Seeking a unique way to spend time outdoors on a recent visit to Southern California, I happened upon the website for Country Trails and Riding School in Irvine Regional Park.
About Country Trails
Country Trails and Riding School is first and foremost a riding school, offering Western, English, and dressage-style riding lessons for beginning and intermediate students of all ages. They also offer full-care horse boarding at the adjacent Peacock Hill Equestrian Center. But my interest was in their trail rides, which they offer six days a week (closed Mondays and holidays) for $45 per person per hour in one- or two-hour increments throughout the day. Rides are in small groups (no more than eight persons per group), and Country Trails is willing and able to cater to various clientele and special events. No previous riding experience is necessary. Riders must be at least 8 years old and riders under 18 must have a parent or guardian sign for them and must wear a helmet. Helmets are available and recommended for all riders, but not required for adults over 18. Pregnant women and individuals weighing over 200 lbs. are not allowed to ride and no double riding is permitted.
About Irvine Regional Park
Country Trails is located within Irvine Regional Park, a 477-acre parcel situated in the hills of Orange, California. It is open year-round, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the fall and winter and from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the spring and summer. The park is home to the Orange County Zoo and offers a variety of recreational venues including six playgrounds, four softball fields, four group gathering areas, two horseshoe pits, and a range of hiking trails, some open to bicycles and equestrians. For those bringing their own mount, a parking lot is provided for horse trailers and a watering trough is available.
Much of the park is deeply shaded by its groves of heritage oak and sycamore maple trees, and its topography includes a lake and Santiago Creek. Paddle boats and bikes are available to rent, and the Irvine Park Railroad offers a fun and scenic way to tour the park.
My Country Trails Experience
I booked a two-hour ride with Country Trails to celebrate my sister’s birthday. Our ride took place in late January, 2015, on a sunny day with temperatures around 70 degrees F—in a word, perfect. Our guide, Alisha, was experienced, knowledgeable and fun. She accurately assessed our riding abilities and paired us with compatible horses. Like everyone at Country Trails, Alisha has a wealth of experience with horses, having begun riding at 6 years of age. She has an obvious affection for her own horse, Casino, and shared some stories about their years together in competitive riding and reining contests. She answered our questions about the local flora, fauna and history, and filled us in on worthwhile tidbits about the area that made the ride more interesting. My sister and I were the only clients on our ride, and the personalized attention was appreciated. Alisha let us help determine various parts of the route to suit our interests. It was clear that she knew what she was doing and could handle pretty much any situation that came up, instilling confidence in her clients.
Getting There/Further Information
Country Trails offers trail rides Tuesday through Sunday (i.e., every day but Monday) and is closed most major holidays. Information about their one- and two-hour trail rides is available at http://www.ctriding.com, and rides can be scheduled by calling 714-538-5860. All trail rides are at a walking pace; those looking to “cowboy up” and get galloping should look elsewhere.
Country Trails and Riding School is located at 1 Irvine Park Road in Orange, California, essentially at the north terminus of Jamboree Road. The best way to get there depends upon the direction you come from, but from Interstate 5 northbound, take the Jamboree exit and follow Jamboree north about 6 miles until you see the park entrance. Turn left to enter the park, where you will pay an admission fee (ranging from $3 to $7 depending upon the day), then take the second right. Park on the right hand side of the road at the train station; Country Trails is right across the street.
Top Photo: Lupine and wild mustards dot the hills on a warm January day in Irvine hills.