In the fertile Delta Region of the Brentwood area of California, orchards, organic farms, fruit stands and farmers’ markets proudly boast of the spectacular produce and abundant bounty of the land. Tucked in the middle of all of this fruitful glory is a twenty-eight acre ranch that is equally as proud of its product and rightfully so.
For years, the name Dal Porto Ranch has been synonymous with high powered Appaloosa halter horses and a breeding program that produces National and World Champions. Besides the well turned-out and super fit beasts that fill the stalls under the Dal Porto Ranch banner are a string of equally talented and obedient trail and pleasure horses. They are the product of the highly regarded husband and wife team, Steve and Carol Dal Porto.
Most of these nice horses are born and bred right there on the farm, and it is in the setting surrounded by fields of broodmares and darling babies that people from the area find a little slice of horse heaven for both their children and themselves.
Even before they married, both were already successful national level competitors in their fields, Steve in the halter and Carol in the performance. The early years of their business were entirely wrapped up in a flourishing training and showing program. The only students Carol was really involved in then were those showing on a highly competitive national level. Most were owners of horses she or Steve had in training.
The weekly outside public lesson program started almost by accident. There were no plans for it. There just seemed to be a need.
“A neighbor would ask me if I would teach a granddaughter, and I would say ok,” Carol remembers. “Or a friend of one of our clients would want to learn to ride. Eventually, I had a lesson program.
“At the time, there weren’t really places for genuine instruction in our immediate area and I felt there was a real need for this in the community. My business just grew by word of mouth.” She admits that still holds true today, as she does minimum advertising and still manages to stay very busy.
Carol has organized a thriving lesson business into a very well thought out and logical plan. There are three levels of students in her program.
The first is the most obvious, the local regular lesson program.
“These kids start out because they have a fantasy about riding, formed from reading a book or seeing a movie. I feel that if they come to the farm, and it’s too rigid a program or too sterile an environment, it doesn’t fulfill that fantasy. It is important for them to get their hands on the horses and get a little dirty. We start out with grooming and saddling and progress from there.” Carol says.
“In the beginning, I don’t actually explain about the other levels, my Junior Competitive Team and my Senior Competitive Team. There is a nook area in the barn that has a bulletin board. Pretty soon, these lesson kids are paying attention to the Calendar of Events that lists special Team practices and upcoming shows. There is also a newsletter posted there that has results and pictures from clinics and shows both teams participate in. The kids with the passion always want to know more about how to get involved.”
The members of Carol’s Junior Competitive Team use lesson horses to participate in local schooling shows. They also have special team practices where they work on a variety of classes. The members of the Senior Competitive Team, who have moved on to owning or full leasing their own horses and are showing at a higher level, take part in the mentoring of the Junior Team.
“During a Junior Team Practice, I may be working a group in Horsemanship at one end of the arena while a member of my Senior Team will be running a Showmanship class at the other end” Carol shares. “There is a great sense of camaraderie between these teams, and once in a while a member of the Junior Team may get a special invite to ride in a Senior Team practice. That is very exciting for them.”
The camps at Dal Porto Ranch were born from the lesson program. .
“I had a lot of moms asking me if I was going to have a camp during school break. I hadn’t really thought about it, but I just started saying ‘yes.’ Finally, I walked into the office and said to Steve – I guess I’m running a camp.”
How many kids does it take to make a “camp”? According to Carol, nine is her favorite number. That fits her program just perfectly. Three kids ride, three kids do a craft project, three kids soak up horse knowledge at specifically set up stations and then they rotate. Again, Senior Team members assist in the running and teaching the different parts of a camp.
Although they don’t seem to realize it, Carol is preparing these kids for joining a team it they desire. She explains, “Most beginners who arrive at a stable to learn to ride have not really made a commitment to what style or discipline it is that they really want to pursue. Mainly because they are not aware of the vast varieties of specific classes and events that encompass this sport. They tend to follow the track that the stable they’ve chosen is on.” So it is with the kids who have lucked upon finding Miss Carol and her penchant for Trail Class.
“In the beginning, we call it the ‘obstacle‘ course because they haven’t yet heard of Trail class,” she says. “A day’s activity may be drawing out and planning their own course, and then they spend time setting it up. Learning to maneuver through obstacles works on all the riding skills they’ve been practicing.”
Beyond trail and showmanship, kids can choose to ride English, Western or both. It is the beauty of the all-around Appaloosa breed and the vast knowledge this beautiful blond woman has to offer these fortunate kids.
“Dealing with these beginner and first time riders helps to reconnect me to what got me into this…a pure love for horses. And I love how these kids express themselves about their experiences at the ranch. One of my great kids, Hailey, told me, ‘The ranch is where I make my best friends.’ “
On the Dal Porto Ranch Facebook page is an accolade from another enamored student. Next to a picture of Bella, is a list of her three favorite places in the world. 1.) Dal Porto Ranch 2.) Marine Mammal Center 3.) Disneyland. Quite the compliment from such a youngster! If you were to ask Miss Bella, she probably would tell you that Dal Porto Ranch is the Best Horse Camp!