Karen Pery standing beside a gentle horse

The Journey of 100 Miles: A Story of Faith, Horses and Impossible Dreams

Rafe and I met in 1997. In our early days, weeks and months together, we split our time between Hermosa Beach and Santa Monica; the 17 miles that separated us felt like 100. We started dating in January and I moved to West Los Angeles (now only two miles away from my love) in June just after I’d finished my Master’s degree at Loyola Marymount. As my life was changing and I could see a career transition in the not too distant future, I needed to make a move that got me closer to what I wanted most of all – Rafe.

I thought I’d enjoy living in Brentwood, down the street from where Rafe’s mom and dad lived, but there weren’t many vacancies in the exclusive neighborhood, few I could afford, and even fewer on desirable streets.

“Knock on every door,” Rafe insisted before I began to argue with him.

Why, WHY would I bother anyone who didn’t have a “For Rent” sign clearly visible on their property?

He’s crazy, I thought, but somewhere in the recesses of my mind I heard the Mother Abbess in The Sound of Music singing …

Climb ev’ry mountain
Search high and low
Follow ev’ry by-way
Every path you know

Climb ev’ry mountain
Ford ev’ry stream
Follow ev’ry rainbow
‘Till you find your dream

“You’ll never know if you don’t ask,” he encouraged, totally committed to helping me see it was possible, while I discouraged him and insisted that I would find my next place the old-fashioned way, which I eventually did.

Well, I did and I didn’t. I found a new apartment but it wasn’t in Brentwood, and I settled into a sublet of a friend’s place for a few months before trying again and settling in Westwood which worked well enough for the time.

One move was followed by another. After we got married, we signed our first lease together. As we began to have career success, we upgraded to an apartment with a walk-in closet, extra half bath and a washer and dryer! The next move was motivated by the realization that what we were paying in rent would easily translate into a mortgage. The one that followed included a house more suitable for toddlers and dogs.

Where we are now was carefully selected when Jake and Ellie were both teenagers and we wanted a new space to shape how we spend our time at home together. Between 1997 and 2017, we’ve lived in seven different homes, not including Wrong Turn Ranch.

In 2012, Rafe and I adopted our first horse, Nickels, and boarded him nearby in Topanga Canyon. After Nickels came Trigger and Penny, then Fleur, Stella and Caliente after which we did the math and realized we were practically funding our own boarding stable, so we entered a three-year lease on the last day of 2013 to move our little herd to 22 acres with a house big enough for all of us (and visitors!). Angi and Seth, who were our trainers first, then our ranch partners and who are now family, along with their dozen horses, moved 100 miles away to a place we lovingly named Wrong Turn Ranch.

Wrong Turn Ranch was named for the geographical errors we made while driving, every missed street and unplanned U turn noted. Symbolically, it represented the herd of horses (and let’s be honest, the people too) who found themselves in our care after their own wrong turns in life.

The ranch was home to our herd and that was all it ever needed to be.

Loving it as it was, Wrong Turn Ranch continued to grow and along with it we began to include rescue/rehabilitation/leadership with horses and people.

I think leadership, healing, rehabilitation and recovery are all manifestations of the same intention: learning to love, accept, inspire and challenge each being (whether it’s a horse, a dog or a human who comes to our ranch) to be exactly as they are to help them grow.

We loved our hidden gem of a ranch nestled in the jewel box of the Santa Ynez Valley. We’d disappear from Los Angeles on Friday afternoons when the kids got out of school and return late on Sundays, a little happier, a little dirtier, and renewed for the days ahead. The 100 miles felt like nothing. The drive was our passport to another world, a sweet rural oasis where we became known as locals. Jake and Ellie were little kids when we started this adventure – Ellie turned 8 the day after we’d brought Nickels home.

Rafe has an incredible capacity to enjoy the present, be slightly to moderately dissatisfied when conditions are off (especially if I’m not blissfully content), advocate fiercely for change, and have an eye on future opportunities.

These qualities make playing games with Rafe nearly impossible.

When he plays a game ONCE, he understands all the rules and strategies and has a ton of fun playing as he anticipates every opportunity of a potential win or loss. If he ends up in a scenario where he knows he can’t win, he will change the outcomes of the game for everyone else thereby making a new game for himself which he enjoys equally, if not more, than the original game.

Rafe seems to thrive in situations that are nearly impossible, which I suppose has made him such a phenomenal consultant and as I think of it, I wonder if it’s why he’s so devoted to me?

With an eye on future opportunities, we probably started looking at new ranches in the summer of 2016, assuming we’d want a property of our own for the long term, and wanting to give the owner of the 22 acres ample notice should we decide to leave.

No matter how idyllic the town, 100 miles from home is a lot of distance to cover, especially as our little kids became teenagers with lives of their own, and our family visits became less and less frequent. This made us slightly to moderately dissatisfied with the conditions of our life, so Rafe began to fiercely advocate for change and change meant finding a new ranch.

People comment all the time how busy our lives must be, and I reframe the comment, sharing that yes, our lives are indeed quite full. To me, busy reflects a crazed running around to get all the things done, where our full life means we spend time and energy on what matters most to us, constantly shifting priorities in a delicate equilibrium that doesn’t always work but mostly does.

We have two children, who in the blink of an eye went from 8 and 10 to almost 15 and 17, kids people who now have their own passions and pursuits which do not always include horses. We have two businesses and two homes. We have two dogs and too many horses.

We starting spending too much time apart.

We moved two horses closer to home more than two times, first two mares moved out to Bell Canyon to live in stalls then to Chatsworth to share a small pasture, a phase we dubbed “Sable and Caydance move into their own apartment.” Not too long after we moved the girls back home; they needed more attention than we could give them locally. Rafe later moved two different horses out to Sun Valley where we have a community of friends and horses we know because they’ve trained with Angi and they’ve been quite happy.

If you include the properties Rafe looked at when we transitioned from one boarding facility to the next before moving out to Santa Ynez, he has looked at hundreds, if not THOUSANDS of potential equestrian properties in the last six years.

The idea of our ranch becoming real has been more elusive than a needle in a haystack. Cue Don Quixote, we were dreaming the impossible dream.

There is something intoxicatingly inspiring about an impossible dream, but along with that intoxication came helpful-but-not-really suggestions and too many brokers, both real estate and loan, who said they would absolutely make it work for us, but never could.

Add to that the kind advice of people who gave us the most obvious – or expensive – leads.

Have you looked at xxx? Of course, and it costs millions of dollars.

We could get a helicopter or learn to fly a small plane to avoid the traffic – somehow buying a small plane would be more cost effective than buying a horse property in Los Angeles. I couldn’t see putting the dogs through it. Even though I do want to learn to fly, it would be years before we could realize that remote possibility.

We thought about moving the whole operation to Hawaii, but considering shipping our 40+ horses by boat across the Pacific was laughably impractical; beyond that, the cost of developing a ranch on the island where acreage, hay and veterinary care are limited shelved that option. We thought of renting an entire boarding facility, but it’s not the kind of experience we prefer for our horses who live in herds.

We could move to Colorado or Wyoming, Washington, Oregon or maybe Northern California, and we could fly out one weekend a month, he’d offer, the land being so much more open and affordable, but I’d remind him that it would actually be harder than what we’ve got going on right now. Right now, at least he can drive up for a day or an overnight. If we have to fly out it won’t be as easy for him or as predictable for me because if something comes up for the kids, I’m going to be home with them.

Paso Robles, Temecula? Too far, I’d remind him. We want our horses to be accessible to people in Los Angeles, our people, our clients and friends, our families. We can’t make it harder for people to get to us.

We’ve visited a minimum of forty-four local potential equestrian properties in person (we kept a list) all over Southern California from A to Z including:

  • Acton
  • Agoura Hills
  • Agua Dulce
  • Buellton
  • Fillmore
  • Leona Valley
  • Lompoc
  • Los Alamos
  • Los Olivos
  • Malibu
  • Moorpark
  • Ojai
  • Palmdale
  • Santa Paula
  • Santa Ynez
  • Simi Valley
  • Somis
  • Thousand Oaks
  • Topanga Canyon

We were in escrow in Malibu for the better part of 2018, consulting with land use experts to develop 13 acres of gorgeous raw land along the Backbone Trail with nearby views of the ocean, sure not to disturb any rare or exotic bug, scrub or artifact of the native indigenous Californians.

But after our permit to test for the feasibility of a well on our land was finally approved after six months, we looked ahead to how we wanted to spend the next five to ten years.

Would we attempt to slowly build out a ranch while continuing to lease in Santa Ynez?

Could we do this and still enjoy the quality of our life?

No, we could not.

It simply cost too much between the financial investment, the time and energy to expand under undeniably complex conditions but most importantly the hours apart when we wanted to be together. We would be split in too many directions, struggling while we longed for connection and ease.

We let the land go to try again with something different, somewhere else. A few weeks later, the Woolsey Fire ravaged Malibu. Though our would-have-been parcel was spared, we considered ourselves extremely lucky for the opportunity to start over.

In my next book, I am writing about faith, trust, magic and mystery.

To me, there is a place where faith extends beyond belief.

Belief feels like it has practical limits, like “I have to see it to believe it.”

Faith reminds me I don’t have to see something to know it’s true.

What compels a person to invest countless hours researching, analyzing, meeting realtors, and scouring Google maps for trail access?

Faith. Vision. Commitment. Love. Passion. Purpose.

Belief was never enough. This project has taken perseverance, determination and persistence.

For nearly every night of the past six years, while I’ve been sleeping/reading/pinning/playing games on my iPad, in the bed on the other side of our dog Ruby, Rafe has dutifully been seeking our future ranch.

The kids and I even made up a little song about Rafe’s obsession: Z is for Zillow, T is for Trulia, R is for Realtor.com … he was never not looking for a solution.

Six years is a long span to be looking for a thing. Six years is a newborn transitioning into first grade, a human who was a completely dependent infant with no motor control to a child who can read and write and ride a bike. Six years is earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree full-time.

I asked him how he kept going?

Here’s what he told me:

I was on a mission, and it had to happen.

I knew the road would be bumpy, and eventually along the way there would be opportunities to do something creative that would get us where we needed to be.

It had to happen.

A lot of people give up after the first ten problems but you can’t give up until you get what you want.

This is Rafe. My husband and co-creator. My visionary. My living, breathing, monument to faith.

We took ownership of our new ranch on Friday.

We are exhausted and deeply content.

What does this mean for us?

Instead of being 100 miles away, Wrong Turn Ranch Los Angeles will be a little over 50 miles away from our home. It’s an hour drive instead of two or three, depending on traffic and it’s Southern California – so it’s always depending on traffic. But even in traffic, the ranch is about an hour from our favorite sushi restaurant in Tarzana and an hour to Pasadena. It is perfectly local.

Rather than leasing our ranch property, we own it. Every improvement made is a dollar we are investing in our own dream and the dream of what this ranch will do to heal the world.

We still live in Los Angeles. We love our home, our clients and our city. Jake and Ellie are entering their last and first year of high school together. This is our community. Our life is here.

Angi and Seth and the herd will move to the new Wrong Turn Ranch Los Angeles in the sweet little town of Leona Valley, a few miles west of Palmdale. It’s the best of both worlds, to have flat acreage in an agricultural area that is still near the modern conveniences of Thai takeout and Target.

We hope you’ll come visit.

We’ll let you know when the barn doors are open.


Karen Pery