Even in the June gloom, the sun shines over Estelle Vineyards, where Jaye and Peter Ganibi operate Vino Vaqueros, the unique horseback riding and wine tasting experience located in the Santa Ynez Valley. Eager to fulfill my cowgirl dreams, I made my way up the long driveway of the property, which was surrounded by vineyards on either side, and came across a quaint white barn and a green lawn with several picturesque picnic tables.
As I opened the door of my car, I was quickly greeted by the Ganibi’s dog, Duke, who jumped into my lap. “He’s just a puppy but he leads the path on our rides,” Jaye Ganibi explained to me, beaming and inviting me inside.
The interior of the barn felt as if I was stepping into the rustic section of Pottery Barn, beautifully decorated with wood finishing and blooming flowers. “Make yourself at home,” said Ganibi, setting down a glass of water and some paperwork to fill out before the ride. She was on her way to pick up her two young children from school and bring them home to their adjacent house, commenting on how fast time seemed to move, and how her children were growing up before her eyes. She left me and a friend in the trusted hands of guides Lucas and Emily.
Soon we were off on four of the 15 horses owned by the Ganibis, venturing over the rolling hills of the 1,000-acre property. “We have some horses that are nearly 20 years old and some baby foals,” Lucas explained, as we passed a group of them grazing on our way passed the vineyard. Duke became a tiny speck trotting in the distance, staying wary of creatures who might spook the horses.
The silence was a refreshing escape from the daily hustle and bustle of Santa Barbara. “We get a lot of people coming from town but most come from Orange County or L.A.,” Lucas explained. It was easy to see the appeal of the experience for city folk, as we reached the top of a hill where I could see miles of flourishing vineyards in one direction and the endless countryside filled with shady trees in the other.
For the next hour or so, we chatted about Lucas and Emily’s backgrounds. Both of them grew up in the area riding horses from a young age and each maintains another job — Lucas as an electrician and Emily as a server at the nearby Los Olivos Wine Merchant Cafe. I imagined their upbringing had to be similar to that of the Ganibi children, who we saw arriving home as we made our way back to the white barn.
“It’s a fun place for little kids to run around,” Lucas said. “I mean, it’s fun for both kids and adults to go out for a ride. We get all ages and have horses of a lot of different sizes.”
Giving my spotted horse a good scratch goodbye, Lucas and Emily helped me descend back to the ground. My thighs were aching, but I looked forward to the glass of wine awaiting me that was sure to dull some of the pain. My friend and I took a seat on one of the patio tables on the lawn, the sound of wind chimes peacefully filling the quiet.
After we did some stretching stretching, Lucas came out to give us a taste of both red and rose locally crafted Rake Wine, and we eventually decided on a glass of refreshing rose. Watching Jaye prepare some new riders inside the barn, Lucas explained, “Jaye pretty much runs the whole operation. She’s just passed their 10-year anniversary of Vino Vaqueros.”
It certainly seems as if the Ganibis and their expert guides have the enterprise down to a science. Yet, they are able to make the experience tranquil, welcoming each rider into their little family for the day. We left with sore muscles and a serene state of mind, off to chow down on some pizza and some more wine at Los Olivos Wine Merchant Cafe, as Emily had recommended.
It’s clear Vino Vaqueros is the destination for both locals and out-of-town visitors looking for a quiet country getaway, even if just for a few hours.
Ride & Wine excursions, which cost $125, are offered at various times seven days per week. A non-wine option is $10 cheaper. See VinoVaqueros.com.