Friends, Horses & Paparazzi in Half Moon Bay

The main reason for our visit to Half Moon Bay was to see Ondine, my twelve year-old daughter, Astrid’s, best friend. Half Moon Bay is approximately half-way between San Francisco, where we live, and Davenport, a speck of a strawberry-farming town along the so-called “slow coast” just north of Santa Cruz, where Ondine’s family moved one sad day about four years ago. Although the girls would have been happy doing just about anything so long as they were together, I wanted to do something special and came up with the idea of horseback riding at Seahorse Ranch, a place I’d noticed on previous trips up and down Highway One. It was a sunny Friday in mid-February and my two daughters, as well as Ondine, were off from school for Lunar New Year; the perfect day for a guided trail ride in Half Moon Bay.

Ondine and her father were waiting for us when we arrived at Seahorse Ranch around 10:30 that morning. We hugged, spent a few minutes with their new puppy and then joined the other riders in our 11am trail ride for a brief orientation on horseback riding basics and the rules of the ranch. It was then that I received two slightly distressing pieces of information. The first was that Selena, the horse that my 10 year-old daughter, Annika, was paired with, had been a “wild mustang” before coming to Seahorse Ranch. “But she’s very gentle now,” one of the trail guides assured me. Second, for safety reasons, we were not allowed to take photos or even bring our cell phones with us on the ride. Fortunately, however, neither Selena’s checkered past nor our inability to take selfies turned out to be an issue.

Soon after leaving the stables, we discovered that Selena and the other horses assigned to our group of fifteen riders were, if anything, too mellow. Plodding along in single-file as they took us through meadows and woodlands, across a small stream, down the bluffs and onto the beach, the horses had a “been here done that” air about them and seemed kind of over it. Our attempts to speed them into a trot by gently kicking their sides, whistling and shouting “vamos!” in imitation of our Mexican trail guides, were mostly unsuccessful. The horses simply preferred to walk.

But while the ride itself was less than thrilling, the experience of being transported by such beautiful, strong animals along this spectacular stretch of Northern California coastline was nevertheless one for the books. Looking out at the deep blue, sparkling Pacific, the white sand beach stretching endlessly southward, I felt as though I were on a movie set, so picture perfect it was.

Although I was not able to use my own camera to capture it all on film, our adventure did not go undocumented. A small army of photographers were strategically positioned at various places along the trail, waiting to snap shots of us as we rode by. Some I barely noticed, while others, like the guy who whizzed by on a Segway shouting  “Yeehaw!” were less subtle.

At the end of the ride, we were encouraged to go view our photos on computer screens set up in a shed near the stables. Though it felt like a bit of a scam, the photos were surprisingly good, and I had to admit that the ranch’s rule against photography had allowed me to be more present on the ride. But memories being as important as the experience itself, I couldn’t leave Seahorse Ranch without some photos. Without hesitation, I forked over the money for a flash drive containing the 200 some pictures from our ride, and headed back out into the sunshine with the girls.