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Riders Saddle Up for the Happy Trails of Capistrano

January 27, 1994|ANNE MICHAUD | Anne Michaud is a staff writer for The Times Orange County Edition

Looking at Orange County from the back of a horse can call to mind the area's wild heritage of missions and rancheros.

Fortunately for those who do not ride much, there is a very tame, guided trail tour in San Juan Capistrano. You must call ahead for reservations; one day's notice is ample. The cost is $20 a person.

9:40 to 10:40 a.m.: Weekend cowpokes need energy, so you might stop by Buffys Family Restaurant first for breakfast.

This former coffee shop has expanded its menu and space. But the employees are so friendly and down-home that they make you feel you stop there every morning.

The menu caters to people with big appetites. The "Five Deuces," for example, includes two eggs, two slices of bacon, two sausage links, two hot cakes and two nonalcoholic beverages for $5.59.

There are $2.99 specials for lighter eaters. The waffle ($2.59) is served slightly crispy and is very good.

Buffys' informality is charming. Behind the counter is a photo of a baby with a grease smear on his (or her) forehead and the caption, "I love truckers."

Another casual touch is the Bio-Rhythm machine just inside the front door. For a quarter you can dial your birthday, and the machine will tell you your scores for any other day of your choice.

My "endurance" and "leisure plans" scores for the day of the horseback ride were low, which didn't bode well. However, "luck" was running high.

10:40 to 11: Make your way over to the Sycamore Trails Stables.

If you drive along Camino Capistrano, you will pass the Bathgate family Christmas tree farm on your left. Just above it curves Interstate 5.

Every once in a while, a car careens off the freeway and drops into the tree farm. Employees never know when they will find a car there in the morning, a Bathgate family member once told me.

11 to 12:30: Sycamore Trails asks that riders arrive half an hour early. You'll want to leave behind anything you can't carry in a pocket. Bring $20 to pay for your fare at the front office and some spare change for later.

The desk attendant will give you a name tag and direct you out to where Molly operates the trail ride.

Over rippled potato chips and an orange soda, she explained some rules of the trail: Walking only, no trotting. If you drop anything, she'll pick it up for you. Stay three feet behind the horse in front. Pull the reins toward your stomach if you want the horse to stop.

Molly matches riders with horses based on experience and temperament. A 4-year-old girl, who was planning to ride with her dad, secured Popeye, who likes kids.

The trail itself is an hour's ride. It crosses a couple of streams and ascends and descends some small hills. For the most part, it is flat and dusty.

At this time of year, the trail is lined with sun-baked reeds and leafless bushes. An orange tree pops up here and there, bearing fruit. Sycamore trees and cacti appear on occasion.

Molly, who leads the single file of horses, calls out instructions to riders as they proceed. Lean forward when traveling uphill. Don't tip yourself to either side, or your saddle may slip.

The trail winds against the face of some steep, parched foothills. For a moment, I thought I saw Jesse James galloping across. But a single-family subdivision peaked between a pair of hills, and the illusion was lost.

12:30 to 12:40: Back at the front office, pull that spare change out of your pocket and buy yourself a can of soda. You'll be thirsty after this ride.

If you like, you can lean against the corral fence, just across the road, where instructors are training some real riders.


1. Buffys Family Restaurant 28722 Camino Capistrano San Juan Capistrano (714) 364-1441 Always open


2. Sycamore Trails Stables 26282 Oso Road San Juan Capistrano (714) 661-1755 Guided trail rides daily at 8:30, 10, and 11:30 a.m., and at 1:30, 3 and 4 p.m.


Parking: There is free on-site parking at both locations.

Buses: OCTA bus 91 (Laguna Hills to San Clemente) stops at Camino Capistrano and Oso Road and at Avery and Marguerite parkways.

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