One of the most exhilarating ways to explore Wine Country is by equine – and these aren’t poor old tired stable plugs (bless their hearts) led in a slow plodding pack, but energetic, well trained mounts ranging from polo ponies to rescued race horses. Parties traverse in intimate groups across gorgeous landscapes, from beaches to mountains to vineyards. Here’s where to giddy-up and go:
Triple Creek Horse Outfit, Glen Ellen
Jack London called his property Beauty Ranch, for the magnificent mountain landscape that is now Jack London State Historic Park. Take in the grandeur of it all with Triple Creek owners Erin Ellis and Dominic Bettinelli, whose meticulously groomed quarter horses, Arabians and Thoroughbreds (some of them rescues) lead adventures lasting from one to 2 -1/2 hours, including a picnic lunch. Ellis, a Sonoma County native, grew up tackling the trails, and leads many of the rides, through oak-studded meadows and towering redwoods, across creeks, and toward a 2,300-foot summit.
Wine Country Trail Rides/Chalk Hill Estates, Healdsburg
Rafael Hernandez is local professional polo player who hosts polo matches and classes in Chalk Hill winery’s magnificent dressage pavilion. In between, he leads trail rides out of the adjacent stable that used to house Olympic-caliber dressage horses. These are glossy, ex-polo champions, from Arabians to Thoroughbreds, and all are gentle, delighted to take their passengers through the natural amphitheater of mountains in this Russian River Valley AVA. Much of the trail is right along the 350 acres of vineyards planted in 60 varieties from Viognier to Malbec to Petit Verdot, and rides conclude with complimentary wine from those very grapes, enjoyed in the elegant tasting room.
Horse ‘N’ Around Trail Rides, Bodega Bay
The hillsides and redwood forests spanning the coastal cliffs bring stunning Pacific Ocean views, seen from a different perspective when perched on the back of a horse. The big, soft-eyed steeds are happy and well cared for, and they share their joy as they tour 378-acres of open meadows at Chanslor Guest Ranch, overlooking vistas, cliffs and sandy beaches. Choose from ocean view, dunes and on-the-beach trails, plus dazzling sunrise or sunset rides, and based on your experience level, your guide will let you meander, or pick up the pace. The river/wetland rides are special, too, for viewing the magnificent bobcat, fox, red tail hawks and many species of waterfowl that make their homes here.
The property is primarily a boarding and schooling facility, but by special arrangement, its wranglers will lead guests on rustic tours through the rolling vineyards and countryside of nearby Chateau Lane/Verismo Winery. The 45-minute ride is led by a guide well-versed in the wine industry, to explain the ins-and-outs of grape growing, as well as the history of the site’s Rapp Ranch, which at one point was the largest quarter horse breeding facility in Northern California. Besides day rides, options include sunrise or sunset rides, and adventures conclude with a complimentary bottle of wine to be enjoyed at Chateau Lane, plus optional extended wine tastings and food pairings.