Horse Heaven on Earth - In California?

I consider myself fortunate to live in the Bay Area of Northern California. Although living here has its challenges – the cost of living is high, fuel prices are through the roof, and the term “commute” takes on a meaning all its own – it is a fabulous place to live if you love the great outdoors. The greater Bay Area’s approximately 11 million residents have access to hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands right out their back doors. This is heaven on earth for hikers, mountain bikers and trail riders.

Stretching along the region east of San Francisco known as the East Bay is a network of 65 parks that are managed by the East Bay Regional District. These parks cover more than 113,000 acres and have more than 1,200 miles of trails. The East Bay Municipal Utilities District manages another 27,000 acres of open space with 80 miles of trails, staging areas and an abundance of water tanks for horses.

Water tanks like this one are numerous in the parks. The fish in this one are huge.
I often wonder how they survive all the raccoons and hawks.

Mount Diablo State Park is a stand-alone behemoth, and its 3,864-foot peak is the centerpiece of the East Bay. The state park is comprised of 20,000 acres within 90,000 acres of preserved land. For conditioning endurance horses, it’s tough to beat Mt. Diablo. My riding partner Jenni Smith and I have an 18 mile circuit that we like to train on that includes three strenuous climbs of three to five miles in length. There is ample water and, with summertime temps regularly in the 90s, this is ideal Tevis training ground. Eighteen miles might not sound like much of a training ride, but eighteen miles of Mt. Diablo in the summer is as tough as it gets.

Jenni Smith at Prospector's Gap on Mt. Diablo.

The view from Juniper Campground on Mt. Diablo, looking west over the East Bay.

My other favorite park in the East Bay is the Briones. The park is 6,117 acres and the trails offer challenging climbs, lots of opportunities for long canters and a spectacular 18 mile loop around the stunning reservoir.

Right out my back door is Robert Lewis Stephenson State Park and Mount St. Helena—elevation 4,341 feet. I use the 5.5 mile fire road to the summit for cardio training because I can canter the horses bottom to top without stopping. The 360-degree view at the top is spectacular!

The remnants of an old outhouse at the summit of Mount St. Helena. What a view!

The crown jewels of the Bay Area lie to the north of San Francisco. Golden Gate National Recreation Area stretches along 60 miles of coastline. Interestingly, this national park includes the Golden Gate Bridge, although I wouldn’t recommend riding a horse across it. Beyond that is the 71,000-acre Pt. Reyes National Seashore – my all-time favorite place to ride. The trails are challenging and the scenery is spectacular. This is a mecca for trail riders.

Pt. Reyes National Seashore, with Drakes Bay and the Peninsula in the background.

The fees for using these parks vary. Pt. Reyes and RLS parks are free. Most of the East Bay parks charge $6. Those of us who live in California and others outside the state who pay attention to California politics are aware that some of these parks are in jeopardy of closing due to a lack of funding to maintain them for public use. Last year, Governor Jerry Brown, facing a $15.7 billion state budget deficit, said that closing 70 parks -- one quarter of the state's 280 state parks -- would save $22 million a year. Several parks in the greater Bay Area were closed temporarily. With each closure, a privately-funded organization popped up to provide the funds necessary to reopen the parks.

Easyboot Gloves in the sand.

Living in the Bay Area poses many challenges. Fortunately, not all challenges are negative. The challenge of the trails that I have access to is the best challenge of all. As a horse lover and endurance rider, I can’t imagine a better place to live.

Footnote: My friend Alyssa Radtke recently completed her first 50-mile ride on Dixie the Mustang. Her fiancé Anthony brought along is 2013 Extreme Mustang Challenge entry Luna and did the LD ride just for fun. This is noteworthy because Luna was adopted in January and has only been "unwild" for about 6 weeks. Also, Anthony is about 6'4" tall and Luna is about 13 hands! People at the ride were so amazed by her they asked to have their picture taken with her.


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