the journey of 100 miles

A story of faith, horses and impossible dreams

· second chances,rescue,healing,horse stories

Rafe and I met in 1997. In our early days, weeks and months together, we split our time between Hermosa Beach and Santa Monica; the 17 miles that separated us felt like 100.

We started dating in January. In June, I could see my life quickly changing: I'd completed my Master’s degree at Loyola Marymount University and I saw a career transition in the not too distant future, so in the interim, I needed to make a move that got me closer to what I wanted most of all – Rafe.

I thought I’d enjoy living in Brentwood, down the street from where Rafe’s mom and dad lived, but there weren’t many vacancies in the exclusive neighborhood, few I could afford, and even fewer on desirable streets.

“Knock on every door,” Rafe insisted before I began to argue with him.

Why, WHY would I bother anyone who didn’t have a “For Rent” sign clearly visible on their property? He’s crazy, I thought, but somewhere in the recesses of my mind I heard the Mother Abbess in The Sound of Music singing …

Climb ev’ry mountain
Search high and low
Follow ev’ry by-way
Every path you know

Climb ev’ry mountain
Ford ev’ry stream
Follow ev’ry rainbow
‘Till you find your dream

“You’ll never know if you don’t ask,” he blindly encouraged. He was committed to helping me see it was possible, while I discouraged him and insisted that I would find my next place the old-fashioned way, which I stubbornly did.

Well...I did and I didn’t. I found a new apartment but it wasn’t in Brentwood, and I settled into a sublet of a friend’s place for a few months before trying again and settling in Westwood which worked well enough.

One move was followed by another. After we got married, we signed our first lease together. Then, as we began to earn higher salaries, we upgraded to an apartment with a walk-in closet, two parking spaces, an extra half bath and a washer and dryer! Our next move was motivated by the realization that what we were paying in rent would easily translate into a mortgage, and the one that followed included a house more suitable for toddlers and dogs.The move to our current home reflected our new reality: living with two teens who needed their own bathrooms. Between 1997 and 2017, we’ve lived in seven different homes, not including Wrong Turn Ranch.

In 2012, Rafe and I adopted our first horse, Nickels, and boarded him nearby in Topanga Canyon. After Nickels came Trigger and Penny, then Fleur, Stella and Caliente after which we did the math and realized we were practically funding our own boarding stable. We entered a three-year lease on the last day of 2013 to move our little herd to 22 acres with a house big enough for all of us (and visitors!), plus Angi and Seth, along with their dozen horses, and moved 100 miles away to a place we lovingly named Wrong Turn Ranch.

Wrong Turn Ranch was named for the geographical errors we made while driving, every missed street and unplanned U turn noted. Symbolically, it represented the herd of horses and people who found themselves in our care after their own wrong turns in life.

The ranch was home to our herd and that was all it ever needed to be.

Loving it as it was, Wrong Turn Ranch continued to grow and along with it we began to include rescue/rehabilitation/leadership with horses and people.

I think leadership, healing, rehabilitation and recovery are all manifestations of the same intention: learning to love, accept, inspire and challenge each being (whether it’s a horse, a dog or a human who comes to our ranch) to be exactly who and what they are, wherever they are, to help them grow.

We loved our hidden gem of a ranch nestled in the jewel box of the Santa Ynez Valley. We’d disappear from Los Angeles after the kids got out of school on Friday afternoons and come back to the suburbs late on Sundays, happier, dirtier, and reinspired to face the next week.

The 100 miles felt like nothing; the drive was our passport to another world, a sweet
rural oasis where we became known as locals.

Rafe has an incredible capacity to enjoy the present, be slightly to moderately dissatisfied when conditions are off (especially if I’m not blissfully content), advocate fiercely for change, and have an eye on future opportunities. These qualities make playing board games with Rafe nearly impossible. When he plays a game ONCE, he understands all the rules and strategies and has a ton of fun playing as he anticipates every opportunity of a potential win or loss. If he ends up in a scenario where he knows he can’t win, he will change the outcomes of the game for everyone else thereby making a new game for himself which he enjoys equally, if not more, than the original game. (He calls this strategy "being a thorn." His older sister is not a fan.)

With an eye on future opportunities, we probably started looking at new ranches in the summer of 2016, assuming we’d want a property of our own for the long term, and wanting to give the owner of the 22 acres ample notice should we decide to leave.

No matter how idyllic the town, 100 miles from home is a lot of distance to cover, especially as our little kids became teenagers with lives of their own, and our family visits became less and less frequent. This made us slightly to moderately dissatisfied with the conditions of our life, so Rafe began to fiercely advocate for change and change meant finding a new ranch.

We starting spending too much time apart.

We moved two horses closer to home three times, each time unsuccessful. The magic of Wrong Turn Ranch, we realized, is the community of caring people as much - if not more - than the opportunity to ride horses.

If you include the properties Rafe looked at when we transitioned from one boarding facility to the next before moving out to Santa Ynez, he has looked at hundreds, if not THOUSANDS of potential equestrian properties. The idea of having the ranch experience we wanted seemed like an impossible dream, intoxicatingly inspiring, but intensely complex.

We considered learning to fly a small plane to avoid the traffic – because somehow buying a small plane would be more cost effective than buying a horse property in Los Angeles.

We thought about moving the whole operation to Hawaii, but considering shipping our 40+ horses by boat across the Pacific was laughably impractical; beyond that, the cost of developing a ranch on the island where acreage, hay and veterinary care are limited shelved
that option.

We could move to Colorado or Wyoming, Washington, Oregon or maybe Northern California, and we could fly out one weekend a month, he’d suggest, because the land was so much more open and affordable.

Paso Robles, Temecula? We want our horses to be accessible to people in Los Angeles, our people, our clients and friends, our families. We couldn't make it harder for people to get to us.

We visited a minimum of forty-four local potential equestrian properties in person (we kept a list) all over Southern California from A to Z including:

  • Acton
  • Agoura Hills
  • Agua Dulce
  • Buellton
  • Fillmore
  • Leona Valley
  • Lompoc
  • Los Alamos
  • Los Olivos
  • Malibu
  • Moorpark
  • Ojai
  • Palmdale
  • Santa Maria
  • Santa Paula
  • Santa Ynez
  • Simi Valley
  • Somis
  • Thousand Oaks
  • Topanga Canyon

We were in escrow in Malibu for the better part of 2018, consulting with land use experts to develop 13 acres of gorgeous raw land along the Backbone Trail with nearby views of the ocean, ensuring that we would not disturb any rare or exotic bug, scrub or artifact of indigenous Californians who lived there first. It took six months to get approval for a permit to test for the feasibility of a well on our land in Malibu while we began to question, "is this how we want to spend the next ten years of our lives?"

Would we attempt to slowly build out a ranch while continuing to lease in Santa Ynez? Too expensive. Could attempt this and still enjoy the quality of our life? No, we could not.

We let the land go to try again with something different, somewhere else. A few weeks later, the Woolsey Fire ravaged Malibu. Though our would-have-been parcel was spared, we considered ourselves extremely lucky for the opportunity to start over.

There is a place where faith extends beyond belief. Belief feels like it has practical limits, like “I have to see it to believe it.” Faith reminds me I don’t have to see something to know it’s true, like gravity or love.

What compels a person to invest countless hours researching, analyzing, meeting realtors, and scouring Google maps for trail access? Faith. Vision. Commitment. Love. Passion. Purpose.

Belief was never enough. This project has taken perseverance, determination and persistence.

Rafe was never *not* looking for a solution. (The kids and I even made up a little song about Rafe’s obsession: Z is for Zillow, T is for Trulia, R is for …)

Six years is a long span to be looking for a thing. Six years is a newborn transitioning into first grade, a human who was a completely dependent infant with no motor control to a child who can read and write and ride a bike.

Six years is earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree full-time.

Once I asked him how he kept going? His response:

I was on a mission, and it had to happen. I knew the road would be bumpy, and eventually along the way there would be opportunities to do something creative that would get us where we needed to be. It had to happen. A lot of people give up after the first ten problems but you can’t give up until you get what you want.

After six years, instead of being 100 miles away, we moved Wrong Turn Ranch to Los Angeles. First to Leona Valley, a mere 50 miles away (and an hour drive), and three years later we arrived at our permanent home in Somis, 36 miles away.

Every improvement made is a dollar invested in second chances for horses and people who are nurtured at our ranch.