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Picturesque Horseville

Santa Ynez retains Western heritage for equestrians with plenty of breeds, trails

By AUDREY PAVIA for the Horsetrader - November 20th, 2014 - Horsetowns 2014
Rolling hills, stately oaks, exquisite Arabians -- clearly, this must be the Santa Ynez Valley, an unmatched home for a diverse group of horse people.

Rolling hills, stately oaks, exquisite Arabians — clearly, this must be the Santa Ynez Valley, an unmatched home for a diverse group of horse people.

SANTA YNEZ — Rolling hills, bright blue skies and lavish equestrian estates. Visitors to the city of Santa Ynez are treated to these sites and more when they enter the picturesque Santa Ynez Valley, home to one of the most beautiful horsetowns in California.

Located 140 miles from Los Angeles, 300 miles from San Francisco, and only 30 miles from the Pacific Ocean, Santa Ynez is a paradise for horses. With plenty of room for pastures, lots of trails for riding, and an Old West atmosphere, Santa Ynez is the town of choice for many equestrians.

How It Started
As with many of the horsetowns in the Golden State, Santa Ynez’s beginnings go back to the founding of a mission. Mission Santa Inés was the 19th mission established by the Spanish Franciscan missionaries who colonized Alta California. When they came to the Santa Ynez Valley in 1798, they found a thriving band of Chumash Indians, who were living close to the land. The mission was established in 1804, and many of the Chumash were converted to Catholicism. They maintained the mission’s horses, mules, cattle, sheep, goats and pigs, as well as crops of wheat, corn and beans.

The mission was secularized when Mexico obtained its independence from Spain, and the Franciscans lost control over the Santa Ynez Valley. After this happened, ranchos were established by private landowners, who reveled in the fertile land they found in this part of California.

Once the Land Rush hit in the mid-1800s, pioneers began coming to the valley and settling in the area. Several of the Old West style buildings they established in Santa Ynez are still standing, a testament to the town’s rich heritage.

In 1882, the city of Santa Ynez was founded. The valley’s pastoral lands were filled with horses at the time, and not much has changed since then. Santa Ynez has been spared the blight of suburban expansion and remains largely a rural—albeit exclusive—horse community.

The City Today
It’s hard not to be impressed by the city of Santa Ynez. If you drive up the coast just past Santa Barbara, then head eastward on Highway 154, you pass through the chaparral environs of the Los Padres National Forest. Lake Cachuma gleams like a turquoise jewel on your right as you head through the hills on your way to the town. After 30 miles of road, Santa Ynez suddenly comes into view, like an apparition from the past. Western style buildings line the quaint streets, home to antique stores and other small shops.

In the midst of this historic village, you’ll see the Santa Ynez Valley Museum, which houses artifacts from the Chumash period to pioneer times. Within the museum is the Parks-Janeway Carriage House, featuring one of the most extensive collections of American-made horse-drawn carriages in the West. Here you’ll see everything from surreys, phaetons, hunting vehicles and other horse-drawn wagons. The collection includes the 1910 Yosemite Stage, the 1890 Stanhope Phaeton and even a horse-drawn hearse.

Drive deeper into Santa Ynez and you’ll see vineyards, a big part of the Santa Ynez Valley culture. Wineries abound in this part of the state, adding to the sophisticated aura of this special place.

Of course, you’ll also see plenty of horses everywhere you look. Pastures and stables, large and small, dot the landscape, not only in Santa Ynez, but in the surrounding communities within the valley: Buellton, Solvang, Los Alamos, Los Olivos and Ballard.

Equine Diversity
The equine community within Santa Ynez is a varied one, made of people who keep many different breeds and ride many different disciplines.

“We have just about every kind of breed and sport you would want to have, that has anything to do with horses,” says Patty Murphy, a realtor and horsewoman who has lived here since 1979. “It’s a lovely community, both aesthetically and from the standpoint that its residents truly love and appreciate their lifestyle. It’s probably the finest small town experience of anywhere, truly.”

Arabians are a big part of the Santa Ynez Valley equine community, and a number of top Arabian breeders are headquartered here. The Santa Ynez Valley Arabian Horse Association was established in the 1950’s by a group of local Arabian horse breeders to help meet the needs of Arabian owners in the valley.

The valley was a draw in early years because of relatively low prices for land, an excellent climate, and the fact that it is midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Despite the fact that land prices have reached higher levels, each year greets new horse people moving into the community.

The current median home price in Santa Ynez is about $800,000, which would likely buy a horse-owner just less than one acre of land, a small two-stall barn and small paddocks, and a three bedroom, two-bath house. One-acre horse properties range to about $1.2 million, according to industry estimates, with five-acre ranches ranging from $1 million to $3 million. They trend upward from there.

Realtor Joe Olla, who has called Santa Ynez home since 1988, has properties listed from $800,000 to $15 million in his office at Joe Olla Realty.

“The high end is never a fast turn-over, but the low end has been selling rapidly, and there is not much inventory,” says Olla, who sees recovery from the recession. “We have a good inventory of homes over a million, there’s probably 75 listings in that category. And, there are deals.”

Olla adds that the equestrian community in Santa Ynez continues to thrive.

“The equestrian community has grown,” he says. “The valley is home to more breeds than any other location I can think of in the country, and we are very active—very much alive and well.”

Murphy, a cutting horse enthusiast, sees a local upswing in breeding operations, too, especially in the Arabian breed that has long been an eminent piece of The Valley’s fabric.

“We’ve had two or three pretty large groups looking,” she says. “They want to live in God’s country, and we still have some nice, vast open ranches where they can bring 80 to 100 broodmares and have a nice lifestyle along with their breeding ranch.”

Trails Galore
While many equestrians living on large estates in Santa Ynez have trails adjacent to their property, horse owners of all means can enjoy the trails in nearby Los Padres National Forest and Santa Ynez Mountains. Chaparral with coastal sage, oak trees and grassland make for beautiful trail riding in the lower elevations of the mountains and forest, while the upper elevations feature conifers, bay laurel and tanbark oak.

Neighboring Cachuma Lake Recreation Area features well maintained horse and hiking trails around the lake and through the neighboring environs, which feature lovely meadows and native oaks. This area is the site of the annual Helen Logan River Romp Competitive Trail Ride and Sage Hill Competitive Trail Ride, both sponsored by the Santa Ynez Valley Arabian Horse Association. Equestrians from near and far camp by the lake and ride for ribbons at these events, following North American Trail Ride Conference rules.

Santa Ynez is a glorious place for horses and the people who love them. The town showcases what is the best and most beautiful of California horse country. It is among the state’s most phenomenal horsetowns.

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