California Dreaming

By Kathy Satterfield 

When someone says California, what are your first thoughts?  Is it sun-kissed beaches, palm trees, the wineries of Temecula and Napa, or is it Hollywood?  Yet here in California, according to the American Horse Council, there are 698,000 horses, with over 70 percent being involved in showing and recreational activities.  There is an entire city in Southern California, the small town of Norco, also known as Horse Town USA, which claims to be the Horse Capitol of America and is largely dedicated to the equine lifestyle.

Horse Events
Besides having lots of horses, California is also know for great weather.  Because of that ideal climate, California has year round horse events in all sizes of towns and cities; Rancho California, San Diego, Indio, Santa Barbara, and Sacramento are just a few.  With all the equine events, the question becomes which fun events can we squeeze into our schedule and which new events will we get to see this year?
All across California, North, South, East and West equine related events are taking place; horse shows, rodeo’,  show jumping, endurance riding, reining, vaulting, racing, mounted shooting, trail riding, western pleasure, ranch sorting, scurry driving and races abound from small arenas hosting a gymkhana event  to National and International competition in every genre you can imagine.

 I have cataloged a few events below, some are celebrating anniversary years, and all are fun events to attend with friends and family.
Just north of sunny San Diego, the Del Mar National Horse Show celebrates their 70th year, from April 16th to May 3rd.  At this three week event you can see almost every breed of horse and discipline in the horse world; from Hunter Jumper, Dressage, Western Pleasure, Reining to Barrel Racing.  The venue is breathtaking with its historic buildings, its close proximity to the beach,  perfect weather and gorgeous grounds.    
Heading north to the Capitol of California, Sacramento, you will find the Sacramento International Horse Show. Held at the Murieta Equestrian Center in Rancho Murieta this show is one of Northern California’s premiere equestrian events and takes place this year September 22-27, 2015. This gorgeous facility features four indoor arenas,  thirteen outdoor arenas with bleacher seating to accommodate 3,000 spectators. The show attracts sell-out crowds for the Grand Prix and other special events. Riders on the international circuit regularly attend the Sacramento International on their way to qualifying for the World Cup and Thermal Million.

Growing up on a ranch in California, we participated in local horse shows and gymkhanas, but it was the thrill of Rodeo that captured our family’s passion. My father and brothers were team ropers, calf ropers or bull riders while I liked to barrel race.  Rodeo made for great family time as we cheered each other on to perform at our best.  Throughout the year, in every California County, there is a Rodeo of some kind to attend.  In cities like, Oakdale, Brawley, Livermore, Redding and Potter Valley, you will find an annual Rodeo Weekend. We have chosen four rodeos in the state to highlight.  Each one has their own tradition, style and purpose.

July 16-19, 2105, marks the  105th year for California Rodeo Salinas, the largest rodeo in California.  California Rodeo Salinas is one of the top 20 Professional Rodeos in the United States. They are known the rodeo world for their big arena, beautiful buckles, and for being a non-profit organization that gives back over $350,000.00 each year to local non-profits. Besides the rodeo, Miss California Rodeo Salinas will be crowned, Cowboy Poetry will be performed, a concert by Aerosmith this year will rock Salinas Sports Complex with their Blue Army Tour, a fun time is to be had at the Family Carnival, Cowboy Golf Shoot Out, Mutton Busting, and Hall of Fame Inductions. Every day of Rodeo week brings a new adventure in Salinas.

For over 90 years the city of Santa Barbara has held the Santa Barbara Fiesta Stock Horse Show and Rodeo. The Fiesta Stock Horse Show was once a Saturday afternoon only event dating back to 1924.  It involved showing stock horses, some cattle work, and roping. During the early  fiestas, a “competencia de vaqueros” was the highlight of the festivities.

Cowboys from surrounding ranches came to town to show off their roping and riding skills and the young horses they were training.  Rancher J.J. Hollister sponsored a handmade saddle to the winner of the stock horse class as a way to encourage the development of superior cow working horses.  The main endeavor of the Fiesta celebration is to bring to town the cowboys from the many local ranches in the Tri-Counties.  You must live within the Tri-Counties of San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara or Ventura to be eligible to compete. The objective being to get local amateur horsemen competing among themselves to see who has the best horse, or is the best roper, brander, etc.

Traveling a  little farther south from Santa Barbara, in a town known as Horse Town USA, Norco Horse Week arrives every April beginning with Easter Sunrise Services this year on April 5th.  Then, on April 17th, the Extreme Ranch Rodeo begins, with events continues through April 26th. Every rodeo performance you will see Drill Teams perform, Bull Riding and Team Roping.  Enjoy the culinary delight of the food truck festivals, watch the skillful team sorting,  or participate in the fun poker ride.  This will be their 47th year celebrating the horse in a town that has more horses than human residents.
Bishop Mule Days happens every Memorial Day weekend since 1969.  The town of Bishop is nestled on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and comes alive with the annual presentation of Mule Days. The outfitters and packers of the region wanted an event to start off the packing season and the businessmen wanted to draw vacationers to the Owens Valley. What began as an informal gathering and a test of skills has grown into a fun filled, world class event.
These four events are each different, yet the same, each one celebrating the Horse, Cowboy’s and Cowgirl’s and the Ranch lifestyle.  Plan for a fun time and you won’t be disappointed.

If rodeos aren’t your thing and horse shows don’t fit your schedule you can find your particular genre such as Cutting/Reining Horses, Team Penning, Roping, Western Pleasure, Extreme Trail Events, Barrel Racing, Dressage, Ranch Rodeo’s, ….or by a particular horse breed such as, Quarter Horse, Paint Horse, Arabian Horse, Miniature Horse… oh my the list is long; there is an event somewhere in the state for almost every horse lover’s interest; to delight the audience, to participate in as a contestant or stir the desire to enter into the amazing horse lifestyle.

All this to say that horses are a big deal in California! If rodeos and horseshows don’t peak your interest then maybe Horse Camping and Trail Riding will. California is home to expansive redwood forests, arid deserts such as Death Valley, long stretches of coastal countryside and mountain ranges including Cascade Mountains, Tehachapi Mountains and the Sierra Nevada’s. This all makes for excellent horseback riding.
 For several years my father, brothers and a few other cowboys would ride up to Kennedy Meadows, high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Sequoia National Forest, packing in with horses or mules for a week near the South Fork of the Kern River. It has made for great fishing and bear stories for many years now.

California offers the perfect climate to saddle up and ride over grasslands, along mountain trails or ocean beaches.  More than 270 state parks, ranging from redwood forests to deserts dunes, are managed by the California Department of Parks and Recreation.  Spanning 1.4 million acres of recreational lands, California’s state parks feature 15,000 camp sites and 3,000 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails. Reserve a site at one of several campgrounds with horse trails and spend the day taking in the scenery with your favorite equine friend.

We found several State campgrounds that  offer horse tie-up areas, water, stalls, corrals, and toilets; not every park has amenities such as water, so come prepared with water for your animals.
Beach Campgrounds are fun to explore and can be done almost year around in California.  At Half Moon Bay State Beach,  between Roosevelt and Francis Beach, you can ride a three mile costal horse trail. At Russian Gulch State Park near Mendocino, you can see the Devil’s Punchbowl cave and stroll along nearly a mile and a half of Pacific shoreline.
Folsom Lake State Recreation Area has 80 miles of horse trails, including the three-mile stretch between Rattlesnake and Horseshoe bars where gold was often found by miners. Millerton Lake State Park in the San Joaquin Valley has horse campgrounds and trails located near 40 miles of lakefront shoreline.

Head south to Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, which is 50 miles east of San Diego, and you will find over 100 miles of trails, oak woodland forest, a few pines trees and meadows with creeks.
Chino Hills State Park offers Mountain Valley campgrounds and is 40 miles east of Los Angeles, with 14,102 acres to horseback ride on over 65 miles of trails. This park spans the Santa Ana Canyon and features valleys, wooded areas, ridge tops and scrub land.  It was here at Chino Hills State Park that our family would go on an annual trail ride and BBQ for several years…so many great memories with family are with our horses.

At California’s largest state park, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park you will find 500  miles of dirt roads and 12 wilderness areas. Numerous equestrian trails traverse the Coyote Canyon area.  Horses are permitted on all of the park’s primitive roads.
Just 80 miles east of Bakersfield is Red Rock Canyon State Park. Horses are allowed on all the park’s roads, which wind through rock formations and near scenic desert cliffs.

Maybe this all sounds very intriguing; you love horses, but don’t own one yet. Well here is an option to consider. There are many private guest ranches, dude ranches, and stables that dot the landscape of California where you can bring your own horse or rent one of theirs.

California has many guest/dude ranches to choose from; Rancho Oso Guest Ranch and Stable is located in the Los Padres National Forest near Santa Barbara. Here you have all the creature comforts of home, including a heated pool and meals. Trail horses are available for guided tours, hand-led rides for children 5-8 plus many more amenities and experiences.
Rancho Oso Guest Ranch and Stable
3750 Paradise Rd, Santa Barbara, CA 93105
(805) 683-5686

At Marble Mountain Ranch they offer several different riding vacations. They combine horseback trail riding vacation with thrilling guest ranch activities such as whitewater rafting, sporting clay, fly fishing , kayaking and other adventures.  Set in the Klamath National Forest the ranch  terrain is rugged, remote, heavily forested and unequalled in beauty.   Email:
Marble Mountain Ranch
92520 Hwy 96
Somes Bar, California 95568

Others Guest/Dude Ranches to consider:  Rankin Cattle Ranch in Caliente, Stagecoach Trails Resort in Anza Borrego, J.T. Ranch in Joshua Tree, El Capitan Ranch in Santa Barbara, Alisal Ranch in Solvang, V-6 Ranch in Parkfield, Cowgirl UP Ranch Retreats for Horse Lovers in North Fork, Circle Bar B in Goleta, Thousand Trails Oakzanita Springs in Descanso, Lakeside Frontier Riders in Lakeside. You can even rent a private cabin that accommodates 6 people and 6 horses at White Horse Cabin, only a mile from the mountain town of Idyllwild.   A guest or dude ranch will offer you the experience of being on a ranch but will also include other experiences such as the ocean, deserts and mountains and styled in high end luxury, casual outdoor life or true roughin’ it working cattle ranch.  It would be close to impossible not to find something to suit your fancy.

Day Trippin’
Day trips without your horse offers many opportunities to experience the Horse lifestyle and learn about the history of California at the same time in local museums and at historic horse ranches.

Jack Tone Historic Horse Ranch  Jack Tone, came to California from New York with the Audubon party during the Gold Rush in 1849.
The Jack Tone Ranch has been a valued historical site in the Central Valley and is historically recognized at the “oldest family-owned horse ranch in continuous operation in the State of California.”
 The Tone family has a long history of horse-lovers. John H. Tone bred Thoroughbred horses on the ranch in the 1800’s. A certificate hangs proudly in the trophy room in the “Old Barn” won by his yearling colt name  “New York”.  The trophy room also displays over 50 years of Arabian horse trophies, memorabilia and plaques commemorating 160 plus years of family ownership.
The 1,100 acre ranch has the original Victorian-style brick two-story home built in the 1860’s and sits on the banks of the Calaveras River.
Visitors are always welcome at the ranch, 9700 N. John Tone, Stockton, California. Call the ranch at (209) 931-4972 for more information. Or log on to

Heritage Museum-California Rodeo Salinas
This museum is open daily during the rodeo celebrating the history of California Rodeo from its days of being a semi-annual round-up to its modern day adaptations.

Angels Camp Museum
This California museum has a humble curb presence, yet houses one of best collections of carriages representative of the Mother Lode country, all contained in a 10,000 square foot building, the Angels Camp Museum Carriage House located on the museum grounds. The collection even includes a stagecoach driven by Hank Monk, one of the most famous “knights of the lash”. There are all manner of logging wagons, a hearse, pleasure vehicles and a display of horseshoes used to keep the wagons moving in the deep snows of the Sierra. The carriages have been collected from local families.
753 South Main Street
Angels Camp, CA 95222
Tel. (209) 736-2963

Autry National Center
Located in Griffith Park northeast of downtown Los Angeles, California and across from the Los Angeles Zoo, this history museum is dedicated to exploring and sharing the stories, experiences, and perceptions of the diverse peoples of the American West with the Autry’s collection of over 500,000 pieces of art and artifacts.
4700 Western Heritage Way
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Tel. (323) 667-2000

Carriage and Western Art
Founded in 1972, this equine museum’s collection consists of over 50 saddles once belonging to famous people, such as Cisco Kid, Will Rogers, Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart and many others and carriages you will see in the collection are mud wagons, army wagon, circus wagon, and more.
129 Castillo Street
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Tel. (805) 962-2353

Oakdale Cowboy Museum
Promotes and preserves the western heritage of the Central Valley in California by honoring its ranching and rodeo traditions.
355 East F Street
Oakdale, CA 95361
Tel. (209) 847-7049

W. K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Center
With an Equine Research Center and the Kellogg Arabian Horse Library, this horse lovers destination is home to approximately 85 purebred Arabian horses used in Equine Sciences’ teachings, outreach, research and internationally recognized breeding and training programs. You can tour the Horse Center on the campus of Cal Poly Pomona University, as a visitor from Monday through Friday from 8am to 5pm.
3801 W. Temple Ave.
Pomona, CA 91768-4076
Tel. (909) 869-2224

Slip on your Cowgirl tee shirt and jeans, dig out those cowboy boots, get out your GPS and plan a trip; venture out to see a new event, hook up your horse trailer, visit a museum, or rent a horse, all different ways you can experience the horse life in California, Horse Shows, Rodeo’s, Museums, Trail Rides, Camping…..California’s horse world offers something for everyone.

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