“I would ask my friends at the barn, who mainly do arena work, how their rides were on a given day,” recounts Kelly Yates of Palos Verdes, CA . “They would reply with, ‘well, my horse wouldn’t do this, or he didn’t do that’, and I realized that we needed a change. We needed to take our horses out of the arena and try something out of the ordinary, something really fun.”
This epiphany prompted Kelly to organize a yearly trip for a group of women – most from Palos Verdes, CA – to the famous V6 Ranch in Parkfield, CA (Earthquake Capital of the World). This year was the sixth visit Kelly and friends have made to V6 Ranch. My mom was one of these brave and adventurous ladies, and I was able to join the group for an afternoon, and a memorable dinner.
Back to Basics – Ranch Life
Sometimes getting back to the basics of “ranch work” is just what a rider needs to re-engage with what it really means to have a strong partnership with his or her horse, as well as truly enjoy time in the saddle. John Varian, of V6 Ranch, understands this philosophy, and put it on display as he worked (and played) alongside the ladies throughout their stay.
Ranching is a way of life that needs to be preserved, and many of the activities offered at the ranch are actual “jobs” that need to be done in order to keep this real-life working-cattle ranch operational. “It’s all about lifestyle preservation,” John said. “Until you experience first hand what happens on a cattle ranch, you won’t appreciate what we do.”
The ladies in Kelly’s group were certainly out of their element, but they enjoyed every single minute of their ranching experience.
One of the activities that I found most interesting was when the ladies were given the chance to “catch their dinner”. A “dummy cow” was set up, and everyone got the chance to swing a rope, which is not something that most of us equestrians do on a daily basis…or ever! “How big should the loop be?”, “How do I hold the rope?”, “Yay, I caught the head!”, were just a few of the things that I heard as “dinner” was being wrangled.
John was right there to help the ladies get a feel for swinging the rope. “We do this every day. Whether we swing a rope for work, for play, or for competition, it’s what we do. It’s part of our lifestyle,” John said.
Sorting Things Out
One of the things that John enjoys sharing with his guests the most is cattle work. This usually involves gathering cattle out of the hills and sorting them into pens. “The guests don’t get to do this on a daily basis. We do it everyday, either with our guests or on our own,” John explained. The sorting lesson begins with terminology.
John gave the ladies a little lesson on the intricacies of color…you have the black, the brown, the white-faced black, the white-faced brown. Sounds easy, right? Well, you also have the cattle with the broken white faces, which are called “Brockle”, and the cream colored cattle, which are called “Charolais”. At this point the ladies were scratching their heads a little, but John continued.
“You will work in teams of three,” John said. “One will be the gate, one will be the sorter, and one will be in the turn-back position.” Assisted by his daughter, Lauren, and family-friend, Kristen Reynolds, they demonstrated how “easy” it is to sort. The “sorter” calls out a cow, for instance “the brown”, and then moves his or her horse to face the middle of that cow. The chosen cow then begins to move away and pushes the other cattle along. The sorter tries to cut the chosen cow from the herd, assisted by the turn-back rider. Once the chosen cow is alone, the gate keeper opens the “gate” by moving out of the way so that the cow can easily pass into the next pen. Once the demonstration was completed, John left the “sorting” ladies in the capable hands of Kristen and took the rest out on a trail ride. In the end, team work prevailed, and most of the “sorting” ladies got it, except for the occasional reminder of terminology… “What’s the name of the cream colored cow, again?”
Social Time and Relaxation
Dinner that night was served in the Parkfield Cafe, where V6 Ranch caters to many loyal customers, and several new (and curious) ones every week, Thursday through Sunday. John’s wife, Barbara, oversees the kitchen activities, and all meals are made from scratch, using V6’s own grass-fed beef, Central Coast produce and other local products, like Brian’s Bread. The ladies and I enjoyed chicken off the grill, bread and salad. Dessert was home-made mud-pie, which really hit the spot. Local beer was on tap, and Central Coast wines were available.
There is something magical about sitting together with a good group of friends after a long day of ranch life. The ladies were able to enjoy the fruits of their labor, so to speak, as they talked and joked about the day’s activities. By the time I left, the ladies had been well-worked, well-fed and were ready for a good night’s rest before a big day of rounding up cattle in the hills. I later found out that this took about 7 hours. Riding over ridges and down into valleys, the ladies were awed by incredible Central Coast vistas. Definitely not an ordinary day…
V6 Ranch welcomes groups of 20 or more who want the real-life “working cattle ranch experience”. Riders can choose to bring their own horses, or rent V6 Ranch horses. The rides and activities can be long and arduous, so a personal horse must be in good shape to get the most out of the experience. Accommodations for a group may vary, and members can choose to camp in their own rig or tent, stay in a 6-room cattle ranch bunkhouse, or enjoy the comfortable Parkfield Inn Lodge. Custom activities are scheduled for every group, and will most likely involve doing some kind of “work” on the ranch.
V6 Ranch also offers numerous events throughout the year, from Dude Ranch Weekends and Rodeos, to Barb’s Wild Weekend. Check out the event schedule and plan your own extraordinary trip to V6 Ranch in Parkfield, CA. Bring the whole family!
Story written by Sharon Jantzen
Roping, Sorting, Cafe and Parkfield Inn Lodge Pictures by Sharon Jantzen
Gathering in the hills pictures by Nancy Wildman