Highway 101 winds along the scenic Santa Barbara coast from Ventura north until it turns inland shortly past  Refugio State Beach, just before the turnoff to the Hollister Ranch. Dark oil platforms are framed against the background of the Channel Islands and the shimmer of sunlight reflecting off the Pacific. Today, the ocean lives up to it’s name. Only a few surfboarders are in evidence, sitting gloomily astride their becalmed boards, scanning the horizon, waiting like Godot for the roll of a wave that never comes. Once we turn inland into the Santa Ynez Valley, the temperature climbs noticeably. The hills are still green from the recent rains, but the creek beds are almost dry, indicating the surrounding vegetation is soon to change colors.


We leave 101 at the Solvang exit, soon passing an ostrich farm on our right. The sight of dozens of these large, ungainly looking birds (and not a one with his head buried in the sand) trooping across a grassy plain arrests my attention, but as I’m driving, fortunately only momentarily.


Once a year the principal hospital where I work invites the member of the Executive Committee to a weekend retreat. The ostensible purpose is to allow us to hash out the multiple and mounting challenges threatening the immediate survival of our institution, and what we might do to improve the odds of this happening. It’s also a reward to those of us who donate our time and energies to the hospital without other compensation, as well as a chance to do some “team building” in the parlance of the business world.


The venue selected by the Chief of Staff for this year’s retreat was the Aliso Ranch, located on 10,000 acres of rolling hills, gullies lined by ancient California oaks, and dotted with 2000 head of grazing cattle, scattered deer, watched over by soaring golden tailed hawks. Aside from the usual amenities, a friendly staff and surprisingly good food, the Ranch offers horseback riding, fly fishing, mountain bikes, paddle boats and kayaks, as well as access to tennis courts and golf courses for those who are so inclined.


Our Saturday morning meeting goes reasonably well. The presenters were sufficiently experienced to leaven their PowerPoint slides with small doses of humor, and not exceed the 4-½ hour timetable of talks and discussions that’s been shown to be the upper limit of our attention spans and bladder capabilities.


I hadn’t ridden a horse in over twenty years, though I had done a fair amount of riding prior to that time. As a result, I wisely chose to sign up for the intermediate group, rather than the advanced. The later contained two members of our group who either owned horses, or in the case of one, used to train them.


The chief wrangler did a pretty good job of sizing up his potential riders; I was very grateful for not having been given Diablo or Widow Maker for my mount. After giving us some preliminary (and sensible) rules like staying on the trails, not crowding the horse in front, and not straying too far from the group, we set out to ride.


The first hour on horseback was great. Redman, a reasonably well behaved quarter horse, responded well to thigh pressure and neck-reined commands, easing my earlier anxieties about not having ridden for so long. The scenery was arresting as we made our way up from the valley floor to the ridge that offered panoramic views of the Santa Ynez River and its surroundings. The weather was about as perfect as you could ask for riding – not too warm, clear, with only a few scattered clouds. Robin, scrub jay, and blue magpie calls filled the air. Aside from the creaking of the tack, the occasional snort of a horse mixed with the murmurings of some of the riders, nothing disturbed the serenity surrounding us. I was feeling good, thinking to myself, “hey, this is horseplay!”


The second hour my left knee started a minor protest every time we’d canter or gallop the horses. Pretty soon, the minor protest became a major rebellion. For anyone who has ever ridden a horse, you’ll know that it’s just about impossible to be on horseback at anything other than a slow walk without the use of your knees. (O.K., I’ll concede that if you were riding sidesaddle you might be able to get by, but as I’m the wrong sex and we’re in the wrong century for this exercise, I won’t count this.) Needless to say, after a couple of hours, I was more than happy to dismount. I can’t prove it, but I could have sworn Redman smiled at me as I walked away.

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19 Responses to Horseplay

  1. Holy says:

    Ahhh….horses.  They can smell you a mile away.  Too funny (and all too true) about shying away from horses named Diablo and Widowmaker….I would venture to add Bessie to the list, for those who merit the pre-beginner or near-death categories of rider ability.
    I grew up around horses – we showed Arabians and rode mostly quarter horses and palaminos – I rode a bit in a dabbling kind of way in my 20s – leading tour groups on adventure tours through the Cdn Rockies so we\’d stop by the obligatory horse ranch for a quick trail ride.  My horse took off on me on one trip and whoa Nellie (that shoulda been her name – I think it was Bessie though if I recall as I had requested the PB ability list) – she went like snot and there was no stopping her.  Lots of snickers from my fellow fam tour participants as me and Diablos sister went barrelling like snot by them – I was supposed to be the seasoned cowgirl living in Canada\’s wild west.   I was after that trip. 
    My knees weren\’t so sore – but my butt.  It ached for many a day thereafter.  Haven\’t ridden since.  Those horses – they smell ya coming and you\’re right, they\’ve definitely got ya going too.  I\’m sure they do more than just smile when you walk away. 🙂

  2. Lisa says:

    What a wonderful retreat!  (And if the horse is satisfied with simply smirking — or did you say smiling? 😉 – at you, than so be it.  Devilishly smart guys, those horses.  Some of them, in any case.) 

  3. Stephen Craig says:

    Jorge.  Our dear friend Jaime had her Mother pass.   The horse is one to be held, with the brain of a pea and eyes as big as blue the White Stallion.   I dont have much but Ihave this

    Liberty stepped softly from the clouds and spread her wings then soared.  White feathers stretched  as she sailed and the Sun light glinted all around her, in the clear blue and the twilight she found the Dragon and thwacked him on the snout.  There was a quiet rumble and a puff of smoke as the Dragon began to wake.  One red eye, then the other opened, to see Liberty.  The Dragon then smiled and wagged his tail.  Or rather, slapped and thumped it in the Cave.
    Liberty was rubbing her right elbow and smiling at the Dragon as she folded her wings and said,
    " Dragon, did you see the Eclipse last night?  It was so glorious and a moment to behold." 
    The Dragon sat upright and wiped the sleep from his eyes, took a drink of dragon brew and cleared his throat, then said.  " Of course I saw the Eclipse, I made the Moon look red!"  With a small puff and an expression of indignation.  Rather child like in a dragon sort of way.  Liberty was right there.
    "Silly Dragon, you had nothing to do with the Eclipse or the color of the Moon. These are not the Olden Days."  She said, in a firm but gentle voice. 
    The Dragon put his claws together, looked down and there was a slight twitch of his tail.  He was silent for several moments, staring off into Space.   Liberty just stood there and touched his head, graced his brow and patted him like he was an old dog.  Warm and friendly.  The love of eternety returned and there was a spark in his eye as he said.
    " Yeah, I know the Olden Days are gone.  That is why I slumber so.  You look better than ever!  Why do you keep rubbing your elbow?"  The dragon then took another draw of the dragon brew as Liberty smiled and replied.
    " It is nothing, but a slight pain from holding the Torch.  More of this later."  She said and sat next to the Dragon with a wing and an arm around him.
         Head to head they nustled in silence as the worlds and words spun about them.  The memory of the Olden Days and the New Worlds and thoughts of their place These Days.  Oh, there the memory of Liberty and Dragon danced with the Lords and Ladies, the Faries and Angels people of the forests, rock, stone, river, streams, oceans and all the Saints and Fires that glimmer in the night and imagination.  That have ever been and ever shall be……Then Dragon held out his hand and said with a smile.  " Sissor, rock, or paper?"   Liberty laughed out loud!  A laugh that rings in all things, it was so sharp and sweet. 
    She smiled at the Dragon, rubbing her elbow.  Then Said, " Dear Dragon, it is written somewhere that in the Beginning Was the Word.  The Word became that which gave us life in the mind of humanity.  There we have given Humanity the beauty of the Myth, the Magic and healing quality of words.  The poets and the Muse.  The Dream of the Other Worlds and the beauty of All."
    There they both sat in profound silence and reviewed the sad state of human history.  All the terror, wars, greed, disaster, famon, starvation, man\’s cruelty to man\’s own kind and the rape and pilliage of the Planet that gave them birth.  Sacred sweet life, the ability.  The desire, the Dream.
    Liberty, sighed and said, "  My elbow is sore from holding the Torch," as she held the Dragon and wept. 
    The Dragon, wiped her tears and said, " Dear Liberty, though they need us not in the times of their own making and folly.  They need us forever in the beauty of the Myths, Magic and Glory of it All."Yes, there we shall ever be."  Liberty spread her wings and soared with a song of Freedom holding high the Torch for All to see the Light. 
    To me, the beauty of the myth, is as dear as the reality.  There we are able to examine our heritage as our heritage is paramount to the future.  We need and desire fiction that is more than entertainment.  Thus, we were given the Word and the desire to share.
    As ever be well, With love,  Stephen Craig Rowe

  4. Charlotte says:

    Ah, hope your knees are back to normal.  I bet Redman enjoyed having you on his back for a short duration….  Enjoy the rest of the week.. hugs, lottiemae

  5. Cheryl says:

    It sounds like a wonderful place to rest and gather contacts.  I hope your knee has totally lost it\’s memory of the experience now and you are in top shape again…

  6. Graziano says:

    Very cool spaces. Congrats.
    good day.

  7. Bittersweet on-the-hill. says:

    Hello Jorge,
    I loved your description of the California coast. Years ago – many years ago I drove down the northwest coast from Vancouver down to Monterrey and enjoyed every mile. It is a very beautiful, striking and at times rough terrain. You brought back many of those visual memories. 
    The weekend retreat must have been quite pleasurable.  As you were describing the horse ride, I could only think and hope that you were on your way back when the knee starting hurting. If it was prior to the turning point it must have been a long ride back.
    We are experiencing very cold and harsh temperatures.  Wind chills of -20 and sheepishly I say……some frozen water pipes. The next few days, the faucets will be left-on to drip. Haven\’t experienced that in years.  Enjoy your spring.    Bittersweet

  8. PJ says:

    Good Evening Jorge,
    What a most beautiful entry. The scenic description is one of which I shall always remember! A retreat that sounds simply marvelous. I do hope that your knee has "forgiven" you. Smiles. did you happen to take photographs?
    Happy weekend to you my Friend. Thanks for always "popping" in to see me.
    Until next time…Keep Smiling.

  9. Deborah says:

    I agree with your comment on Austin.  I spent time there twenty years ago.  Texas is as different from the Pacific Northwest as I can get probably.  I was talking last night about driving down Hwy 101, because it is something I never have done, except in bits and pieces.  On the other had, sticker shock at the gas pump yesterday tells me I should travel as the crow flies.  However that takes me through Jackson Hole, another place I want to see at a time before it thaws there.  Hope the roads will be friendly. 
    Blessed be,

  10. Fenix says:

    hello Jorge. How are you? I hope you are very well.
    Thanks for visiting my space… I often come here, but sometimes I don\’t write comments.
    ……Those flowers  can be a solution for some types of cancer
    Have a great weekend

  11. Jaime Campbell says:

    Thank you, Jorge.

  12. Gelert says:

    What a great retreat. The horse riding reminded me of my experience in Spain the other year, where I found it wasn\’t so much knees, as inner thighs that took the strain. Having to walk the horse down some almost vertical mountainsides didn\’t help, nor did the fact that my horse hated the one in front and kept surging forward to bite its arse. In the end, said horse kicked mine in the face. Mine went down on its arse and the front one bolted, depositing its rider on the ground. Everyone blamed me. They didn\’t seem to realise my horse was bloody possessed.

  13. Jane says:

    I have long believed that a horses intelligence is highly underated!

  14. the1stephzen says:

    Jorge, I grew up with limited exposure to horses and respected them.  Then I went through an odd stage when I was totally terrified of them to the point I would get close to hysterical if my brother let one of his horses out of the stall….no matter how close to opening the gate to get out I was. Thankful my brother helped me work through that…little at a time with a very gentle horse.  I got back to riding one.  Now I respect them again….would not want to crowd their space.

  15. Alanna says:

    Hey Jorge….
    Santa Barbara – amazing.  I\’ve only been there once, but I remember I was absolutely bewildered by the beauty.  People always come to Florida (where I am from) for the coast, but honestly, Florida cannot even compare to California with its hills and mountains and valleys, deserts, and beaches.  If I could afford to live there, I would.
    Horses – I haven\’t really had that experience…..
    Knees – I have a bad one – from a motorcycle crash when I used to roadrace (believe it or not).  Horses and bikes can be very similar concerning knee injuries.  Perhaps we can discuss that at some point….
    Be well, Jorge and as always, thanks for dropping into my site….

  16. Alanna says:

    "His "Fountain of the Four Rivers" is still my favorite in Rome. (Perhaps because the best gelato store is right next door :-))"
    Oh yea….I\’ve never been.  I only read about it…..ahhhhh.  One day I will take my daughter to these places…..and share with her my passion for art.
    Take care.

  17. Vonnie says:

    Jorge, I am so envious… I\’m dripping in green, envious gew right now! I haven\’t been on a horse in quite a long time either, but just reading your story took me back. I can feel the rhythmic swagger of the horse as he strides so majestically. I can hear his hooves hitting the dirt and his occasional grunt as he swings his neck to left or right. I can smell his coat, and can imagine patting him on the neck and saying "good boy"… and praying he doesn\’t buck me the first chance he gets. 😉 There is something so rendering about riding a horse… he has the power. He can allow you to ride along, or he can give you the heeve-hoe without a moment\’s notice. What a privilege! What a rush! I love horses! (You couldn\’t tell, could you?) 😉
    So… how\’s your swagger today? Are your legs back to normal now? I hope you\’re knee isn\’t giving you too much trouble. I\’ll bet Redman is still grinning. 😉 See you again. 🙂 Yvonne.

  18. Unknown says:

    Hi Jorge, I’m glad you enjoyed my story about my Mom.  And I really liked your adventure riding through such beautiful country.  Ironically, I’m also headed out west to visit my uncle, and he does have horses.  Whether or not I’ll attempt to learn to ride is another story!  Oh, I spoke to a senior nursing class last week, and it went very well, at least by all the questions I had afterwards.  I was particularly impressed by all the interest in doing volunteer work.  School is going great and I have a lot more confidence now! Thanks again for your suggestions.  Take care.  Danele

  19. Edith says:

    It sounds like you had a wonderful time… hopefully despite the pain in your  knee… hope that went away quickly.  I don\’t doubt the horse smiled at you as you left… I\’ve always believed animals are a lot more aware of us than we give them credit for.  It\’s been a very long time since I last rode a horse… as a matter of fact, earlier this evening, my B and I were discussing going riding sometime soon.  He\’s not very experienced at it, and though I was when I was younger, I\’m doubtful I\’ll be very good any more… but I love the woods and there are some really great (so I\’ve heard) stables a little futher north of us.  Your story just makes me want to go more.

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