Ricochet Ridge Ranch

Richochet Ridge Ranch

Heaven for experienced riders. I just can't emphasise this enough. The quality and supreme fitness of the horses, the attention paid by the staff to the riding, and the wonder of the North Californian redwoods all come together to make a memorable experience.


Ricochet is run by Lari Shea (although she has been decreasing her involvement in the past few years), an experienced endurance competitor. They run regular holiday programmes, where guests stay in local B&Bs for a week, or you can book a regular beach ride, or a custom riding programme can be arranged for just yourself and any friends you care to bring along.

My first visit was for a riding holiday, followed by a trip with my then 13 year old son, and a later trip with a colleague and friend, who is a BHS qualified riding instructor.


Fort Bragg is nothing special, but Mendocino and all points on the way to it from San Francisco are. Diversions can enjoyably be made to Napa, Sonoma or the Russian River wine areas. The main attraction of the area are the redwoods; you might see some black bears, and you will certainly see their scat.

The ranch is located just on Highway 101, leaving Fort Bragg northwards. This is about 30 minutes north of Mendocino, which is a 4 hour drive from San Francisco airport. I reckon to be able to fly in from England, pick up a car, and drive up to Ricochet with a short (1 hour) break on the way, and this suits my personal time zone system. If that doesn't suit, an overnight break can reasonably be taken in the San Francisco environs, or anywhere between Petaluma and Mendocino.

Although 101 is the quickest way to get to Ricochet, taking the (far longer) Highway 1 through Marin County is a very attractive alternative. The route is rich with good B&Bs and small inns; you will need at least one overnight stop (it takes at least five hours for the trip, and it is very hard, and foolish, to rush it). This can be done on the way there or the way back; but be aware that local residents from the Bay Area will often fill up everywhere at weekends and holidays, so book in advance for Friday and Saturday nights. Another possible detour would be through the Sonoma or Napa valleys, but this would add at least a further five hours onto the journey time.


On the official holiday programmes you are booked into various B&Bs in the near area of Ricochet; the closest is the Cleone Lodge (the name has changed once or twice) which is very pleasant, and more or less in walking distance of the ranch. I have stayed there on other trips with great satisfaction - they have a hot tub, and will serve breakfast in your room or on the deck. All the other B&Bs have very good to excellent hot tubs. One night on the standard programme is spent at the Mendocino Inn, which is reasonably fancy for the area.

The ranch is really just a riding stables - you get a barn with stables and tack room, and an office, and that's about it.


Provided by the B&Bs, and is good home cooking. Some meals can be taken in Fort Bragg, where there is a decent selection of restaurants, including a brewery, several fish restaurants, and a good burger stand.

Lunch is invariable self-made sandwiches, granola bars and juice, all squeezed into saddle bags. Nothing fancy, but satisfying.


The holiday programme has a couple of nights in restaurants with musical entertainment arranged. Apart from that it is up to you; Fort Bragg has a couple of bars are restaurants, and Mendicino has quite a little community going.


Trails from the ranch lead onto Ten Mile Beach, a couple of miles down the stretch of it. This is a sandy beach where you will find sand dollars cast up, and are likely to see seals on the rocks off-shore. To the north a couple of rocky breaks and small streams split the flow of the beach, but it allows several lengthy canters if desired. Heading south, there aren't any clear stretches for sandy canters, but the track threads in and out of the dunes.

Most other rides involve trailering to either a national park, or to the edge of some local ranchers land that Lari has permission to use. The coastal zone is grassy cattle country, rising rapidly into the hills, which are mainly second growth (and third and fourth) redwood forest. Back of the hills the land drops again with some open stretches and a stream to cross.

A few of the riding horses are Orlovs and Akhal-Tekes and crosses, but most are Arab and Quarter Horse. All of them are ridden in endurance tack, which means plastic bridles and various types of saddle, with wide cushioned metal stirrups and a saddle cloth with pouches and ties. The preferred riding style appears to me to be closer to English than to Western, but with loose contact. Died in the wool Western riders can be catered for. The horses are used to the terrain, which is steep but fast, and are used to endurance competitions. Some of the horses available to guests are endurance champions in their own right, and may well have a competition schedule arranged for that season. As a result, all the horses are extremely fit, with astonishing recovery times. I have galloped up a steep hillside trail to the point of exhaustion (with heart rate monitors on the horses), paused for no more than a minute, and continued on at full gallop with no sign of tiredness, and repeated over and over.

The holiday programme includes some simple instruction in endurance riding. I have already mentioned heart rate monitors, which you are taught to use, and how to monitor your horses fitness by checking for skin hydration and breathing rates.

Heading north up the beach at a fast pace, your party will cross Ten Mile River, which has a long, narrow bridge, then turn inland through pastures and up the coastal foothills to the first ridge, where the remains of an old homestead can be found, and apples picked from the remains of the old orchard. From there you turn into forestry land, with a network of steep logging trails. The tracks eventually head down into a lightly wooded valley with a small river or stream, which we follow along. The party will eventually turn back to the coast.


Arriving for the first day of the holiday programme, and all the guests sitting down to describe their previous experience. A group of three horse owners (who turned out to be the least experienced of the bunch), one Canadian who had been supposed to come with his daughter, but couldn't, one woman from LA who, in fact, hadn't done much riding at all since she was a child, and myself. This sticks in my memory because the booking form says that you need to be reasonably experienced - but I guess that is what they have learned to expect.

Arriving at a stream to water the horses. One of the horses, ridden by one of the horse owners, starts to paw at the water. "Don't let her roll!" But she, oblivious, does. And I have a photo of the moment.

Riding Hasheem (Arabian, naturally) on January day in perpetual rain. After a short trot, we hit the first steep uphill trail, and the group takes off flat out. All three horses start to tire after a respectable distance, and I let Hasheem fall back to walk when he chooses. We all rest at a slow walk for about one or two minutes, then take off up the next steep trail, as fast and as long as the first stretch.

Heading back to the ranch at the end of the day, we come back along the beach, with somewhere between four and six miles to go. The first day, apart from our guide, there is Lee, a very experienced friend of mine, and two supposedly experienced others. They can't hold back (and I see that they had been given two of the slower and steadier horses), and one of them keeps on turning up the beach into deep sand, in a very (far too) tight circle. The next day, Lee decides that it is far more interesting to take the entire length of the beach at a walk, so we do - which is challenging.