The song, “Happy Trails to You,’ sung by the 1950s TV western stars Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, could easily be the theme song for Ojai Valley Trail Riding Company, owned by
Susan Gruber and located on her OSO Ranch, just a few miles from downtown Ojai. Her rides include the
River Valley Trail ride and The Forest Ride.
Gruber first found herself on horseback at age 9, and by age 14 had earned both the Miss Missouri Pinto Queen and All Around Missouri State Champion titles. After the family relocated to California’s Bay Area and her graduation from high school, Gruber earned an Agricultural Business Management degree at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, with a concentration in animal sciences. Gruber also met the man she would marry.
But a divorce years later motived Gruber’s next move. “When I got divorced and was looking for a place to have a stable, “she explains, “I was driving around, and I saw a yellow post laying down in the weeds in an empty lot. Then, I saw it was a For Sale sign.” The owner assured her that the property was it zoned for both horses and a house. “I just think I’m really lucky,” Gruber says.
Her luck continued when she was approached by someone giving away a barn and a lot of wood siding. And, then, although the land on two sides of her property, which she named Oso Ranch, was designated for housing, the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy purchased those parcels, meaning preservation of the open land.
Gruber set to work implementing her business on her new ranch, which now includes riding lessons, boarding, and her non-profit business, Heart and Soul, through which she conducts a horse rescue and provides free riding lessons for at risk children. And, of course, there are her trailrides, which are from one to two hours. For beginning to intermediate riders, the River Valley Trailride meanders at a leisurely pace in the valley, with views upward at the Topa Topa mountains.
For intermediates to advanced, The Forest Ride encompasses Rice and Wells Canyons, up into the forest, and high above the Ojai Valley with views of the higher mountains above and the Valley below.
For children under age six, there are pony rides at the ranch, after which the young riders may design and create a "magic horseshoe" memento of their day.
Gruber and her instructors also offer riding lessons, English or Western, from beginner to advanced. Regarding horse boarding, she offers various options including box stalls with runs, corrals with roofs, and pasturettes.
Gruber has also competed in horse shows and is winner of many awards, including nearly 30 state championships. Now, in addition to running Oso Ranch and the Ojai Valley Riding Company, she is a horse show judge. “I love judging horse shows,” she says. “It’s nice to give back the industry that has given so much to me.”
To accomplish all of this, and even more, including formerly raising her now-adult son by herself, Gruber start early in the morning. “I get up at 5:15,” she explains. “I have the whole place to self for about two hours.” This is before her workday even starts. “My work day takes about 14 hours a day.”
But Gruber does periodically take a day off. “And, what do I want to do on my day off?” she asks. “Go horseback riding! This is not work, it’s fun.”