Like millions of other baby boomers, John A. Greenwald grew up watching the slew of TV Westerns that inundated the airwaves back in the '50s. But aside from a few pony rides as a kid, he didn't take his first real horseback ride until he was 32.
"I actually was a bit uncertain when I got near a horse, but I thought it was great fun," says Greenwald, a 43-year-old Irvine advertising copywriter. "I find it very exhilarating. One of the things I discovered when I took lessons was that when I was on a horse all other thoughts--the cares or problems of the day--sort of went away. You're really focused on the moment, being on the horse, the outdoor environment."
Greenwald still goes horseback riding several times year. In fact, it was while he was looking for a good place to ride that he got the idea for what is being promoted as the "ultimate guide to horseback adventures in California."
"I was having a difficult time determining what was available," he said. "I could find a listing for a stable, but I didn't know what that meant, what was offered. It occurred to me that was an idea for a book. So few people know what's out there."
"Saddleback Sightseeing in California" (Gem Guides Book; $12.95) is a comprehensive guide listing more than 80 rental stables, pack stations and guest ranches throughout the state.
The illustrated 206-page paperback book provides detailed descriptions of the individual rides to give the reader an idea of what to expect from each outfit. Rates, accommodations, activities and even directions are provided.
"It's all the ways you can have a horseback-riding experience," says Greenwald, who spent a year doing first-hand research. "It was a very intense year of doing it about every weekend and all my vacation time because I wanted it to be very fresh, current information."
What he learned in the process, he said, "is there is really a lot available out there."
Although the movie "City Slickers" brought the idea of going on a cattle drive to the public's attention, Greenwald said, "no one knows you can go on a cattle drive here in California."
The Shannon Ranch in the foothills of the southern Sierra, for example, offers cattle drives in the fall and spring. Vacationers who accompany the wranglers eat around a campfire and sleep under the stars.
In addition to cattle drives, Greenwald also discovered that various ranches offer horse drives. "It is a little demanding," he said, noting that horses "move a lot faster than cattle. I must confess I haven't done it, although I want to. It's supposed to be as fun as it gets. It's definitely an 'E' ride."
When it comes to guest ranches, Greenwald said, "people think of Wyoming and Colorado, but there are these places in California" such as the Alisal Guest Ranch, a cattle ranch on 10,000 acres of pasture land and rolling hills 40 miles north of Santa Barbara.
And beyond that, Greenwald said, there are pack trips into the Sierra in which the outfitters supply the tents and fresh food, and the wranglers cook the meals.
"It's a chance to get in high country and see the most magnificent scenery anywhere, and you don't have to hike and carry a backpack," he said.
Among the more unusual horseback adventures included in the book is a three-day Mountain Man Ride offered by Holidays on Horseback in San Diego County. It is, according to Greenwald, a combination trail ride, wilderness survival course and backwoods history lesson in which participants sleep on beds of pine needles and start fires by rubbing flint and steel together.
Then there's "The Spiritual Mountain Expedition" offered by Ventana Wilderness Expeditions in Carmel Valley. It's led by a descendant of the Esselen Indians and riders learn about Indian culture and traditions.
It's important to note, Greenwald said, that "horseback riding and many of these things can appeal to a variety of age groups, and it's a great thing for families to do."
"Saddleback Sightseeing in California" generated a lot of interest at the recent American Booksellers convention in Anaheim.
Greenwald, who's thinking of doing a similar book on the Southwest, says it's the right book at the right time.
"One of the things I discovered as I went around to these different places is that there is really a growing interest in things Western and horseback riding in particular over the last several years," he said. "Because of the stresses of life with freeways and high-tech, people are looking for a simple antidote."