Linda left a comment on my last post that she hasn't had good luck with string horses. With the exception of Alisal, I'd have to agree with her. All too often string horses are dull, listless horses who have lost all the joy of living through neglect and, sometimes, abuse. They are switched out for a new batch every season, and don't have good (if any) farrier or vet care. It isn't any fun to ride nose-to-tail on those horses. It also tears my heart out to see the neglect -- tears at my heart and makes me angry.
The horses at Alisal have a home for life. They receive routine farrier care, vaccinations, and vitamins. If they are injured on the job, they get the time off they need to heal. The string is large, probably 50 horses or more. They range in age from four to 32. Some are fully retired.
Thor, who I rode yesterday, is 18 and has been here for quite a few years. He's in great condition with smooth gaits. He's a favorite among the advanced riders. On crowded weekends or during peak season, there are often arguments among guests over who gets to ride him. They only put experienced riders on him; those with soft hands who know how to ride from their seat. Usually when we come Thor has been requested already so I don't often ride him. Which is okay with me; I am never disappointed in the horses they recommend for me. When Thor can no longer comfortably handle the hills and extended lopes of the advanced rides, he will be transitioned down to intermediate rides. Scout, another ranch favorite, recently made the transition from advanced to intermediate. Eventually, the horses become part of the beginner string going on easy walk rides around the lake. The only horses that are sold are the ones who aren't cut out for this kind of work. One of the wranglers is riding a horse that has been on the ranch for a year. He's a beautiful steel grey dun but he spooks at everything. After a year, he has stopped spooking at trees and cattle, but he still goes sideways past water troughs and squirrels. He may not make the team.
Today I rode a relatively new horse to the ranch, Bear. He came about a year ago and is just starting to make the transition into the string. The wrangler, that has spent the most time with him, tightened my cinch before we left on our ride. She told me that he doesn't like you in his face and then she showered him with neck rubs, face rubs and kisses. I was able to ride Bear on a loose rein at all three gaits and through transitions. I don't think I was ever on his face. He has a huge canter with a ton of push; he's a very strong horse and my abs got a good workout maintaining my balance at the lope. Brett was also on a relatively new horse to the ranch, Tuscon, who had a nice smooth canter.
We love coming every year and seeing the same horses. We enjoy trying the new ones but we also enjoy watching the horses we've enjoyed in previous years change and develop. The head wrangler, Tony, has a huge heart and ensures that the horses get good care, fair work with well matched riders, time off, and a good retirement. I don't think of theses as string horses, I think of them as ranch horses.