Our Program


Our Saturday outings consist of two hours of hands-on time with our namesake, Dusty, a loving and patient Appaloosa, and Luke, an equally loving and patient Quarter Horse/Thoroughbred mix. The kids, between 7 and 17 years old, begin their adventure by learning to safely hand feed the horses a carrot. After gathering the courage to trust Dusty, Luke and the counselors, barriers are broken down, and leading and grooming the horses is a breeze. They also learn about the anatomy of a horse and the basics of horse communication.

Then, it's off to Griffith Park for an hour trail ride where their confidence grows by learning to "steer" their horse across a bridge, under tunnels and into the hills. Laughter follows and continues as we finish the day with a pizza lunch. A day they won't soon forget.


Oso Awesome Overnight
By Diana Osberg

Imagine a crystal blue sky. Below, majestic mountains embrace a lush valley where horses graze. Imagine riding a horse through a fragrant riverbed, a line of horses in front and behind you. Imagine – just imagine – going to sleep in this place, inside a covered wagon with a billion stars visible above you.

On June 8th and 9th, 2013, ten kids from the Variety Boys and Girls Club didn’t have to imagine any of this. They lived it! They were part of Dusty’s Riders’ first overnight outing at Rancho Oso, a working ranch nestled deep in the mountains above Santa Barbara.

The kids (and a few of us adults) followed in the footsteps, er horse steps, of cowboy tradition. On both Saturday and Sunday, we rode horses under the blazing sun through a maze of wild herbs, willows and mugwort, over the rocks of a dry riverbed, and along the foot of a mountain that rose like a sentry from the valley floor. The scars of a recent wildfire were evident; its charred path traced from the valley up a ridge to a roadway, now impassible except by bike.

We saw wild deer and heard an owl hoot in a distant tree. We met Bob the pig and his buddies, the goats. And as a reminder that civilization was not too far away, we washed off the dust and cooled our heels in a swimming pool.

The food was fine as cream gravy. For Saturday lunch, it was hamburgers, fries and the inimitable onion rings from the Chuck Wagon. And for dinner, we came up with our own style of beans and franks – “burger dogs!" They were a big hit.

After the sun went down the air got chilly, so we bundled up. We toasted marshmallows, warmed our bellies with s’mores and played Mad Libs around a campfire. One of our bright young stars found the Big Dipper high above us in the sky, the constellation kept company by its shining neighbors, the ones that city folk so seldom get to see.

Then it was off to sleep in the covered wagons with only a lantern to light our way. Most of us slept soundly until the roosters crowed to announce the sunrise. But along about 2:00 in the morning, there was a secret rendezvous in the moonlight. Shhh. It’s only a rumor, but I hear tell the ghosts of cowboys past gathered under the stars to tell tall tales.

At breakfast in the Stone Lodge, where Charlie Chaplin and his pals used to play, we chowed down on a hearty cowboy feast of French toast, bacon and sausage. Then the girls went off for another horseback ride, while the boys played basketball. After lunch, it was the boys’ turn for a trail ride. The girls hiked up the mountain through a brook-laced forest and found a hidden treasure – a waterfall!

We couldn’t have asked for a better weekend or a better bunch of cowboys (and cowgirls) to spend it with. So to commemorate this amazing trip, all of the boys and girls received blue ribbons for the superlative that each one of them brought to the roundup. They’re truly a special bunch of kids, and it was hard to say adios. Happy trails to one and all.

This year (2016) we have three Rancho Oso Overnights scheduled, and we are expanding to five covered wagons so for the first time, 15 kids each trip will get to see how many stars are truly in the sky!


New in 2007 are trips to Rancho Oso Guest Ranch & Stables in Santa Barbara. For the first time, we're combining organizations for a group outing. Once in June and again in October, 20 kids from two different organizations will hop a bus at 7:00 am to trek towards the Santa Barbara hills. The day includes an hour ride in the hills, lunch at the Chuck wagon, and a roping lesson to further teach them how to "cowboy up."