The horses have it! Today, in Louisville at the Kentucky Derby their heading towards the starting gate. And here in Santa Ynez in just a couple of hours over 600 hundred riders will be heading towards the Santa Inez Mission for the annual blessing.
Legend’s may ride and some may fall; Ronald Reagan, Walt Disney, and Art Linkletter are only a few of the men who participated in the Rancheros Visitadores annual 60 mile ride across the rural grasslands of the Santa Ynez Valley.
What has become a great tradition serves an even more profound purpose. An environment that offers a reprieve from the pressures of business life.
By Jeremy Foster, Staff Writer, Santa Ynez Valley Journal
An estimated 600 horsemen descended on the Santa Ines Mission on May 1, participating in the annual 60-mile Rancheros Visitadores ride that harks back to a tradition that began four decades ago.
Hundreds of spectators thronged the sidewalks on Alisal Road to cheer on and wave at the men on horseback who paraded to the mission for a blessing, before trekking across the rural lands of the Valley for the start of their week-long camp out at the 7,200-acre Janeway Ranch.
Last year, the ride was cancelled because a new property owner refused permission to cross her land and the state Fish and Game Department expressed concerns about trucks and trailers travelling across streambeds in the area.
The Rancheros began their journey from the Jackson campsite near Refugio Road before they headed through Solvang. The blessing has been a tradition since 1964. Previously, riders would ride to both the Santa Ines and Santa Barbara missions during their annual ride, until the blessing ceremony was taken north.
“Last year, you and your horses were missed on the streets of Solvang and here on the sacred grounds of Santa Ynez,” The Rev. Gerald Barron OSM Cap told the riders, who crowded into the grassy area of the mission, shortly before the blessing. “Mission Santa Ines was built over 205 years ago. We have made some wonderful relationships here in the Valley over the years. And I submit to you that none is more treasured or precious (than ours).”
The “Visiting Ranchers” is a group of several hundred men who gather each year in the Valley for camaraderie, socializing and horse events.
“The Rancheros captures the ideals of early California, when the ranchers went from ranch to ranch to help each other, branding their cattle and working their stock,” said Ranchero Bruce Sanchez of Santa Ynez. ”Today we ride through these Valley ranches the way they did. It’s become a way of life for many people who are ranchers.”
Sanchez, 65, has participated in the annual ride since 1973 and describes it as a confluence of “business-types” who commune with one another in the rugged countryside, an environment that offers a reprieve from the pressures of business life.
He said typically 20 to 30 men resign or pass away every year, so the membership committee takes in the same number of applicants from a group of 60. Many of the original members were landowners and all were horsemen. They included community leaders, statesmen, artists and cowboys.
Luminaries such as Walt Disney, comedian Jerry Colona, Ronald Reagan and Art Linkletter are among the group’s famous members.
The Rancheros Visitadores’ ride officially began in 1930, but the popular bit of Western tradition began a couple years earlier, when Ed Borein, a renowned Santa Barbara artist, met up with his friend, Elmer Awl, and suggested a gathering of friends and horsemen to enjoy the area.
According to “The First Los Rancheros Visitadores Ride” – a written account of the first outing – Borein, Awl and Sammy Kramer rode from Santa Barbara to Mattei’s Tavern. The next year, Borein met up with Awl at the El Paseo restaurant in Santa Barbara and reportedly said: “Elmer, it’s riding weather. And I have a chuck wagon. What say? Let’s go out for a few days with three or four of the boys.”
A few months later, Jack Mitchell bought and named the property now known as the Rancho Juan y Lolita on the Santa Ynez River, where the first ride was held with about 90 horsemen. Today, the encampment is located at the Janeway Ranch, which is tucked away in the hills behind Lake Cachuma. It includes a large kitchen, a dining area, bath houses, platforms for tents, tie lines and corrals for the men’s horses. New members attend the ride as guests and are members of the “Maverick Camp” so they can learn about the heritage of the group, compete with other newcomers and bond with members of other camps.
In the last few years, the Rancheros Visitadores has put on fundraising events to help the Valley. This year, members raised $18,000 in a team roping competition held at the Santa Ynez Valley Equestrian Center. Proceeds benefited the center and the Santa Ynez Valley Historical Museum, which holds many artifacts of the Rancheros, such as several of Mitchell’s carriages that are still on display.
The Rancheros also award two students scholarships at Santa Ynez Union High School. “We try to do things that support the local community,” Sanchez said. “It’s a way to give back to the Valley, which has treated the Rancheros well over the years.”