Hali Durand admits she is "pony obsessed," yet she didn't get one until she was 20. It wasn't because her parents deprived her of an equestrian experience. As a junior competing on the Northern California hunter/jumper circuit, Hali rode with Heather Whitney, Patty Ball and Rudy Leone. "But once I was 13 or 14, I was told I was too old, no more ponies!"
She happily went on with a successful junior career with horses, but when the opportunity arose to turn professional and run a program of her own, Hali knew exactly what she wanted to do and Stardust Pony Dreams is the result. Located in the Sacramento area's Lincoln, Stardust Pony Dreams specializes in the hunter and equitation divisions and is purely ponies – almost!
"I am not opposed to giving people lessons on horses, I just don't own any for the lesson and training program," Hali explains. She and her mother and partner, Aimiee Jones, own 19 ponies, of various breeds and crosses, and offer a diverse riding program to students of all ages. "You don't have to be a kid to ride a pony," asserts Hali. Stardust Pony Dreams welcomes youngsters who simply want to come out and ride regularly as well as those with competitive aspirations. They even offer lessons for toddlers.
Whatever the level, students get a thorough horsemanship education. Equal time is devoted to horse care and knowledge as to riding. After a year in regular lessons, students are often ready to lease or buy their own pony. Those who want to show sign on for a relatively manageable and affordable agenda that does "a little bit of everything," Hali says. The Welsh circuit is a great place to start, especially now that these shows typically offer open breed classes. "It's a very welcoming environment," Hali shares. "It's light-hearted and not quite so serious as other circuits. It's a wonderful place to take green kids."
Schooling shows at Starr Vaughn Equestrian Center and the Historic Nelson Ranch are other favorites. "We do rated (hunter/jumper) shows one to three times a year," Hali says. "We want to provide an affordable way for kids to see what showing is about." The stable sticks to shows they can haul the ponies in and out of each day. "I like my ponies to be at home at night." Even though she likes a low-key show schedule, Hali insists on a serious commitment from riders who want to compete. "We set up a game plan and go. You don't get anywhere as a rider if you don't take the sport seriously."
A Pony Of One's Own
For those who want to stay in the basic lesson program, Stardust Pony Dreams provides a neat opportunity for riders to feel like the pony they ride is their own. "They are matched with a pony that suits their skill level and they typically ride that one week in and week out," Hali explains. They move onto another when their skills or size warrants it, but at each phase riders are encouraged to treat the pony as their own. That includes "doing the yucky stuff, like cleaning tack and stalls, if they want to do the fun stuff," Hali notes of the program's horsemanship emphasis.
The trainer is open-minded toward all ponies but admits a soft spot for Section B Welshes. "They have those big eyes that melt your heart," she comments. "As long as a pony has a good disposition, I don't care what breed it is. I can find something special and unique about any pony."
She thinks ponies don't deserve their rap for bad behavior. When that does exist, it's a result of poor training, often by kids, rather than a trait. "I keep hearing about 'pony attitude,' but I don't know what that is.
"I am dedicated to riding our ponies and they are all kept in a strict training program," Hali continues. "Just like horses, they need to be trained for ground manners, bending, suppling, etc., and none of that happens without time and effort invested."
Stardust Pony Dreams is approaching its busy season when summer camps bring many newbies to the stable. Hali anticipates many return customers in her four camps this season and is counting on able assists from the veteran Stardust show riders.
Sales and consignments are another aspect of this thriving business. Knowing ponies, pony riders and the pony market so well, Hali enjoys this process. "It's all about what is suitable for the pony and being open and honest with how the owners want their pony marketed."
Hali gives her mom Aimiee tons of credit in the smooth running of the busy Stardust Pony Dreams. "She's the one that babies everyone," Hali laughs of Aimiee's role with the stable's ponies and riders. She lives on the property, which is about 20 minutes north of Sacramento, and is keenly attuned to every pony's temperaments and quirks. She's also a terrific baby sitter for Hali and her husband's two young children.
"It's a family adventure!" Hali enthuses. Stardust Pony Dreams makes it possible for many families to share in the equestrian adventure.
For more information, call 916-645-2096 or visit