Double Bar M rebrands itself
By NICOLE R. ZIMMERMAN / Cotati and Rohnert Park Correspondent
After 39 years as Double Bar M Ranch, one of Northern California’s largest horse boarding and training facilities has changed its name to Hunter Lane Equestrian Center.
“Many people still think we’re just a Western ranch, but we’re actually much more,” says Benita Mattioli, 65, co-owner of the full-service operation along with husband Pete Mattioli, 81.
The name change more accurately reflects the ranch’s evolution toward all equine disciplines, including both Western and English riding.
Every successful business owner understands the importance of adapting to customer needs. For the Mattiolis, success for nearly four decades has come through innovation and diversification.
The couple bought the 21-acre property, located next to the Hunter Creek Equestrian Trail off Petaluma Hill Road, in 1974 to breed Cal Bar, a stallion purchased from Arnold Dolcini for $25,000.
“When I bought this ranch and I bought Cal Bar, I didn’t know anything about horses,” says Pete, a former nightclub and restaurant owner from San Francisco. “But when you have to come up with money to pay the bills, you learn fast!”
Already a reined cow horse and stock horse winner including the ’73 title of Reserve World Champion All-Around Horse, Cal Bar was soon trained to become a cutting horse by Larry Reeder, a young Texan.
Culling three cows from a herd in two and a half minutes, Cal Bar won two major titles in competitions that year and went on to win more. It wasn’t long before the stallion that proved to “have the cow in him” became legendary.
In 1979, Cal Bar became the youngest horse ever to be inducted into the Cow Horse Hall of Fame. That year, Pete was offered $1 million for him, but he turned it down. The Mattiolis were breeding mares from all over the country to Cal Bar, a hundred at a time. The horse sired many champions and business was booming.
But after 15 years, Cal Bar’s career as a stud began to wane. That’s when the Mattiolis decided to turn Bar M Ranch into a boarding facility.
“We loved the ranching business and wanted to stay on the property,” says Benita, who grew up on a Utah farm, where she took dairy cows to the pasture on horseback each day after milking.
So they began altering the simple mare paddocks to accommodate everything boarders wanted— fully equipped and clean stalls with rubber mats and ample shavings, large paddocks, blanketing services, warm water wash racks, separate tack rooms and well-groomed arenas.
Double Bar M attracted Western riders from throughout the region, eventually including top trainers such as Ollie Galligan and Terry Clancey.
In 1990, Cal Bar died from an intestinal stone at the age of 24, making news headlines as far away as Texas.
“Cal Bar was an exceptional horse. He built this ranch,” says Pete. “Boy, I’ll tell you, when he died it was tough.”
To supplement their income, and to acknowledge Sonoma County equestrians’ growing interest in learning English hunter/jumper skills and dressage, the Mattiolis hired their first English trainer in the early ‘90s.
Since then, the facility has expanded to include several new barns, paddock shelters and five multi-functional indoor and outdoor arenas. There are two ranch hands, including Rafael Delgado, a vital employee for 23 years.
Currently, Hunter Lane offers English instruction by Monica Lukes, who trains in both a Western and English saddle, and Valerie Belot, who rode for the French Olympic team and has competed in 3-day eventing in Europe.
Aside from the different stirrups, bridle and saddle, the English form requires separate skills training to enable jumping over natural obstacles such as logs and fences, or show-jumping in a stadium.
Over time, much of Western riding—once centralized in Santa Rosa—has moved to the central valley where land is cheaper and ranchers can afford cattle. The Mattiolis also lost a lot of business to Texas, where many of Cal Bar’s progeny were taken.
But one aspect of Western riding that continues to be competitive in Sonoma County is barrel racing, especially popular with female equestrians in high school rodeos.
David Lawson, a professional barrel racer who came to Hunter Lane more than four years ago, teaches all kinds of Western horsemanship, including pole bending and barrels.
Now some of his pupils make up to $200,000 a year competing with horses worth $50,000 to $100,000. The Mattiolis, too, remain connected to their Western roots.
“I’ll never give up my Wrangler jeans or red cowboy boots,” Benita admits.
Recently, Lawson started his own breeding program. Many of the mares he bred to his stallion are granddaughters of Cal Bar and share his champion pedigree.
A barrel-racing competition horse now occupies what was once Cal Bar’s barn and paddock. But his last-born son, 22-year-old Cals Last Star, still roams in a pasture at Hunter Lane.
Certainly, whatever modifications the equestrian center has undergone over the years to incorporate changing trends, Bar M’s greatest legacy lives on.
For more info, call 584-0704, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit hunterlaneequestrian.com.