With a goal of visiting all the California missions on horseback, a small group of travelers moseyed into San Juan Capistrano Thursday night, just three more missions to go.
Of course, it’s hard to make it from heavily populated San Gabriel to San Juan Capistrano strictly on horseback, so the small group of five riders, five horses, three crew members and two children hopped in the trucks and trailers to make it into town.
It’s called the California Mission Ride, and it’s the first modern attempt to visit all of the state’s missions by horseback. The trip was actually divided into two, with the northern missions checked off the to-do list in 2012.
Since Sept. 14 of this year, this ragtag group has been hoofing it from Mission San Miguel south, making stops along the way to learn about the missions and the historic towns that have supported them all these years.
Of course, a trip to San Juan Capistrano means a trip to the Los Rios Street Historic District, the oldest continually occupied neighborhood in California. The San Juan Capistrano Historical Society along with the Juaneño Tribe of Mission Indians 84B welcomed the visitors with a Ricardo’s Place dinner outside the O’Neill Museum, a setting so charming, tourists wondered if they could join, too.
Daisy Payton, a 17-year-old homeschooled senior, took a month off from her formal education to get something books couldn’t give her.
“Every day is something new. Every day is ‘holy crap,’” Payton said. Fittingly, when she was a fourth-grader, Mission San Juan Capistrano was her mission she chose to study.
“I just want to welcome all of you to San Juan Capistrano,” said Jerry Nieblas, president of the Capistrano Historical Alliance Committee and a Juaneño. “The spirit of Franciscan hospitality lives here.”
Capistrano civic leaders and the Juaneños then joined hands in a prayer circle before the meal.
“Anybody who can ride many weeks on a horse is special,” said Tom Ostensen, of the Historical Society. People who live in a town known as the “equestrian capitol of the West Coast” ought to know.
Jason Fong, the logistics coordinator for the travelers, expects a lot more open trails for the horses and a lot less trailering to the next stop, Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside.