A group is led on a Family Fun Ride at River View Park in Buellton. Santa Ynez Valley Horseback Rides opened at the park in December.

Horseplay Comes to Buellton with New Riding Stable
Santa Barbara business opens location at River View Park
By Pamela Dozois
Contributing Writer

The Santa Ynez Valley is well-known for its love of horses, from racing to Hunter/Jumpers, Western reigning, and of course, Arabians. But finding a location where one could jump on a horse and venture off the beaten path for the afternoon and ride a horse in unspoiled nature was difficult — until now.

Bob and Evie Sweeney recognized the void and opened Santa Ynez Valley Horseback Rides on Dec. 15, 2021.

“We opened our new facility adjacent to River View Park in Buellton just in time for the Christmas holidays and were thrilled with the response, both from local residents and visiting guests,” said Sweeney.The Sweeneys’ new venture is an expansion of their primary business, Santa Barbara Beach Horseback Rides, located in Summerland. “When COVID struck, our business took off like a rocket with people wanting to safely enjoy the outdoors,
so we decided to open a new location in the Valley,” said Sweeney. “When we were approached by the City of Buellton to lease part of its Willemsen property, the staff expressed immediate intrigue and
excitement as they recognized that this would be a destination for both local and visiting families. When word reached the local hotels of what we were offering, they got on board and were thrilled to have something like this for their guests.”

The Sweeneys met with Buellton City Manager Scott Wolfe last June and the project was put on the agenda and unanimously approved during the next City Council meeting. “Ever since then, the City of Buellton has been nothing short of fantastic and very supportive at every
turn,” said Sweeney. “Last year was a long journey for us, to find a new location in the Valley that was still close to the river,”
Sweeney continued. “With the help of Pam Gnekow, director of the Buellton Senior Center, we eventually found the perfect spot in River View Park in Buellton.”

Sweeney is very happy about how the new venture has turned out.
“It couldn’t get better than this,” he said. We have
a 55,000 sq. ft. (1 ¼ acres) facility close to the Santa Ynez River. We have a permit for 18 horses and we currently have 13. We are on track to include a super-fun petting zoo in March, featuring miniature
cows, sheep and goats.”

Sweeney has owned horses for the past 42 years, has an extensive background in the Arabian horse world and was also a bloodstock agent at a high level for 25 years. So when he envisioned this business, he said he wanted it to represent the deep equestrian history of the Valley. “When I moved here in 1984 there were about 5,000 people in the Valley and 20,000 horses,” Sweeney said. “Every major breed had a strong presence here. So, it is only fitting for us to reflect this heritage with our horses. We currently have eight different breeds of horses and most of them are retired show horses, rodeo stars, or working ranch horses. They all have a past life and a story. “For example, we have three half-Arabian horses, two of which have won National Honors in the Show Horse world and a pure-bred Arabian mare bred by Day Dream Arabians, who produced a National Champion filly. We also have a World Champion National Finals Rodeo Star, purchased from the Branquinho family. Even our two ponies are trained working ranch horses.”
Sweeney explained that when a ride departs, the guides are full of stories of each horse the guests are riding. “As the rides leave the stable, guests are taken back 100 years to old California with wildlife all around,
such as deer, coyote, foxes, a bobcats’ den, a beaver dam, and even a golden eagle,” he added. “There are also multiple water crossings which, during rainy season, a rider can encounter water levels as high
as mid-thigh. “By design, our horses are older, very well-conditioned and trained, beginning in their past lives through to today,” Sweeney continued. “We’ve simply reintroduced them to a new life and they love it. Our rides are really beautiful and our horses walk, there is no trotting or running ever — it’s low stress on the horses and the riders.”

Sweeney said the Santa Ynez Valley is tailor-made for his business. “Because of where we are located and our history with horses, we wanted to make this a destination that would make the community proud and provide the opportunity to take in the stunning beauty of the landscape,” he said.

Santa Ynez Valley Horseback Rides has pony rides for the kids, 2 years and up, which includes unicorn rides featuring Marshmallow and Mabel, the mischievous mini mule. The owners also welcome birthday parties, which include crafts and games. Guests are encouraged to bring their own beverages, party favors, and a birthday cake. The Family Fun Ride has become the big new item as kids as young as age 5 can go on an actual trail ride
with their families. It starts with a pony encounter with a brief lesson, then on to the trail ride. There are three different river trail ride options, 60, 75 or 90 minutes in length.

In the spring, there will be riding lessons for kids and adults and a new feature called “Evening Horse Hangout,” where people can spend an hour with the horse of their choosing and learn the basics of horsemanship and care.

The staff at Santa Ynez Valley Horseback Rides are (from left): trail guide Jennifer Coltrin, assistant manager Michelle Alexander, barn manager Vanessa Soria, owner and general manager Bob Sweeney, trail guide Alyson Helling and trail guide Randi McCoughney.

“Our amazing staff includes lifelong horsewomen who grew up in the Valley and have been riding and competing from childhood,” said Sweeney. “Our lead guide is Vanessa Soria, whose grandfather was the first draft horse provider in Solvang and across the Valley. All of the guides are local horsewomen and moms, which makes it a comfortable experience for the guests and children.” “I have a personal passion for introducing and connecting people to horses,” Sweeney said. “It’s my love language.”
Santa Ynez Valley Horseback Rides is located inside River View Park at 151 Sycamore Drive, Buellton.

Rides are offered daily, year-round, by appointment only. No riding experience is necessary and discounts
are available for local residents and guests staying at certain hotels.
For more information, call (805) 693-4600, text (805) 705-5458, visit SYVHorsebackRides.com or email Bob@SYVHorsebackRides.com to secure your date or answer any questions.

Trail guide Randi McCoughney gives one of the horses a kiss after a recent ride at River View Park in Buellton.