Sixteen of the ranch’s 60 horses are a part of the trail string. Photo Courtesy Covell Clydesdales
The deliberate footfalls from your 1,800-pound mount punctuate the rhythmic squeak of your saddle. You wind your way up the path that leads through grassy meadows with free-range Black Angus cattle peeking through the endangered Monterey Pines. And then you arrive. From your hilltop vantage point on the Covell Ranch, and the added elevation of the 17.3-hand Clydesdale underneath you, you take in the view of the Pacific Ocean just a few miles away. You’re on top of the world.Located along California’s Central Coast, Cambria is full of great views, especially on horseback. Photo by Kara Stewart
It feels like a dream riding a massive yet gentle draft horse on a trail that weaves through wide-open spaces on a private 2,000-acre ranch. But you’re riding a Clydesdale at Covell Ranch in Cambria, Calif.
Tara Covell and her small team of friends and family run the rides. Of the 50 or so horses on the ranch, Tara currently has 16 in the trail-riding string.
Tara and her father, Ralph Covell, who’s been breeding Clydesdales for 40 years, honor their special horses, their wellbeing, and the opportunity to share their world with you.
This draft horse breed originated from Clydesdale, Scotland. Typically bay with white legs, they range in size from 17 to 19 hands and 1,800 to 2,200 lbs. Their gentle and generous spirit, as well as a barrel that’s not as broad as some draft breeds, make them wonderful riding horses.
Before each ride, Tara starts with a brief instruction session. “All of our riding horses are first taught to drive,” says Tara. “We ask you to ride them the same way we do.”
Instead of direct reining, which pulls back more than sideways, she wants riders to guide with more of an outside pull. After demonstrating, Tara and her team start helping riders mount up using a 4-foot stepladder tucked between each patient horse.
Ralph started with one team of Clydesdales at the family’s first ranch near Los Angeles. The program grew, and Covell Clydesdales became one of the most successful hitch and halter horse competitors in shows across the U.S. and Canada.
In 1998, he bought the 2,000-acre ranch in Cambria, and they started the trail riding program in 2015. Covell Clydesdales is one of just a few places in the U.S. that offer this experience. In addition to trail rides, they offer vehicle tours of the ranch for those who can’t ride but want to see the horses in their natural state and enjoy the beauty of the ranch.Enjoy wide-open spaces on a thundering giant for a change of pace. Photo by Kara Stewart
People of all ages and from around the world come to ride a Covell Clydesdale. While most riders are beginners (for many, it’s their first time on a horse), experienced riders enjoy the ride because it’s not a typical nose-to-tail trail ride. Certain places on the trail even allow for trotting or cantering if riders choose.
Plus, it’s truly a family friendly experience.
“Our minimum rider age is 7,” says Tara.
“We’ve had riders in their 80s, as well as riders with prosthetic arms and legs.”
The trail crests the top of the hill and the view extends in all directions. This just might be what heaven is like, at least for a horse lover.
As the horses take a break and humans take in the landscape, Tara and her team take photos of everyone who wants one.
For a few more minutes, the group can take in the 360-degree view. On this warm spring day, the meadow is as green as Scotland—the original birthplace of these majestic horses.The Covell Clydesdales are particularly gentle with riders of all experience levels. Photo by Kara Stewart
“People talk about their dream life,” says Tara. “I’m blessed to live mine every day and share it with so many people.”
If you want to experience being on top of the world, there’s no better place than from the back of a gentle Clydesdale at the Covell Ranch. To book your ride, visit www.covellsclydesdaleranch.com.
This article about riding Clydesdales in California at the Covell Ranch appeared in the July 2020 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!
Covell Ranch is located in Cambria on California’s Central Coast, about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The closest airport is San Luis Obispo County
The little artist community of Cambria is one of the gems of the Central Coast. In fact, its closest beach is named Moonstone Beach. Strewn through its pebbly sand are bits of sea glass and polished rocks, making the beach a favorite place to wander slowly.
Come early for breakfast or stop for lunch or dinner after your ride. The Sea Chest Oyster Bar and Restaurant, Linn’s Fruit Bin, Robin’s Restaurant, and Cambria Café are some local favorites.
If you’re driving south after your ride, stop in the tiny town of Harmony,
and be sure to check out the Harmony Glassworks glassblowing shop.
Kara L. Stewart shared more than two decades with her beloved Arabian, Eddie. Their frequent walks on the trails in San Luis Obispo, Calif.; the daily turnout with friends Chief, Star and Viva; and the love of many human barn friends helped Eddie enjoy 30 bright and shiny years.
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