Every once in a while you have an experience that is particularly memorable because of its rarity, the way it opened your eyes to something new or just the simple pleasure of it. The Work Family Guest Ranch is like that.
The Work family homesteaded The Work Family Guest Ranch land in the 1880s. Ben Work and his high school sweetheart-now-wife, Kelly, are the fourth generation to manage the 12,000-acre ranch, located in San Miguel, about 20 miles outside of Paso Robles among the rolling Cholame Hills. It’s remained a multigenerational family operation: Ben and Kelly’s kids, barely into their 20s, are primed to take over eventually, and their grandparents still reside in the main residence.
Visitors from all over the world have come to the ranch for trail rides to add a little whimsy to their Central Coast vacations, and to see the land the way it used to be, wild and open. Trail rides last about 90 minutes, but budget three hours to have enough time to get to know the horses (and the dogs, the goats, and sometimes, the puppies), as well as the hosts. Also, you’ll want to spend some time in the guest book—an old outbuilding with guest signatures and comments covering just about every surface.
There are two ways to get to the ranch, and I’d follow Frost’s advice and take the road less travelled on your way up (Hog Canyon Road).
A couple of things to keep in mind when you arrive: One, ranches weather, and most fourth-generation ranchers, if they were raised right, would say it’s a travesty to tear down or renovate an old barn that has stood the test of time. So don’t expect a stacked-stone entryway and manicured grounds. Instead, embrace sensibility and old-fashioned, cheerful hospitality. This family practices environmentalism and land stewardship as a way of life that is based on experiences and knowledge passed down four generations.
Two, relax! Animals in general and horses in particular are therapeutic by nature, and trail riding is in our freedom-seeking-American genes. The therapeutic benefits are not lost on the Works, who, in partnership with Mighty Oak Ministry, host rides for about 25 active and non-active military veterans every month. Many of these veterans are struggling to recover from the physical and emotional traumas of their service, and all of them benefit from the peace and perspective of a day on the trail. Settle in and enjoy.
Also, set aside your notion of the tired old nag you usually see at a vacation-style pony ride. This is a working ranch. All of the horses are rotated in and out of daily work, whether running out to bring in a stray bull or competing in the local rodeo. These ponies are seasoned and safe, but refreshingly energetic.
If you stay on Ranchita Canyon Road on your way out, it will take you through the backside of the Pleasant Valley Wine Trail where you can rest your legs at one of the 13 wineries and feel like you’ve earned a full glass after a long day on the trail.
The Work Family Guest Ranch, 75893 Ranchita Canyon Rd., San Miguel, 805/610-0961, workranch.com.
This story was originally published in the fall 2018 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.