“I think the thing that would surprise people about horseback riding in San Diego is the fact that there are horses in San Diego,” says Jessica Winnie, Co-Owner of San Diego Beach Rides. While it may be hard to picture yourself in the saddle when in San Diego’s urban core, make no mistake – this is horse country.
Within a short drive you can ride a horse along a beach or through the gently rolling hills of the Ramona Wine Country. The area and horses go way back – 40 million years to be exact. That’s when prehistoric San Diego was home to some of North America’s earliest horses. Today you can see some of the most beautiful thoroughbreds in the country at the Del Mar Racetrack every summer.
The racetrack was founded in 1937 by a handful of investors including Hollywood legends, Bing Crosby and Gary Cooper. Races run from July until September, and the racetrack has announced that it will add a second season next autumn due to the closing of Los Angeles’ Hollywood Park.
If you fancy a ride yourself, head to Ramona – a farming community and wine growing region just 45 minutes northeast of San Diego, where two companies offer trail rides through the vineyards. Adventures On Horseback’s rides visit a variety of wineries, including Hellanback Ranch & Vineyard, Hacienda de las Rosas Winery, and Kohill Winery. Vineyard Trail Rides offer a 90-minute horseback ride through Milagro Farm Vineyards and Winery, a 110-acre private estate that includes one hundred year old oak trees and wide valley views. The ride includes a wine tasting paired with a selection of chocolates.
The Ranch at Bandy Canyon, a historic ranch in Escondido, offers group and private lessons as well as trail rides past old dairy farms and orange groves. In the mountain community of Julian, an hour’s drive from San Diego, The Kenner Horse Ranch offers a variety of trail rides from 1-2 hour rides around the ranch to daylong wilderness rides through oak woodlands and pine forests. The 200-acre former cattle ranch and its surrounding wilderness offers abundant wildlife including deer, wild turkey, hawks and bobcats. Picnic rides can also be arranged.
If riding along San Diego’s famed beaches is more your speed, then check out San Diego Beach Rides in Border Field State Park. The family owned business south of Imperial Beach has been operating for 30 years and offers mostly private rides by appointment. The gentle quarter horses and paints are carefully matched to each person for rides that include a jaunt through the Tijuana River Valley Preserve before reaching a nearby beach where riders can trot along the sand. For something truly special, sign up for the monthly Moonlight Ride. It starts with a campfire cookout complete with barbequed tri-tip and baked beans followed by a 1.5-hour ride to the top of the Grand Mesa where you’ll be able to bask in the full moon’s silvery light.
The community of Rancho Santa Fe is worth a peak for the old California style ranches, orange groves and trails where locals ride their horses around town. While you have to be a resident to use the facilities, anyone can pop into the Pony Room at the Rancho Valencia Resort, an equestrian themed bar where you can enjoy drinks like the Made Pony – light rum, fresh strawberries, agave and lime.
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Have you been horseback riding in San Diego? What was your favourite trail? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.
Written by Casey Chiotti
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About the author: CaseyCasey Chiotti
Casey Chiotti has a passion for food and travel. She regularly crosses the globe to experience a destination restaurant and sniffs out bakeries like a bloodhound. A freelance food and travel writer, her work has appeared in Sunset, San Diego Magazine, and on thepointsguy.com. Casey lives with her husband in San Diego and shares her travel musings on her own website Travelproper.com.