Equestrian Trails Inc

By K.D. Wallis, Contributing Columnist

Do you like trains? Horses? Silly people in old-timey getups? How about a gigglesinducing combination of all three? That’s what I and my friends enjoyed during a fundraiser for a group which I quite honestly had never heard of: ETI, or Equestrian Trails Incorporated and the Fillmore Women’s Service Club. My friend and fellow animal-lover, Jackie and I headed from Woodland Hills to the sleepy little town of Fillmore, where we met up with another pal, Nancy, the one who had invited us to the Headless Horseman Train Ride, and her funny neighbor, Katie. Nancy is a lifelong horsewoman, a normally rather serious type, who has a surprisingly well-developed sense of fun and adventure.

Equestrian Trails Inc
Equestrian Trails Inc

I knew that if Nancy thought this October silliness was going to be fun, it most assuredly would be; it didn’t take much convincing to corral Jackie and me into joining her. The weather was simply gorgeous as we turned onto the 126 from the 101, just before reaching Ventura, on a Saturday evening at around 5:45. The sun was lighting the tips of the mountains that surround the bucolic fields and orchards on either side of the highway and, contrary to all of the weather forecasts we’d heard the night before, the temperature was in the 80s, with nary a cloud in the sky. The Fillmore railroad station was a mere couple of blocks from 126, just off Central Avenue, and it had barely taken us an hour to reach it.

People in period costume and high spirits were already gathering in front of the train station and the old engine was warming up quietly in the background. As promised, we boarded promptly at 6:30 and everyone was seated at four-top, linen-covered tables in the beautifully restored dining cars. As the sun set and the train pulled out of the station, the warm lighting in the cars reminded me of candlelight – a perfect accompaniment to the surprisingly excellent barbecued triptip and chicken dinner that almost instantly appeared in front of us.

I don’t know who did the cooking, but our plates were piled high with generous portions of tender beef, a full chicken leg, potato salad and some of the tastiest beans I’ve had in quite a while. The only thing missing was a beer or a glass of wine, but hey! this was a family night for cowboys and cowgirls. Sarsaparilla was about as strong as it was gonna git! (Note to organizers: It really would have been fun if you had brought real Sarsaparilla on board. Yes, Virginia – it actually does exist, even today.)

Throughout the evening, the high spirits never ended. Costumed members of the ETI strolled up and down the aisle, kibitzing with us mere mortals. By the end of the night, we actually found it hard to believe that none of these people was a trained actor. Jackie and I are both show business veterans and even we were entertained. That isn’t meant to sound snobbish; we simply know the best from the worst and this group held its own. Better yet, they obviously were having a ball doing it!

The train came to a halt in a “pumpkin patch.” Half of us were dispatched to the hay rides, while the rest of us were entertained by a Hallowe’en-themed playlist of music emanating from a laser-lit stage fit for dancing. Our surroundings included hundreds of pumpkins, lots of tables and chairs, and a corn maze, which actually turned out to be kind of scary…in the dark. I’ve never seen corn growing so high – way beyond an elephant’s eye, lemme tell you.

Thank the Hallowe’en gods, I had a tiny flashlight and was able to light our path back to civilization. The hay ride was more fun than a barrel of…hay! As we rolled along in the dark, evil horsemen tried to shake us down, but they were swiftly chased off into the wilderness by two lady sheriffs. Every so often, the Headless Horseman joined the fun, apparently searching for his head. Watching all of these horsepeople galloping along in the darkness was really quite impressive.

Jackie, in particular, was delighted, because one of the outlaws’ horses actually kissed her on the back of the neck. When the hay ride ended, we were hustled back on board the train, where dessert awaited us. The pumpkin pie was the only disappointment for me during the entire expedition: pretty though it looked, it tasted like pumpkin-colored sugar, meaning it was cloyingly sweet. Definitely not up to the quality of the dinner they served us.

I’m not much of a joiner and neither are my friends, but everyone on this wonderful train ride was having so much fun – especially the kids – and was so friendly, we found ourselves being pulled right into the laughter and silliness. We can’t wait for next year, but wait! maybe we don’t have to! The brochure about the train rides is loaded with all kinds of expeditions, including more Headless Horseman adventures, holiday rides to groves where you can cut your own Christmas tree, and lots more. Fillmore & Western Railway Co. – www.fwry.com – (805) 524-2546

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