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Ride and Wine

Ranches, history, wineries paint Paso Robles landscape

By AUDREY PAVIA for the Horsetrader - August 21st, 2014 - Communities, Special Section

Vineyards and horses are part of Paso Robles past, present, and future.

Vineyards and horses are part of Paso Robles past, present, and future.

Horsetrader photo

It was 1797 when Father Junipero Serra planted more than 1,000 grapevines in the pristine hills of California’s central coast. The vineyard, adjacent to one of the Central Coast’s most beautiful missions, San Miguel Arcangel, would eventually become part of a picturesque community rich in history, viticulture, and, of course, horses.

Paso Robles, located in northern San Luis Obispo County, is home to 30,000 residents. Incorporated in 1889, the name Paso Robles comes from the Spanish El Paso de Robles, or “The Pass of the Oaks.” Situated 230 miles north of Los Angeles and 210 miles south of San Francisco, this 19.9-acre city is a haven for horse lovers.

Western Legacy
The history of Paso Robles (called simply “Paso” by residents) goes back to the founding days of the Mission San Miguel Arcangel, when the Franciscans established agriculture in the area. After growing grapes for use in making sacramental wine and brandy for export, the Franciscans abandoned their crops after Mexico secularized the missions. Two decades later, farmers who had immigrated from Europe settled the area and continued the wine growing tradition.

Besides its fertile land and optimal climate for grape growing, Paso Robles also hosted a bastion of hot springs, mineral-rich waters perfect for soothing aches and pains. The Salinas Indians, who had inhabited the area for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans, appreciated these warm waters. In the 1860s, word spread throughout the West of the springs’ healing effect. People came from all over the state to partake in Paso’s therapeutic hot springs and mud baths.

The arrival of the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1886 initiated the building of downtown Paso Robles, with a hot springs resort at its center. Two-hundred-and-twenty-eight lots were sold at a public auction that same year, and the official habitation of Paso Robles began. Within a year, 523 residents and 100 buildings made up the city of Paso Robles.

Surrounding the city, a thriving agricultural community boomed. Almond orchards flourished, grain and produce grew eagerly in the warm sun, and cattle and horses grazed the gently sloping hillsides.

Throughout the year, the Mid-State Fairgrounds hosts a steady stream of major horse events, like the National Stock Horse Association Snaffle Bit Futurity Aug. 19-24.

Throughout the year, the Mid-State Fairgrounds hosts a steady stream of major horse events, like the National Stock Horse Association Snaffle Bit Futurity Aug. 19-24.

Horsetrader photo

Horse Heaven
More than 100 years later, Paso Robles still retains its Old West feel. The town itself is quaint, dotted with historic buildings including the Paso Robles Inn, formally the Hot Springs Hotel, erected in the late 1800s; and the Carnegie Historic Library, built in 1908. Enduring Victorian and Craftsman style homes are well maintained by their modern residents. The Pioneer Museum stands as testament to the town’s historic past, and features antique saddles, carriages and wagons, and even an exhibit of barbed wire.

Just outside of town, the rural community still thrives. Wineries have become the most prominent form of agriculture in Paso, and no less than 100 operate in the area. Famous for their Bordeaux, Rhone and Zinfandel varietals, these wineries have put Paso on the map when it comes to fine wines.
Although many of the rolling hills of Paso are covered with vineyards, ranches also hold their own among the scenery. Horse property is abundant in Paso Robles, and affordable compared to many other parts of California.

“Equestrian life is as big as ever,” said Billie Jo Ralls, who has the unique perspective of a real estate professional here since 2004 who is also a lifelong horsewoman. “There is a lot going on in a variety of sports and disciplines. There are several very large dressage farms, a couple big Thoroughbred farms – it’s not just the western disciplines, although those are very popular, too.”

“There’s a good deal of diverse horse activity here,” adds Ralls, the mother of trainer Phil Ralls. “The real estate market is very active now – horse people interested in moving here and setting up a place. They are looking to move because where they are, it’s gotten too busy for them.”

Horse people love living in Paso, and it’s easy to see why. Trail riders have access to the Pacific Ocean, the Sierra Madre Mountains, the Salinas River, Los Padres National Forest and Lakes Santa Margarita, San Antonio and Nacimiento. The area also boasts trail riding clubs such as the Vaqueros de Camino. Although riders must trailer out to these areas, the drive is relatively short. (No official trail system exists within the community of Paso, although the North County Trails Association is working on changing this.)

The area offers big spreads to small, one-acre ranchettes.

The area offers big spreads to small, one-acre ranchettes.

Horsetrader photo

Those who show their horses have plenty of events in town to keep them busy. The California Mid-State Fairgrounds (also known as the Paso Robles Event Center) hosts equine activities throughout the year, including clinics; cutting, team roping and reined cow horse events; and breed shows. The newly remodeled equestrian center features a covered arena and grandstand, as well as 233 portable horse stalls. The Mid-State Fair in July and August is the highlight of the venue’s events, and features reining, cutting, roping and English competitions.

Several breed and specialty riding club chapters are active in Paso Robles, including the Central Coast Cutting Association, the Pacific Coast Cutting Horse Association, and the Los Robles de Oro Arabian Horse Association. Trainers who work in the disciplines of reining, cutting, roping, eventing, dressage and hunt seat are among the many equine professionals based in Paso, as well as in the surrounding towns of Templeton and Atascadero.

Happy Residents
Ask any horse person in Paso how he or she feels about the lifestyle in this charming town and you’ll get glowing reviews.

Lori Crow, a Quarter Horse trainer who was born and raised in Bakersfield, moved here with her husband 11 years ago. They adore it.

“This community is safe, it’s small – it’s hometown Americana,” said Crow, who trains out of Cynthia Cantleberry’s Golden Hill Farm. “This is where, at the Fourth of July parade, all the kids participate. You can enter a float, even a red wagon pulled by a mini. It’s a great, wholesome environment with a small-town feel, but yet you have a strong sense of ag here – a strong agricultural industry. The community support is wonderful, including the support for horses. We’re so fortunate.”

The charm and beauty of Paso Robles is clearly a draw for horse people who want to be close to nature and live in a thriving equine community. With wineries, hot springs, nearby trails, and a plethora of equine events at their disposal, it’s not surprising the horse people of Paso consider their town to be paradise.

What makes Paso Robles a terrific “Horsetown?”

Linda Starkman, Paso Robles
The beautiful rolling hills, the quaint downtown and the equestrian lifestyle, nestled in among the rolling hills and vineyards. But what really makes Paso Robles a terrific horsetown is the diversity of the equestrian community. Whatever type of riding you enjoy, you can find top-notch trainers, breeders and facilities. The Baxters’ Twin Rivers Ranch host local and national Eventing competitions year round. Gina Miller’s Templeton Farms Equestrian is a world-class sport horse training, breeding and rehab facility. The Paso Robles Event Center is home to the George Hearst Equestrian Center. In 2007 the PCCHA and NSHA brought their futurities to Paso Robles. This is why I decided to make the investment in the Paso Robles Horse Park. This world class facility will open in 2015 and host USEF Hunter/Jumper events. Already, the interest in the park from the equestrian community is amazing. Paso Robles is rapidly becoming the home to top horse shows throughout the western U.S.

Lori Crow, Paso Robles
Our small town is dedicated to the horse enthusiast. Paso Robles is one of the leading areas of California for hosting horse shows and other equine events. Our local fairground hosts AQHA shows, cuttings, NRCHA shows and many other equestrian events during the year. It has become a destination stop in the horseworld. The climate and location of facilities make it advantageous for a horse professional to work here. The Central Coast of California is a thriving horse area, and it allows all levels of horse lovers to feel apart of such a strong community.

Jim Fritsche, Paso Robles
In the beginning, there was land, for far as anyone could see. Clear skies, cattle and horses roaming, with hay crops of all types being grown. Located exactly halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, it was a place that you would stop at for lunch and fuel. Strangers left each night, the town was sleepy and quiet. Life was simple, or so it was believed up ’til “that day”. Some of the oldest wineries in the area entered some prestigious wine competitions, and won. The Wine World came to see – cheap land abundant water, and skilled people all looking for work. A match was made, and money flowed in, as great wine left by the case. The wineries brought upscale clients that would see the appeal of Paso Robles and the surrounding areas. Homes and barns went up. You had made it if you had an indoor riding arena. Life has been great for the equestrian set ever since. Between the Mid-State Fairgrounds, the Twin Rivers Eventing Center, and the now under construction Paso Robles Horse Park, there are world class facilities for all disciplines of riding. With over 100 tasting rooms, beautiful hotels, and beaches just 30 minutes away, Paso Robles has become not just a stopping point, but a way of life. We welcome the visitors to the Futurity, and urge them to sample all that the Central Coast has to offer!

Kathe Hustace, Creston
Paso Robles has been a town since the horse-and-buggy days, and has never lost its appreciation for man’s most rideable friend! The annual Mid-State Fair and the numerous other related activities during the year draw avid horsemen and women from all over the United States to participate in high level competition. With our wonderful climate, we are able to enjoy time with our hooved friends any day of the year, and our proximity to San Antonio Lake with its 19-mile horse trail, Santa Margarita Lake with its wonderful camping access, and Montana de Oro and Morro Bay on the Coast for those “escape the heat” rides, there are ample opportunities for riding adventures. Soon Paso Robles will have its own Salinas River access with trail heads to the Juan Bautista National Trail. Come ride with us!

Leslie Herron, Paso Robles
The variety of different equestrian disciplines in the area make Paso an amazing horsetown. From cutting horses to ponies, from driving, to racing, we have it all. Hunters, jumpers, and a world class eventing course — those are just a few of our many horse interests here.

Gordon Hayes, Santa Margarita
Well, right now the big draw is the Paso Robles Event Center. In the past we have had more world champions from our county than others, including rodeo, cutting, reined cow horses — not to exclude all the other events. To name names, from Gene Rambo, Dud Taylor, Gordon Davis, Dr. Frank Santos to later Tim Stewart, Pattie Davis, Joann Carollo. The list goes on and on — NFR Finalist, NCHA Futurity finalist, NRCHA finalist. You name it, and we have them. We put on major events in Paso, from USTRC ropings, major cutting events and two huge National NRCHA events. We have to thank Jack and Phoebe Cooke, George and Sue Hearst, Mike and Jan Rawitzer, and all the people in the Heritage Foundation for building the new equine event center. It is a beautiful place to compete. As for the area, it’s in the middle of the state, easy access, a beautiful area, with great weather, great people and lots of cattle. It’s a fun place to be.

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