Before I found the thriving horse world of metropolitan Los Angeles, Id hated
everything about this place. Traffic and smog, sure, but more than that I didnt
feel I understood the people I was meeting here, didnt understand their values
or what motivated them. I grew up in New Mexico, in the high desert, on the lip
of what is called there the llano estacado
. On summer mornings, I would
carry my saddle out to the pasture, catch my horse with a carrot, and be gone
until dusk, just when my grandmother was sure Id miss dinner. I was a proud member
of the Santa Fe Junior Horsemens Association, a wanna-be barrel-racing cowgirl,
but, alas, my horse was never fast enough to place in the money.
I had followed a guitar-playing boyfriend to Los Angeles and soon became his wife.
It seemed to me that moving here meant forfeiting the stuff that made me, and
turning myself into something a lot more glossy and ambitious, and so for a good
two years or more it didnt even occur to me that there might be horses within
the city. I think it was divine intervention that led me to strike up a conversation
with a woman at the recording studio where my husband was working. She turned
out to be a Los Angeles horsewoman, a creature I didnt know existed. She told
me which pages to look up on my Thomas Guide, and then my life changed again.
The horse was young, a fireplug of a gelding, what they call a Running Quarter
straight off the track. The little guy needed a lot of exercise just to be halfway
rideable, otherwise hed give anybody stupid enough to get on him their own private
rodeo. At that point in my life the point at which my husband was on his way
to becoming my ex-husband I was not only the one stupid enough but also the
one with enough time to volunteer to turn this failed Seabiscuit into a quiet
Our rides began late in the afternoon, the heat and the dust thick, an uncomfortable heaviness I just wanted to lose, like kicking the unwanted weight of a blanket off on a summer night. That horse, he hated the rickety wooden suspension bridge hung over the concrete channel, but would calm down soon as we got onto the trail. It was one quick turn and then an ascent into oak brush and dried grasses, winding for miles, for so far, in fact, sometimes Id lose my way and we returned to the stable at night.
All manner of danger came to us out there, stuff you would never expect: fire ants, poison oak I had the bad fortune to brush my arm against when I was down picking a stone out of the geldings hoof, so many rattlesnakes, some cheeky coyotes who came close to nipping the geldings heels, a few runaway horses. One time in particular a crash and rush came careering down the hillside a couple of wiseass mountain bikers hot-dogging, but the racket they made was so loud I was sure we were being preyed upon by a mountain lion. The gelding thought so too, and bolted. I was lucky to stay on him but got a mild whiplash.
Then there were the errant golf balls, like out-of-season hail aimed at our heads. Once a hubcap flew off somebodys rig on the I-5 and hurtled dangerously close to the geldings legs. All this was happening not in some Podunk outland but in the middle of our city, in Griffith Park, along some of the 55 miles of trails in the largest metropolitan park in the country.
Official estimates say 550 horses are boarded at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center, but that number doesnt tell you about all the other backyard facilities and little stables along Riverside Drive in Burbank, or down the road in Atwater Village. The day I stumbled into the alfalfa-scented DaMoors Feed and Tack near the Disney Animation Studios was among the most joyous of my life.
Horses are everywhere. At the top of Beachwood Canyon, greenhorns can rent soured
old trail horses to show themselves another view of Hollywood. In tony Brentwood,
pony-club girls canter their pretty mounts over low fences. Palos Verdes doesnt
just have surfers but serious hunters/jumpers, too. Even in Inglewood there is
the thrill of watching thoroughbreds race at Hollywood Park. And, of course, there
is the Equestrian Center, where Im a regular, volunteering my time to ride that
gelding and any other I can talk my way onto before eventually getting my own
horse. Soon after discovering all this I was showing up to my office job with
the occasional stalk of straw clinging to my hair, the weight of a metal hoof
pick in the back pocket of my dress jeans. Id stand in line at the grocery store
in boots encrusted with muck from the stable, a 25-pound bag of horse carrots
filling my cart.
And thats how Los Angeles became for me that place everybody said it was, the
land of self-invention, of possibility. Even after the divorce, when friends and
work opportunities all told me it was better to start over again in Manhattan,
I stayed. Beneath the asphalt and the brittle show-biz veneer this was still the
West, a place I understood. Here I could pursue the career I could have only dreamed
of if Id stayed in the tiny towns of the Southwest, and in the same day get lost
on horseback. It required sacrifice stabling a horse in the city runs about
$500 a month, excluding vet bills, regular horseshoeing expenses and a whole host
of other add-ons like nutritional supplements and equipment but the choice was
there. I would happily and still do drive a beat-up car, get most staples
at the 99-cent store and buy my clothes at Old Navy just to be able to view the
world from atop a horse.