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Getting acquainted with eight breeds at Santa Ynez Valley horse ranches.

Through morning mists, the Santa Ynez Valley awakes at daybreak to hungry whinnies and nickers. These sounds come from the equine residents of this lushly pastured basin about an hour's drive northwest of Santa Barbara.

Grazing along whitewashed fences that demarcate the many horse ranches in this 40-mile-long valley are breeds from the haciendas of Peru and the mountains of Iceland. As the sun climbs and the animals become active, you can see aristocratic Andalusians flaunting the highstepping in-place trot known as the piaffe, while thigh-high miniature horses race about like packs of unruly children.

Many ranches welcome visitors, but it's essential to phone ahead. If the ranchers aren't busy, they may show you around themselves; if they are, you can admire these purebreds on your own. When visiting, do not feed horses; be careful if children are along (and, please, no dogs).

For each of eight breeds, we give a central information source or suggest one or more ranches with that specialty. All area codes are 805.

American Paint. If you're not careful to keep a fixed eye while viewing one of these horses, you might think you're seeing two animals. The white and dark patches are never the same on both sides. Such markings seem to have fascinated early man, whose depictions of them adorn cave walls; Egyptians portrayed horses with strikingly uneven coloring, and representations have been unearthed at Chinese burial sites.

Today, these multitalented horses may leap 4-foot fences one day and cut calves in a roping event the next. When visiting, you might catch a stallion out for a morning workout on a treadmill made for fourlegged exercisers.

The valley's largest ranch, where Bo Derek bought her paint, is the AI Reece Paint Horse Farm, at 1627 Calzada Avenue in Santa Ynez; telephone is 688-440).

American quarter horse. Esteemed in colonial America for itsability to run the fastest quarter-mile in match races, this horse like some of the others you may visit has antecedents tracing back to the Spanish explorers. The breed was officially founded in 1611, when Spanish stallions were bred to mares from England.

By the 1800s, the quarter horse established itself as the chief stock horse of Western settlers. Lauded for its "cow sense," it could successfully move cattle on long trail drives. Still a staple for ranch work, this breed has since become adapted to many other purposes, from racing to show jumping.

Three large ranches accept visitors. For running horses, try Hunsicker Ranch (9 to 5 weekends only), 1300 Alamo Pintado in Solvang; 688-5657. To see cutting horses, call T.M. Parks Ranch, W. Highway 246 in Buellton, 688-4936; or King Horse Center, 2000 W. Highway 246, also in Buellton, 688-0950.

Andalusian. If you're familiar with the famous Lippizaners of Vienna's Spanish Riding School, you'll immediately recognize the closely related Andalusian. Invading Moors brought these gallant horses to Spain in the eighth century.

Andalusians number only about 1,300 in the U.S. today. ,Born dark-coated, 99 percent turn white by age five to seven. Distinguished by their adroit performance of complex gymnastic movements known as haute ecole, Andalusians learn in three years what it takes most horses a decade to master. Try to visit when horses are working in the ring and ask to see their passage, a highly controlled slow trot. Largest ranch for Andalusians is Fairmont Farms, at 3980 Tims Road in Santa Ynez; call 688-1016.

Arabian. You can quickly spot an Arabian by the concavity of the bone from just below the eyes to the nose. The dish face, small ears, almond eyes, and statuesque physique all say "Arab."

It's no coincidence that the Arabian stereotype is of a sheik galloping his mount across windswept sands. North African nomads relied on these horses for survival. Some Arabians have come directly from Egypt and Europe to the Santa Ynez Valley as show and breeding stock. As they gallop about, watch the elegant carriage of their arched necks, the slightly lifted tails, their graceful stride. To visit a ranch, call the Arabian Horse Association at 688-7480 or 688-7073.

Icelandic. Among its feats, the Icelandic holds the record as the longest-living horse in the world-56 years (most horses live half that long). Looking at these sturdy animals, you'll see why ninth-century Vikings brought them across the North Atlantic to Iceland, where they still carry riders at speeds up to 20 mph over long distances.

Watch Icelandics perform their smooth four-beat gait, the tolt, and you'll soon understand why they were comfortable enough to be the favored mount of aristocrats in the Middle Ages. There are only about 400 Icelandics in the United States, a third of them on Santa Ynez ranches.

To arrange a visit, call the International Icelandic Horse Association at 688-6355. Miniature. It barely reaches your waist, and a Great Dane towers over it. "It should look as though you took a big horse and shrunk it," says one breeder.

Bred down from horses chosen for small size and refined conformation, miniatures are not to be confused with ponies or with dwarfs. Though they were once considered pets for European royalty, miniatures also pulled ore carts in English mines in the 1600s. Able to haul 10 times their own 200 to 250 pounds, they were brought to the coal mines of Virginia in the early 1900s. Of some 27,000 now registered worldwide, nearly 26,000 live in the U.S.

You might have to fight the inclination to buy one as a pet; prices starting at $1,500 and going as high as $100,000 may help you control yourself. Only very small children can sit astride, but owners may offer you a ride in a miniature-drawn cart.

The largest specialist in the valley is Quicksilver Ranch, at 1555 Alamo Pintado in Solvang. Call 686-4002 between 10 and 4 any day.

Peruvian paso. You'll recognize this stylish little horse by its long, flowingmane and tail and a winging stride. Notice the looseness in its shoulders as it paddles its front legs outward, performing its trademark termino.

In 1532, Francisco Pizarro arrived in Peru from Spain with his conquistadors and the horses that sired the first generation of purebred Peruvian pasos.

Used on large Peruvian ranches, the paso could carry riders for long hours in the Andes. Today, centuries of breeding for smoothness of gait have given this horse special usefulness: breeders say that people with heart problems and back ailments, who otherwise could not ride, find safety and comfort on these horses.

The president of the Central Coast Peruvian Paso Club is at Rancho de la Florecita, 3580 W. Oak Trail Road in Santa Ynez; call 688-1447 or 969-5218.

Thoroughbred. There's no surer way to feel a thrill than to watch a sleek-sided, hot-blooded thoroughbred pound by you at full gallop. First raced in England, the thoroughbred was developed from Arabian, Barb, and Turk bloodlines in the "desert horse" tradition. Bred for speed and stamina, thoroughbreds tend to be faster and leaner than other horses.

Some 46 thoroughbred ranches sprawl across the valley. Among them is the internationally renowned Flag Is Up Farms, at 901 E. Highway 246 in Solvang; call ahead at 688-4382.
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Date:Nov 1, 1988
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