By Jessica Schley
For the past 66 years, a group of local trail riders has been getting together at least once a month, year round, to enjoy an outing on horseback on private ranches, at the beach, or in the backcountry.
The Santa Ynez Valley Riders was founded in 1952 by a group of horsemen and women, a few of whom are still active in the club more than half a century later.
The group was originally a chapter of Equestrian Trails International, a group dating back to the 1940s that formed to help preserve riding trails that were threatened by development, and keep access open for horses. In 1986, the group voted to leave the national organization and form their own independent club. They changed their name to the SYV Riders and wrote a mission statement that was sure to set the tone of their club for the coming decades: The club is about families, inclusion and enjoyment of our local trails and ranches.
Now one of the oldest active horse clubs in the valley, the group is thriving. Fifty members strong, the membership age ranges from 7 years old to 93. Annual dues are kept low to encourage folks to join: $30 per person or $50 for a family for the whole year.
Because of the group’s great reputation for safety, its members get increased access to ranches because landowners trust them to conduct their rides safely. The group insures every ride in case of the occasional unavoidable accident — a hazard of life with horses is that they can be unpredictable. The group has been a client of the same insurance company since it was formed, another sign of its exceptional safety record.
“Our insurance guy loves us, because he knows we are safety first,” said Dawn Perrine, one of the group’s members. “We have trail bosses for each ride, we have well developed rules for our rides that we go over each time before we set out; safety is first.”
That being said, the SYV Riders still enjoy an atmosphere of relaxed fun.
“We are all about inclusiveness. We want riders from all disciplines, all breeds. As long as their horse is good on the trail and in groups, anyone is welcome,” said Treasurer Robin Martinek. “We truly have a great community feel in our club. It’s like an extended family, really. Camaraderie is strong, the people are down to earth. It’s an assortment of backgrounds and horse experiences and even disciplines.”
Members come from as far away as Santa Barbara and Arroyo Grande.
In addition to trail rides, the club gets together every year in December at the Santa Ynez Elks Lodge for a family-style dinner that the club pays for. Members who no longer ride but still pay dues come to the dinner to catch up with old friends. Stories about the year’s rides and camp-outs get told and retold. Photos are shared and enjoyed. And plans are made for the next year’s adventures.
SYV Riders used to host play days and shows as well, and even rode as a group in regional parades, but have not done that for a number of years.
“Although if there was increased interest in doing them again, the club would look into it,” said Martinek. Camp-outs have become a popular activity of the past number of years. The availability of horse-friendly camping spots, such as Montaña de Oro State Park, as well as some private ranches that have camps, makes it easy to plan a weekend out in nature with horses.
“Lots of people have living-quarters trailers now, too, so there are fewer and fewer actual tents at these events, but it’s still camping, and it’s still great fun,” said Leslie Gillies, a member since the 1970s.
Once a year the club votes on which horse-related local charity to make a donation to. A nonprofit themselves, the club members feel it is important to share what they have with other horse groups. SYV Therapeutic Riding, Return to Freedom Wild Horse Sanctuary, Midland School’s Riding Program, Sedgwick Preserve, and Los Flores Ranch Park are among several programs they have donated to.
Although the club is healthy and thriving, it faces a difficulty in loss of access to land, decade after decade, due to development, change in ownership, landowners’ fear of liability, bad past experiences with other riders or groups, trespassers, and many other reasons.
The group has seen a lot of change, and members worry for the future of equestrian trail riding activities in California. Still, the club perseveres, maintaining great relationships with their landowner hosts and keeping open opportunities for all horse people to access the beauty of our local ranches and trails.
To learn more, visit www.santaynezvalleyriders.org or visit the club’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/groups/SantaYnezValleyRiders