Those who believe there is just one way to experience Temecula Valley wine country – via car, limo or shuttle – may want to consider the idea that long before the Temecula Valley was wine country, it was, well, horse country.
Perhaps it is time to experience wine country the way it once was: early in the morning, deep in the vines, with the mist rolling over the hills and Rancho California Road nowhere in sight.
Wine Country Trails by Horseback, owned and operated by lifelong horsewoman Diana LeFort, specializes in intimate wine country tours for riders of all ages (7 and above) and experience levels.
“We are so passionate about showing people the beauty that our wonderful wine country has to offer,” said LeFort. “You have to go way back into the vines truly experience it, so we are fortunate to have Wilson Creek Winery as one of our partner wineries. They have over 90 acres that we can wander, which creates a really special ride.”
LeFort went on to say that while the typical group size is around six, Wine Country Trails encourages youth groups, Meet Ups and other large groups to inquire.
“We started with two horses six years ago and now we have 65,” said LeFort. “That allows us a great deal of flexibility with the larger groups.”
How in the world would a small business grow from two to 65 horses in such a short time?
“We actually started out as a horse rescue operation and eventually built the business around our adopted horses,” said LeFort. “Unfortunately the down economy hit folks hard and these poor horses had nowhere to go.”
LeFort and her accountant husband quickly realized that they would need to find a way to support the growing numbers at their ranch.
“We decided against going non-profit because the rules require that the horses remain fairly sedentary. Horses, by nature, need a job to be happy and healthy,” said LeFort. “Wine Country Trails gives them a purpose.”
The rescued horses are often in terrible condition — down to skin and bones — when they arrive. LeFort and her team rehabilitate, recondition and train them, then put them to work. That is not to say that the horses are on duty every day.
“We are not a seven day per week operation,” LeFort said. “Our horses and staff deserve rest, so we are closed on Monday and Tuesday.”
Wine Country Horse Trails schedules three rides per day, ranging from a simple ride to a deluxe package dubbed Ride, Wine & Dine which finishes at The Creek Side Grill at Wilson Creek. Other partner wineries include Lorimar Vineyards & Winery, Baily Vineyard & Winery, Danza del Sol Winery, Robert Renzoni Vineyards and Ponte Family Winery.
“We love working with family-owned wineries,” said LeFort. “We seem to share a passion for wine country and for building a sense of community.”
Wine Country Horse Trails has no plans to slow down their horse rescue efforts any time soon.
“When a new horse comes, the business grows to support it,” LeFort said. “Every time we turn around, God opens another door for us. We are so blessed to be able to share our amazing animals with the community in the most beautiful setting imaginable.”
Corie Maue is a local writer and regular contributor to SWRNN.