The Home of Doc Bar
After interviewing the Nor Cal Downunder Brumbies coordinator Michael Canfield for our Whoa Podcast and hearing about a Memorial Day gathering at the Bar SZ Ranch, the home of Doc Bar in San Benito, Ca. we immediately signed up. The only catch was we would have to prepare a meal for 20+. I figured I could not screw up breakfast too much, so we were in. Ranae scheduled a couple of extra days off and we were both excited for the opportunity to get out of town with our horses.
What we had not counted on was just how much fun and enjoyable the trip would be. The Nor Cal Downunder Brumbies are a group of people who have bonded over the Clinton Anderson Downunder Horse Training Method. They have a common goal to share techniques and help each other learn as much as possible about horse training. I’ve been part of groups similar to this in other fields and it is difficult to get participation and leadership. No so with the Brumbies. This trip had 25 + people and almost as many horses. Michael had fashioned a schedule that, as he liked to say, was “written in frozen jello”. This was essentially saying, “here’s what we have planned, but if you want to do something else, knock yourself out.”
The Bar SZ Ranch was once the home of the Hall of Fame Quarter Horse Doc Bar who died in 1992 and is buried under a walnut tree between his stable and the mare barn. Even though I’ve only seen pictures of Doc Bar, you can feel his presence. In 2001 the 660 acre ranch was purchased by the renowned artist Thomas Kinkade. Kinkade used the ranch as a retreat and transformed the guest house into an art studio. It has a great view of the Diablo Mountains.
The property has had its ups and downs since Kinkade’s death in 2012. The property is under the guidance of the Kinkade Foundation who recently placed Tim and Michelle Borland as stewards. The Borlands live on the property with their three children and have been culling the livestock to a more manageable level for the property’s resources.
The Borlands hope to take advantage of the idyllic location and atmosphere of the ranch. By combining their love of horses and the outdoors with the excellent horse and housing facilities the Borlands plan on marketing the property for horse events, such as sorting or training, family reunions, company retreats, and weddings.
With 660 acres, a 10 stall mare barn, Doc Bar’s stallion barn, round pen, covered arena, and open arena there is more than enough room for horses. With a main house that sleeps twelve and and artist’s studio that has two bedrooms and a loft to sleep four, there is enough room to sleep a lot of people.
We arrived on Friday afternoon, settled the horses, and took a walk around the place. There are pastures and trails, horseshoe pit, a very nice patio at the main house and a lovely deck at the art studio. We lucked out and got the master bedroom in the art studio. Meals were shared among the members. We had Sunday breakfast. I had never cooked for twenty five people before and was a little apprehensive, but it all turned out just fine. If you weren’t assigned to preparing a meal, you got assigned to clean up. Other than learning the idiosyncrasies of the kitchen appliances, everything turned out just dandy.
Saturday morning there were a couple of workshops both in the covered arena and out in the main arena. Jessie and I took advantage of the main arena to do some groundwork on the lead. After doing some C-pattern, lungeing for respect, de-sensitizing we backed up all the way to the trailer to saddle up. There were some cones and poles set up. We did a little more warm up and the loped some circles. It was a great area to lope. The footing was pretty good and there was a lot of room. Off to the side was a stand of trees that Tim had pruned so we could do some bending exercises there. It was a great little area. There were some gopher and squirrel holes we had to negotiate, but that just made it a little more challenging.
After lunch we watched a video on Ranch Sorting. The video was for beginners and the hosts began by demonstrating the art of moving cattle and the rules of the game on foot. This really appealed to me as it slowed everything down and it gave me an opportunity to see just how movement and position affected the cattle. When I mentioned I really wanted to try it from the ground, the group was open to the suggestion and many of us had the opportunity to work close to the herd.
When we finally got to work the cattle from horseback we had an experienced Ranch Sorter and neighbor of the ranch, Verne Shields, right in there with us offering guidance. Not everyone chose to participate, and that was fine, but everyone who did, got as much time as they liked.
Sunday morning there were a few more workshops and Chris White gave us a seminar on equine massage and saddle fitting. Jessie and I worked out in the arena again. She was a bit herd-bound and I did not think she was paying enough attention. We had an opportunity to work on a few things. We also spent more time in the stand of trees working on bending. She was a little chargy on the trail ride and we worked on getting her to be comfortable in the back. The ground in the open areas had quite a few squirrels holes and we did get as much done on this problem as I had hoped.
Out at the end of one of the trails Tim and Michelle had built a natural obstacle course. There was a wooden bridge, some tires to serpentine, and a number of dead logs to jump. Everyone spent about 20 minutes working the different areas. After everyone had had enough we headed back to the barn.
Sunday evening after dinner we had a barn dance. As one of a number of special talents this couple possess, Tim and Michelle teach country western dancing. In no time at all they had us doing the country 2-step and the Electric Slide.
Monday morning after breakfast Ranae and I went on a solo ride through the foothills. It was great being out there together – just us and our horses. It was tough leaving. We had a four hour drive home that, with holiday traffic, turned to five. Then a couple of hours unpacking and settling the horses in back home. It was an end to a long weekend and I had no problems falling asleep that night. While we are at home now, I think a little piece of me stayed back there with Doc Bar.
Below is a short little video of our experience: