics. Out here we respect the laws of nature, and we are just visitors and behave with respect.
Directly ahead is the gate to the Chalk Hill, a steep descent, and we opted not to do it in consideration of Woody, who is 26 years old and deserves to go slow and get lots of cookies and not strain himself. We took the long way around, back the way we had come.
One last look out at the lake, and then it is onward to the parking area and then home. It is very visibly low now, with a "bath tub ring" on the cliffs on the sides. But more rain is coming, and we can always hope the drought will break.
Just a few years ago this view toward the South-East would have been obscured by a stand of ancient oaks. They are all reduced to dead logs now, a reminder of the fugitive beauty of all things.
Back down a slope I always think of as Bobcat Alley, remembering a magical afternoon when I was privileged to sit and watch a beautiful bobcat pouncing on mice or ground squirrels here.
One of the last turns of the trail, looking out across the now abandoned golf course and the 154 to the coastal mountain range beyond.
And a look up into the Live Oak Camp, that equestrians dream could become a world-class attraction bringing horse and mule riders from all over. Managed on the same paradigm as the Montana de Oro horse camps, which are reserved well in advance all year round, it could be a significant income source for the County and a boost to tourism in the Santa Ynez Valley and Santa Barbara. At present it is only rented for big weekend festivals like Lucidity and Reggae on the Mountain, and a few weddings, but with proper planning and the addition of pole paddocks on campsites it could be a big draw. IF, of course, it remains equestrian only.
A girl can hope! And meanwhile I will be riding here as often as possible and thinking positively that our jewel of a trail system will remain safe and serene.
So the organized horse and mule riders will be monitoring the Government activity, to see if they decide to spend tax dollars on an entire new EIR just to give bikers this last trail, or will they say leave well enough alone, keep it as it always has been.
Dec 26, 2022 04:15 PM
I understand keeping bikes off these trails, but why not allow hikers? They travel at speeds similar to equestrians and do less damage to the environment.
Dec 26, 2022 08:37 PM
Yeah, why can’t you deal with hikers??
Dec 27, 2022 05:35 AM
During the "Pilot Program" the hikers have not turned out to be as much of a problem as we feared. They have cut new trails and left trash, and left gates open or latches broken when they trespassed onto the Rancho San Fernando Rey land. And a hunter shot a deer at the first river crossing claiming that opening it to hikers meant he had hunting rights. The issue at stake now is that the property was created with the specific covenant to remain equestrian only, and the Government decided without any study to open it up. The Judge wisely ruled that if you are going to change things you need to do an EIR, and that is a long and involved process that allows for public input and study of many factors. I think there are a lot more important things that the Government could be doing with our tax dollars than spend the funds to study the impact of opening up the ONLY equestrian-only acres to others. EVERY other trail is open to hikers and bikers. Enough.
Dec 27, 2022 07:34 AM
"In two entire counties this is the ONLY tiny trail system that we can ride without fear of being run down or smashed into by mountain bikes." - Live Oak might be the only TINY trail system without mtn bikes but don't forget about the VERY LARGE system of Wilderness trails you can ride within the Los Padres where mtn bikes are also not allowed. Check out NIRA, both directions of the Manzana are really nice or Piedra Blanca and head downstream on the Sespe.
Dec 27, 2022 12:32 PM
Making this trail equestrian-only really smacks of elitism.
Does this mean that equestrians will no longer use trails in the Santa Barbara front country? Equestrians are a real danger to hikers on those steep, narrow trails.
Dec 27, 2022 03:19 PM
When i used to visit here in the last century, horses from the Hope Ranch riding arena off of Modoc Rd - by the soon to be lumbered Palm Trees - could ride to the beach at Hendry's.
There was even a sign at the La Cumbre overpass to show the way. ie "Horse Trai"l. Or i think they rode down the Las Positas Park maintenance road that ran along the creek bank after taking a cut that ran past the Golf Course turn off and down past the King Kong Wall.
But after a big rain during 1980s?, the trail got washed away in places. and also wiped a
out a few hobo camps.
or the City not do much maintenance on the trails as shrubs grow and trees fall on the
old cow paths. Even the piece of concrete that had the "1973" construction date got washed out..
So maybe the Mule Only Rule is compensation for the old lost horse trails in the city?
Dec 27, 2022 03:50 PM
Unfortunately, most mountain-bike riders often completely ignore any "off-limits" signs and simply ride wherever they want. I know that we used to pretty much disregard any signs that said that bikes were not allowed. Once in a while we'd come across some folks riding horses, but for the most part they were pretty cool and didn't shame us. A couple of times we were stopped by Fish & Game and once by a Country Sheriff. Each time we lied and claimed not to know what we were doing was wrong, and they just simply let us go with a warning. I now realize that we were a potential danger to those riders, especially those who didn't know how to handle their horses (maybe some of them were riding donkeys...don't remember). Anyway, for some reason people, especially younger folks, like to break/bend the rules, and that's not going to change anytime soon. Always fun to recall the gool 'ol days when there weren't so many rules!
Dec 28, 2022 06:53 PM
Baby - "most mountain-bikers"? That is complete fiction and stereotyping. Just because you and your friends were irresponsible and lying trail users doesn't mean other mtn bikers are. I know a ton of mtn bikers (many of whom are also hikers and backpackers) who all abide by the rules and are responsible trail users. None of them would ever think about riding where it's not allowed (e.g. Rattlesnake trail).
And none of them fit the stereotype Pat Fish is selling either. We all know the yielding rules, use bells, don't ride when it's muddy, don't ride recklessly, don't use earbuds while riding, etc.
There will always be bad actors in any population of trail users, and some locales may be better than others, but pushing stereotypes as fact does not help land management discussions.
Dec 29, 2022 11:29 AM
EastBeach: Apples and Oranges. I am with Pat Fish and all for equestrian-only trails, which provide much-needed safety for the riders and the animals. It's dangerous enough "out there" without cyclists flying by at high speeds. Animals can get confused and will do some crazy things like bolt, rear-up, or roll over.....very dangerous. The story that I related in my comment about our rebel krew of krazy-kray cyclists back in the 80s has no bearing on today's genteel riders. Most of us only had one-speed beater beach cruisers (I had a Bendix two-speed kick-back hub), no helmets, no shin guards, no front or rear suspension....we were the real deal-e-Oh. Today's riders are quite the opposite: $2/3/4 thousand-dollar-plus bikes, full suspension, full-face moto-X helmets, shin guards, 21-speeds or more, hyper-shifters, chest protectors, and of course the obligatory, but unnecessary, color-coordinated neckerchief (ascot...Oh Lord!). Times are different now for off-road cycling than in the past, which makes things safer for everyone. Thank goodness for this. Back "then", we would never take a ride without a $15 lid of cheap leaf weed and multiple 12-packs of Lucky Lager (11 oz. bottles) from Fazio's (I think that's what it was called....now Gelson's at State/Las Positas). People these days have to be reminded that YOLO, where some of us used to actually live free and wild and stupid. Oh my, we would be condemned by today's standards, and rightfully so. Good for those who are shiny rule-following conformist apples and not dirty rotten oranges of yesteryear ("you shudda been here yesterday!") like those of us who did not need to be told YOLO, which comes at a cost (RIP Kim , Tom , Chris , and Mike ).