Magazine article Sunset

Getting Acquainted with Eight Breeds at Santa Ynez Valley Horse Ranches

Magazine article Sunset

Getting Acquainted with Eight Breeds at Santa Ynez Valley Horse Ranches

Article excerpt

Through morning mists, the Santa Ynez Valley awakes at daybreak to hungry whinnies and nickers. These sounds come from the equine residents of this lushly pastured basin about an hour's drive northwest of Santa Barbara.

Grazing along whitewashed fences that demarcate the many horse ranches in this 40-mile-long valley are breeds from the haciendas of Peru and the mountains of Iceland. As the sun climbs and the animals become active, you can see aristocratic Andalusians flaunting the highstepping in-place trot known as the piaffe, while thigh-high miniature horses race about like packs of unruly children.

Many ranches welcome visitors, but it's essential to phone ahead. If the ranchers aren't busy, they may show you around themselves; if they are, you can admire these purebreds on your own. When visiting, do not feed horses; be careful if children are along (and, please, no dogs).

For each of eight breeds, we give a central information source or suggest one or more ranches with that specialty. All area codes are 805.

American Paint. If you're not careful to keep a fixed eye while viewing one of these horses, you might think you're seeing two animals. The white and dark patches are never the same on both sides. Such markings seem to have fascinated early man, whose depictions of them adorn cave walls; Egyptians portrayed horses with strikingly uneven coloring, and representations have been unearthed at Chinese burial sites.

Today, these multitalented horses may leap 4-foot fences one day and cut calves in a roping event the next. When visiting, you might catch a stallion out for a morning workout on a treadmill made for fourlegged exercisers.

The valley's largest ranch, where Bo Derek bought her paint, is the AI Reece Paint Horse Farm, at 1627 Calzada Avenue in Santa Ynez; telephone is 688-440).

American quarter horse. Esteemed in colonial America for itsability to run the fastest quarter-mile in match races, this horse like some of the others you may visit has antecedents tracing back to the Spanish explorers. The breed was officially founded in 1611, when Spanish stallions were bred to mares from England.

By the 1800s, the quarter horse established itself as the chief stock horse of Western settlers. Lauded for its "cow sense," it could successfully move cattle on long trail drives. Still a staple for ranch work, this breed has since become adapted to many other purposes, from racing to show jumping.

Three large ranches accept visitors. For running horses, try Hunsicker Ranch (9 to 5 weekends only), 1300 Alamo Pintado in Solvang; 688-5657. To see cutting horses, call T.M. Parks Ranch, W. Highway 246 in Buellton, 688-4936; or King Horse Center, 2000 W. Highway 246, also in Buellton, 688-0950.

Andalusian. If you're familiar with the famous Lippizaners of Vienna's Spanish Riding School, you'll immediately recognize the closely related Andalusian. Invading Moors brought these gallant horses to Spain in the eighth century.

Andalusians number only about 1,300 in the U.S. today. ,Born dark-coated, 99 percent turn white by age five to seven. Distinguished by their adroit performance of complex gymnastic movements known as haute ecole, Andalusians learn in three years what it takes most horses a decade to master. Try to visit when horses are working in the ring and ask to see their passage, a highly controlled slow trot. Largest ranch for Andalusians is Fairmont Farms, at 3980 Tims Road in Santa Ynez; call 688-1016.

Arabian. You can quickly spot an Arabian by the concavity of the bone from just below the eyes to the nose. The dish face, small ears, almond eyes, and statuesque physique all say "Arab. …

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