By Georgia Tanner
All the Pretty Horses Ride and Rescue is located in the southern hills of Rosarito that overlook a wide valley, about three miles into the back country east of Cantamar. The peaceful location brings pleasant memories of childhood on a California ranch and early trips in Baja California when almost all roads were unpaved. The ride I took with Krystal, founder and manager of Pretty Horses Ranch, and two other visitors was like entering another time when the pressures of civilization did not exist and we traveled with live animals instead of machines. Our ride passed through an oak and chaparral canyon, sheltering us in a natural sanctuary.
Krystal makes things convenient for the rider. Rides are matched to your skill level, and the horses available for rides are experienced on the trails. It isn’t necessary to know the procedure for mounting a horse because Krystal supplies a stepstool. She also adjusts the stirrups. Stirrups of the proper length allow you to keep your heels down and stretch out your legs a bit to take some of the pressure off your rear end; this helps avoid next-day soreness. Lessons are available, $25 per hour for one person, and there are group rates. For kids and teens, the lessons start with horse care--brushing, hoof cleaning, and saddling--and progress to riding basics. And you’re never too old to learn about this animal that has long been a symbol of power and beauty. The horse shares many traits with us, including a need to bond with members of its own or other species, individuality, and an acute memory. Horses are a prey species, alert to danger. Not having stereoscopic vision, they need to check things out by facing forward to see with both eyes.
You can ride in a group or accompanied by another person from the ranch. There are many trails, some with views of the coast. Ride times are flexible. The average time people enjoy is an hour to an hour and a half. Longer rides, two hours or more, are possible--let them know and they’ll cut you a deal. Reservations are definitely recommended, and you can choose among many different kinds of rides: rides with a picnic (lunch and libations}; sunset rides; rides followed by a barbecue dinner or a bonfire--just let Krystal know what you want. Wine and margaritas are available, or you can bring your own food and drink if you like. The ranch is open all year, except after enough rain to turn the dirt road muddy in spots.
On my first trip to the ranch, I took a picture of the seven-month-old Appaloosa filly “Adelina” as she rummaged for grain in a can, and then Krystal told me how the ride and rescue ranch got started:
Born in Texas, Krystal was raised with horses and other animals. One day in northern Baja, about seven years ago, she saw a horse that had been hit and left on the side of the road. (Owners can be fined for letting horses roam.) Krystal realized that no one was rescueing horses. She saw a place with seven horses in bad shape, with no food or water. “Mrs. Bones,” now a healthy member of the riding stable, was one of them. Krystal walked onto the property and started watering the horses, then brought some hay. This eventually led to her negotiating a price for Mrs. Bones and her one-month-old offspring. The foal was impossible to catch but followed along as Krystal and the caretaker walked the mare to a ranch near Descanso; there the rescue project began and spent its first six years.
The new facility east of Cantamar has well water, and corrals have been built for all the horses. In the few months since my last visit, a roof over the stalls, a storage facility, pasture fencing, and a round exercise corral have been added. Now the ranch has 27 horses, about 14 of them available for rides.
The ranch subsists on donations and is also home to other rescued animals, including Daisy the goat, who acts like a big friendly dog. The money from each ride goes toward food, grooming, and medical care for the horses. Some horses are rescues that people have decided to support. Care for one horse runs about $200 per month; vet bills and shoeing are extra.
Directions: Near K45 on the free road and just north of Cantamar is a bridge with its entrance road to the south. Cross over and look for signs that say “Black Cross Wines.” Go east on the dirt road until it goes uphill; on your right is a wide red metal gate with the sign “Pretty Horses Rescue.” Go through the gate, follow the road and turn right at the T, go up the hill and turn left and there’s the ranch. A map is on their website, Bajahorses.com.