April 04, 2014


Mission San Juan Capistrano
Empty Saddles Dedication Statue

Ride cowboy, ride.

They celebrated 50 years with last year's Ride, and Friday, the "El Viaje de Portolá" riders began their second "half-century" with their ride at Rancho Mission Viejo, part of a three-day celebration that included the Empty Saddles Ceremony at Mission San Juan Capistrano, honoring members who have passed on.

The goal of the eight original riders more than 50 years ago was no different than the 300-plus who are associated with the ride these days -- celebrate the American West, California history, "The Code of the West," and "The Cowboy Way."

"We used to ride at the Irvine Ranch, when it was still a ranch, and here (Rancho Mission Viejo),'' said Tony Moiso, a member of the Mission Preservation Society Board of Directors and President and CEO of Rancho Mission Viejo. It was Moiso who offered the riders continual use of his 40,000-acre ranch in the early 1970s, and the tradition continued with the ride at his ranch Friday.

"The first ride was in 1964 and we rode from the El Adobe in San Juan Capistrano to the Saddleback Inn, which was a hotel in Santa Ana," Moiso said. "So it's become a tradition in Orange County."

Moiso told the story from 1969 when the caterer quit on the eve of the scheduled ride at Bommer Canyon in Irvine.

"So now we're stuck out there and we've got nothing going," Moiso remembered. "There was another fellow out here, Gilbert Aguirre, and Gilbert and I decided that we better start paying attention to making this thing last. And it happened. We're proud to host it."

And along the way, El Viaje de Portolá has raised thousands of dollars that have been donated to the Mission and the San Juan Capistrano Historical Society.

The Portolá riders don't do it for the recognition, but they'll get it anyway. They will be honored at Mission San Juan Capistrano's event of the year -- the annual Romance of the Mission Benefit Gala Concert and Dinner on Friday, Sept. 12.

"They're very thoughtful, to cook up this idea of honoring the horseback riders," Moiso said. "Monsignor (Arthur) Holquin said the day they presented it, that the check from the ride has been consistent and always there, he could always count on the riders of the Portolá ride.

"And there is a genuine caring and love for the Mission by the people on the ride. It's a pretty good call for the Mission to say thanks, publicly, to this group."

Moiso, however, knows he and many of those who were there at the beginning aren't getting any younger. The original eight riders all have passed on, so Moiso is focused on making sure the torch is passed successfully to a younger generation.

Tony Gregory II is part of that younger generation, and currently holds the title of "El Presidente" of the El Viaje de Portolá riders. It is Gregory who will personally accept the award at the Mission Gala in September.

"It has become a great fraternity of really good guys," Moiso said. "The next generation of those guys, we've turned it over to them. It's a coming together of people who are associated with the ride in one way or another. It's a time to where you create this opportunity for all these guys to come together in one place, and they all have the same values and share the same philosophy."










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