A hidden paradise for horses…and riders, too
Victoria McBride named her 100-acre horse ranch Shangri-La after the mythical hidden paradise of east-Asian lore. And it’s no wonder why: there is no place quite as beautiful, serene and secluded as Santa Margarita in the spring.
The hills, which slope on lazily as far as the eye can see, are a bright, verdant green punctuated by vibrant splashes of wildflowers of every hue when we visit on an April afternoon. The skies, a piercing cerulean blue, admire themselves in the face of the placid and sprawling Santa Margarita Lake below. And throughout the vast, bucolic property, there is a hush, a calm, and a timeless, unrushed feeling that suggests the horses probably consider this paradise, too.
That was McBride’s dream after all: to build a haven for horses. The riders? They would hopefully enjoy it, too.
Well into her sixth decade, but still tough as nails and sharp as a tack – some women walk their dogs; she lets her 100-pound mastiff chase her in an ATV over the dirt paths of her property – McBride has loved and cared for horses nearly her entire life. She recalls starting her career as a 10-year-old, spending her days longingly watching the workers at a riding stable near Daly City.
“I used my own money at two-dollars an hour to rent horses, so they knew I could ride,” she says, flicking her long, blonde-fading-to-grey braid to the side, and her crystal blue eyes like soft pools as she harkens back. One day, taking notice of the girl, the owner of the stable asked her to take a horse out to feed. A few months later, he asked her to lead the horses and riders down to the beach. “I couldn’t believe it,” she says. “All of a sudden, I was a guide! That kind of started it. But I always did this on the side, ever since.”
From the Bay Area she went to Santa Cruz, to Tahoe, and to Oregon. Wherever she went, she always had at least three horses, and always led trail rides, adventure rides and campouts in the wilderness—when she wasn’t busy working at Safeway, doing commercial art, racing the Iditarod dog-sledding race or keeping the convicts in line as a peace officer at the county correctional facility.
In 1986, she moved back to California’s Central Coast and started her own trail riding company, as she had always dreamed of doing, in Paso Robles. In 1999, she purchased the pristine pastureland that abuts the Santa Margarita Lake County Park, with only her horses in mind.
This is because McBride knew that to create a successful and sustainable trail-riding business, the horses had to come first. Not only do her horses roam freely, untethered and unbridled, through her ranchlands, they also receive royal treatment from their riders. McBride makes sure of that.
Setting herself apart from the average horse-riding tour company, she takes the time to educate each and every rider that comes to her ranch about how to ride a horse humanely, giving hour-and-a-half long lessons that cover verbal, visual, reigns, brushing and handling skills.
“This is instructional trail riding,” she explains, noting that this method gives the riders a chance to bond with their horses, and ensures that the horses get the treatment they deserve. “This is horsemanship—real horsemanship. As Grandpa used to say, ‘The person has to have fun, but so does the horse.’”
Only after a rider understands how to treat a horse does the trail ride really begin. But it’s worth the effort. McBride leads her riders on tours to all of her favorite hideaways, following dusty dirt paths that stretch and wind through the landscape and periodically open up to offer an expansive vista of the lake and its overlooking craggy rock formations.
“There are so many places you can drive that are amazing, but for the peace and quiet that you get on the horse—with no cars, no motorcycles? We go to the places you can’t get to in a car.”
Secret, hidden places, tucked away on a property that is nothing short of paradise.
Visit Shangri-La Ranch online at shangrilaranch.net or call Victoria McBride at (805) 438-3895 to arrange a trail ride.
— Jamie Relth