Santa Maria Sun / Sports Lead
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 15, Issue 15
Vino Vaqueros combines wine and horseback riding
By KRISTINA SEWELL
I’ve never been a cowgirl, or spent time on a farm or ranch, for that matter. I spent my time reading books and playing softball. But having grown up in a rural area that smells of farms, cow dung, and ocean air, there is a little country in me that comes out every now and then. This happens mostly during county fair season and when I’m on a horse.
I’ve been riding maybe four times in my life—the local beaches, Hawaii, and Zion National Park in Utah. While each of these experiences was memorable, the rides themselves were often crowded and very long, and we spent more time waiting than we did riding. Because of this, I missed out on experiencing a connection with horses—the feeling of being bonded with such an ancient and majestic creature.
Last week, I got the itch to hop on a horse. Sports are winding down for the high schools, and I was looking for a good summer activity to write about. With horses in mind, I turned my eye toward the Santa Ynez Valley, which is known for many things, among them wine, quaint charm, fabulous food, and beautiful horses.
Browsing the Internet, I came across Vino Vaqueros—a mom-and-pop business operating out of Estelle Vineyards. Intrigued by the “vino” part of the name, and eager to see what they had to offer, I made easy arrangements for a ride.
Shit-kickers on our feet and brimming with excitement, fellow-partner-in-crime/Staff Writer Camillia Lanham and I made our way to the valley earlier this month.
Set back 4 miles on Roblar Road, the horse ranch rises up out of the green vineyards. Driving up the tree-lined drive, we spotted the long white barn to the right—but the objects of our fascination were grazing lazily in the pasture to our left.
Horses of different sizes and colors stared curiously at our car as we drove up. I couldn’t help but smile in awe at how these creatures have survived on this earth for thousands of years.
Stepping out of the car, we could smell the dusty wind that carried with it a faint smell of hay and horse manure—a wonderful smell if you can appreciate it.
There were three horses saddled and waiting when our guide walked up to greet us. Belt buckle in place, the slight and bright-eyed woman introduced herself as Jaye Ganibi, co-owner of Vino Vaqueros.
Ganibi and her husband, Peter, opened their business in 2009. Peter—a life-long horse enthusiast and former polo player—worked with his wife to come up with the idea for Vino Vaqueros. They currently operate with three experienced guides in addition to Ganibi herself. They set out wanting to make horseback riding more personal for their guests.
“No one locally really does trail rides and all are very group oriented,” Ganibi said. “We wanted to tie in the wine and vineyards.”
Having a solid working relationship with Estelle, Firestone, and Fess Parker vineyards, Vino Vaqueros helps support local businesses by offering a variety of ride-and-wine or ride-and-dine packages from which to choose. Each of the packages includes a 90-minute ride through one of the three vineyards and a post-ride glass of wine.
But what the Ganibi family prides itself on are smaller, more exclusive rides.
“We want it to be a small, boutique family atmosphere,” Ganibi said. “We want people to come and feel like they are a part of this place.”
The amiable and exuberant mother of two said they keep eight horses in rotation; the horses don’t endure more than three rides a day. Many of the rides offered only allow eight riders maximum, while other establishments often lead rides with 30 riders or more.
After this brief run down of business, she introduced us to our waiting horses. I rode the sturdy Gravy, a smaller white horse with milk-chocolate paint spots. Ganibi rode the bigger bay horse, Chris, while Camilia was paired with the tall, dark, and handsome Wyatt Earp.
Ganibi took time to introduce us to our horses, explaining that she likes to know a little bit about riders so she can pair them with the right horse based on personality, experience, and size.
“I want to make sure people are comfortable, and matching the horse properly is important,” she said.
We slung ourselves into the saddles and headed for the trail that winds through a portion of the 1,001 acres. The trail was relatively flat and climbed slowly along a ridge. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and a slight breeze warded off the heat of the sun; the family dogs trotted along behind us.
With just three of us on the ride, the chitchat was sporadic as we took in the sweet smell of chaparral tinged with the leather of the saddles.
The only sound came from the clop of hooves on the rocky path.
Large oak trees dotted the land while miniature mesas popped up here and there, where we could stop the horses to take in the panoramic views of the valley. Vineyards, fields, and barns dotted the landscape in every direction.
The horses Ganibi chose for us were perfect—Gravy was easy to ride with his bouncy gait, while Wyatt seemed to match Camilia’s spunky attitude.
As we paused at one of Ganibi’s favorite viewpoints, she said there’s nothing like being on a horse.
“I’ve only been riding for 10 years, but I’m blown away by how beautiful everything is,” she said. “It’s a lot of work, but I have the best job in the world.”
Ganibi said she loves the horses, riding, and meeting people from all walks of life. Customer service is her passion, which was clear to see with her attention to comfort and detail.
The last part of the ride took us through the vineyards, where Gravy managed to snag a vine of grapes despite my pulling and protesting. Once we arrived back at the ranch, we had a chance to unwind with a generous glass of Firestone wine inside the rustic barn.
All in all, it was a great day to be a journalist.
I finally experienced the horse riding adventure I was looking for. Being on the horse brought a sense of peace and relaxation; my mind was free to think while the horse did the work. This adventure made me realize that some of the appeal of horses comes from their ability to connect us with elements of grace, spirit, and beauty we rarely get to experience in the modern world.
Vino Vaqueros provides a fantastic experience, and the Ganibis strive to provide a safe, personal, and memorable horseback riding experience while highlighting some of the best of what the Central Coast has to offer.
Check them out at vinovaqueros.com.
Staff writer Kristina Sewell might want a horse more than children. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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