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Horseback Riding High Above Napa Valley

Horseback Riding High Above Napa Valley

Fifteen hundred feet above Napa Valley on a rocky, rolling patch of land planted here and there with rows of tidy vines is the West Coast’s largest Olympic equestrian training ground. Or at least it used to be. The 3,800, mostly wild, acres on Mt. George, which the team called home for 20 years, was purchased by Japanese gaming mogul Kenzo Tsujimoto in 1990 at which time he sent the Olympians packing and started taking soil samples. (The polo field for example, turned out to be an ideal place for a certain clone of Sauvignon Blanc.)

Now, there are horses once again on the estate — lounging in the sun, munching on hay and enjoying the spacious accomodations, you could confuse them for any wine country tourist. But this time, you don’t have to be a world-class athlete to take one for a ride.

Late last year, Linda Betts, a competitive rider and co-founder of Four Star Farms, approached the dignified Mr. Kenzo with a plan: To bring horses back to the property and make the facility available to everyone. Kenzo, who once had dreamed of creating some kind of summer camp on Mt. George for children who had spent too much of their childhood over-indulging on the video and arcade games that had made him a rich man, liked the idea. And so it is that a Thoroughbred, an Arabian and a one-eyed Quarter Horse named Jenna showed up for an extended vacation. (According to Betts, the horses do in fact seem happier, more relaxed and have put on a healthy amount of weight).

Betts and her team have set about cleaning and restoring the old training grounds (a family of deer had moved into the corral) and this year are making their services and their horses available to the public. Less experienced riders will be required to take a couple lessons in the corral, during which the very patient Ms. Betts will teach you proper posture, balance and how to talk to a horse (they’re not always great listeners, by the way—especially if they sense that you don’t know what the hell you’re doing), while more experienced riders can take the horses out for a jaunt on one of the many trails.

Be sure to make an appointment in advance at the Kenzo Estate (you have to drive right past it to get to the farm) for a tasting of their Bordeaux-varietal wines following your ride. Much of the total production is exported to Japan, but thankfully, not all. The legendary oenologist Heidi Barrett has made some truly inspiring wine from the estate’s fruit. The lively little Rindo, with its mixed flavors of dark and red fruits, cocoa powder and dusty gravel is truly a treat (Full tasting notes here). Especially after spending all morning arguing with a horse.

For riding lessons contact Linda Betts at Linda@FourStarFarms or at 707-501-8901. For tasting appointments, contact Kenzo Estate at 707-254-7572