A different kind of beachside stroll
Going for a horseback ride with Ross Ranch
“Here, you can borrow my extra windbreaker,” Tobi says as she proffers me a little additional protection from the brisk coastal wind making itself felt through my thin sweater. She has a genuine smile, and her eyes are warm with a twinkling blend of concern and amusement at my inability to follow her emailed instructions the day before that very clearly said, “Bring a jacket.” I grin my thanks and don the windbreaker while awkwardly trying to restrain my windblown hair.
The only other folks in the group for this afternoon’s ride are a chatty family visiting all the way from Alabama, and we talk about everything they can do in Mendocino as Tobi moves among her horses. All of us but one of the teenage girls are essentially newbies when it comes to riding, so we fall silent and listen with rapt attention as Tobi gives a brief demonstration of the basics that we’ll need for the ride down the bluff and along Manchester Beach. “And if you aren’t completely sure how to handle your mount, don’t worry too much – these horses know exactly what they’re doing,” our guide assures us. Upon which I give a little inward sigh of relief, because that means the pressure is off and I can just enjoy the ride!
Ah, and what a lovely ride it is! Even with the wind chilling my fingers on the reins, it is a gorgeous day out – blue skies touched with puffy white clouds, fresh green grass along the trail down from the pasture, bright yellow poppies peeping out around a bush, rugged bluffs lining the beach, the gentle rolling of the waves playing along the shore… It’s the kind of day that makes you glad to be alive.
Once we’re off the single-track path down the bluff and on the wide beach, I try to move my horse up beside Tobi for some companionable conversation. Drogo gives his beautiful chestnut mane a toss and halfway turns his head to eye me with a look that very clearly says, “What’s all this? Who do you think you are to tell me what to do?” Luckily for me, he’s not quite as fierce as his namesake and allows me to coax him into altering his course a little, primly arching his neck however as though to say that this direction is exactly the one he intended to take all along.
I ask Tobi about herself and Ross Ranch. “I’ve always had horses as part of my life, grew up with them right around here. I moved away for a while when I was younger, then the coast called me back. I got married, had two kids, and I’ve been here ever since. We started doing these rides on the beach 23 years ago, and I absolutely love it. I mean, I love getting to be outside, meet people from everywhere, and share the absolute wonder of Mendocino with visitors who’ve never experienced anything quite like it. And of course, there are the horses – I’m obsessed with them! We have 15 horses altogether that we rotate through on rides plus two that are permanently retired and get to just hang out and eat grass, and they are all a joy. I can’t imagine doing anything better with my life.”
We continue chatting about this, that, and the other as we move back across the beach, and now the horses are starting to pull towards where they know the trail up should be. We divert them back out to the waterline so we can soak in the gorgeous view for a few minutes longer. Sigh. I can totally understand Tobi’s passion for this life. My legs break in on my reverie to remind me I would have to actually get used to the saddle before I could in any way make a life of this business, but still… what a special way to disconnect from the frenetic pace of life and reconnect to people, to the earth, to that quiet place deep inside.
Back at the trailer, Tobi holds my horse’s head while I dismount. I return her jacket with a heartfelt “Thanks!” and a cheerful handshake, say adieu to the rest of the group, then go up to Drogo one last time to say goodbye. He graciously stretches out his nose to me, and I could swear his eyes twinkle as though to echo Tobi’s friendly, “You’re welcome.”