June 2018 - Celebrating Riding Schools
Written by by Kim F. Miller
Friday, 01 June 2018 06:01
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The equestrian world’s gateway programs gallop on amid challenges & welcome everybody’s support.

Every June issue, we celebrate the riding schools that are most often a new or potential horse person’s first interaction with horses and the people who will form their impression of our sport and industry. These newcomers are key to our industry’s health, and in many cases, survival. Most often, it’s their stories that best exemplify why keeping horses accessible is so important to so many people’s lives and to the fabric of a community.

We witnessed that first hand while attending an April Orange County Fair Board meeting about the proposed demolition of the Equestrian Center there. One of Lisa Sabo’s young students explained that the confidence she’d gained from riding emboldened her to step up to the microphone in that intimidating public meeting. She went on to make a passionate statement in the Center’s favor.

Whether part of a training business that offers higher levels of riding and competition opportunities, or a stand-alone endeavor, these programs feed and sustain the equestrian lifestyle. We hope that all our readers are familiar with reputable riding schools in your area, so you can make a good recommendation when asked. Toward that end, here’s a glimpse of three such programs and our updated list of schools that our staff can vouch for. Please get in touch with any additional recommendations: we’re updating the list on our website as a year-round referral source.

Consider buying gift certificates from your local riding program for friends and family, and pop on a card with the United States Equestrian Federation’s new motto, “Joy The Joy!”

The Newport Mesa Pony Club & Riding Center: Located in Orange County’s Costa Mesa

Ready to ride!

Lifelong eventer Lisa Sabo is again leading a battle to preserve the Equestrian Center at the Orange County Fair & Event Center (see separate story). The challenge includes answering many questions, but whether there’s interest in access to horses and riding lessons in coastal Southern California isn’t one of them.

About seven years ago, Lisa expanded Sabo Eventing, the then mostly-adult training program she operates with her equally renowned rider and coach husband, Brian Sabo. Both earned their U.S. Pony Club “A” rating early in their careers, so starting a Pony Club was a natural first step. They followed that by starting the Newport Mesa Riding Center lesson program. Combined, the programs have all the business Lisa and her team of seven instructors can handle. Approximately 110 riders, from young kids to adults, enjoy lessons on 20 school horses every week. That number jumps up with summer camps this season. More people benefit from time with horses through Newport Mesa’s equine-assisted therapy programs that help participants dealing with a range of conditions.

Lisa realizes she may have branched out in a backwards manner by first starting a United States Pony Club, then adding the Newport Mesa Riding Center. But both programs are humming along now and Lisa has identified a natural flow for a typical new student. In most cases, they start with an introductory lesson, then are recommended first to a weekly lesson schedule.

Newport Mesa Pony Club member Meg Pelligrini receives one of many awards at the United States Eventing Convention.

“I’ve found if kids join Pony Club right away, then can get lost in the shuffle,” Lisa observes. “It’s a program that requires coming out several days a week, and often they are not quite there yet. They’re still doing soccer, piano and the other things kids do these days. Once someone kind of takes off in the Riding Center lessons and are going to shows, I recommend they join the Pony Club, which has the benefit of really getting deeper into the horsemanship knowledge.”

Once the time-consuming Equestrian Center battle is won, Lisa looks forward to starting a Pony Club Masters program to accommodate interest from Newport Mesa’s adult riders.

The Riding Center and Pony Club have a symbiotic relationship. They share horses and the lesson program revenue helps cover the cost of the horse activities needed for Pony Club. They complement each other as stepping stones toward full-on involvement with horses. Hauling out for trail rides and cross-country schooling are unique components that build skills and confidence, while boosting the fun factor. These off-campus Newport Mesa excursions are unique in that riders can take part on lesson horses, rather than having to have their own to participate.

For many, the stepping stone process continues with horse ownership. At that point, they typically join the most advanced ranks at Sabo Eventing, often while continuing with Pony Club and working toward its most challenging horsemanship ratings. The Sabos have coached many students to the North American Junior Young Rider Championships ranks over the years and Lisa is thrilled to see that pipeline to the sport’s highest levels steadily filling with people who started in the Riding Center lessons. She’s not shy about stating her goal: “to create event riders!”

“That’s my passion and how you create that top program is by starting at the bottom,” explains Lisa, a 2017 recipient of the United States Eventing Association’s Cornerstone Instructors award.

Although it’s a lot of horses, instructors, students, schedules and events to juggle, the Sabos’ multi-level program is thriving and producing a lot of joy all around.  A daily thrill for the Sabos is being a base for several part-time instructors who’ve been able to keep their connections to horses into adulthood. “They’ve gone onto other jobs and careers, but working with our program enables them to keep an in with horses and teaching. For all of us, this life is driven by the passion of horses. Just being with them and sharing our love for them. All my instructors feel that same way: that they’ve changed our life and we have this special relationship with them.”

For more information, visit www.saboeventing.com.

Spring Down summer campers with Spring Down star, Tango

Spring Down Equestrian Center: In San Mateo County’s Portola Valley

Spring Down Equestrian Center’s motto says it all. “The friendly place to learn to ride and enjoy the world of horses.” Founder and chief horseman Carol Goodstein is a pioneer in envisioning, creating and successfully operating a large-scale lesson horse-based program for many years.

Return customers are any business’ surest sign of success and Spring Down is full of them. Kelcy Senz, Natalie Feirman and Hailey Roake are among the former students who learned to ride and love horses at the eight-acre, privately owned facility in San Mateo County’s Portola Valley. Now instructors, the young women submitted the following description of what Spring Down offers.

Spring Down founder Carol Goodstein gives a lesson on bits.

“Spring Down has operated on their own property since 1984, primarily as a lesson barn with over 40 school horses.  Many of our school horses, or ‘Spring Down Stars,’ as we like to call them, came to us as rescues and have been trained, or, in some cases, retrained, to be safe and reliable for our clients.

“We ensure each horse enjoys and understands their new job before teaching horsemanship and riding from the ground up.  Spring Down has lessons that take place seven days a week, with riders aging from 2 to 70-plus. Lesson are offered year-round, rain or shine, as there are two arenas to use, both have lights, one is covered and the other has state-of-the art (Atwood Equestrian) footing that makes even riding in the rain fun!

Spring Down instructors Kelcy & Hailey school lesson stars.

“Besides fun, the main focus at Spring Down is hunt seat equitation. Dressage and western are also offered at a reasonable cost and all equipment for the horse and rider is provided.  We offer camps for riders 6 years old and up during spring, summer and winter; host four horse shows a year that are open to the public, as well as the Spring Down riders; and we also host three Nick Karazissis clinics each year—for the past 25 years.

“Spring Down also helps celebrate special events such as birthday parties and Girl Scouts earning their Merit badge. In addition to all of the above, Spring Down recently joined the Interscholastic Equestrian Association league with two teams of riders.  Speaking of teams, we also have two drill teams that practice weekly and perform at horse shows.

“As prior students who are now instructors at this barn, we cannot say enough good things about Spring Down Equestrian Center. The facility is immaculately kept, horses are very well cared for, receiving regular veterinary, farrier and chiropractic care as well as getting top of the line feed. We take pride in our barn, horses, co-workers, clients and want to spread the world!”

Owner Carol Goodstein is proud of the emphasis on thorough horsemanship and high-quality riding instruction. Having so many school horses is a big plus for retaining students. “We go the extra mile to teach our students and having 40 horses, we can teach people their first flying lead change, basic dressage or to jump safely. We have all levels, baby sitters to rescues off the track that our better riders are challenged by. There’s always some place to go because of the variety of horses.”

Another 15 to 20 horses are privately owned and boarded at Spring Down, a revenue source that helps cover the unpredictable costs that arise. The facility recently underwent the process of increasing their permit from 55 to 60 horses, so a few more boarders at the “friendly place to learn to ride and enjoy the world of horses” are welcome.

For more information, visit www.springdown.com.    

Enterprise Farms Caspian horses with their fans and friends.

Enterprise Farms: Located at the Los Angeles area’s Paddock Riding Club

By early May, Enterprise Farms’ first summer camps of the season were already sold out. Located at the privately-owned Paddock Riding Club in the Los Angeles area’s Atwater, near Griffith Park, Gene Gilbert’s multi-discipline riding school has been busy throughout its 20-year existence. In addition to riding programs up through the levels in hunters, jumpers and dressage, Enterprise offers relatively affordable entry points to the sport: beginning lessons, U.S. Pony Club Riding Center activities, scouting programs and the aforementioned camps. Horse leases are also available.

Gene is proud of Enterprise’s role as a gateway to equestrian sports and works hard to maintain that status amidst rising costs stemming from board and hay increases, plus minimum wage and operational increases normal to any business. Through discounted rates on lesson and camp packages and the willingness and flexibility to create riding opportunities for many budgets, she prioritizes ways to keep it financially accessible.

Whatever their budget, students at Enterprise Farms get a solid horsemanship education. Jump-on, jump-off lessons may be the most lucrative kind, but they don’t exist at her facility. A $35, hour-long Horsemanship Class is required for all new students. This class covers the basics of handling horses, grooming, tack and tacking up a horse. Learning these aspects of horse care is the first step of a journey on which Gene has seen students of all ages thrive. “The wonderful thing about introducing young people to horses is that it teaches them responsibility,” she explains. “I can’t tell you how many times I have a parent amazed because their child won’t pick up their clothes at home, yet here she’s picking up manure!”

With the equestrian world, and the hunter/jumper industry in particular, so worried about dwindling participation, Gene sees the antidote in the simplest interactions. Even getting exposed to horses at a friend’s birthday party, for example, can trigger a lifelong interest. “These kids, if they really want to ride, they’ll find a way to do it.” Enterprise has opportunities to trade chores for lessons, with the side benefit of kids helping kids. “There are things that a younger kid will ask an older student that they would never ask me,” Gene explains. In responding, the older student tends to learn something, too.

Enterprise students at work

Enterprise students at work

An excellent staff is a keystone of Enterprise’s success. Christine Nicholson is the Director of the Riding School and supervises the staff and horse management.  Gene is a lifelong horse lover who built Enterprise on the model of what she wanted as a young and adult rider. “I wanted quality, patient instructors who would help me to progress, encourage me, and be delighted when I did well.” A big safety emphasis is an Enterprise feature common to other long-standing riding programs that thrive through changing societal attitudes toward how best to spend leisure time and disposable income.

Caspian horses are a distinct Enterprise component. They are an ancient, rare breed with fewer than 750 in the world and 300 in the United States. Yet, several of them can be found as part of the string of steady, safe lesson horses at Enterprise.

Although Enterprise Farms represents a second career for Gene, she looks forward to a long future with the business. Keeping access affordable is just one of the challenges to that, however. Maintaining current zoning that makes horsekeeping feasible in the area is an ongoing endeavor that has intensified of late.

Running a riding school has daily rewards. Gene recently retired two of her school horses to her small home stable near Enterprise Farms.  Having students who knew and loved the horses from a young age remember them and come visit is one of many gratifying moments in operating the business. And then there’s the pleasure of seeing students pass milestones in their riding and learning to become real horsemen. Riding skills don’t progress in a straight line, she observes. “It goes in plateaus. You think you are stuck for a while, and then you spring ahead and suddenly one day you are better.

“I love introducing kids to horses,” Gene concludes. “When they realize how gentle and kind they are, that’s all it takes.”    

For more information, visit www.enterprisefarms.com.

Riding Magazine’s Recommended Riding Schools

Los Angeles Area
•    Elvenstar, Moorpark
•    Enterprise Farm, Los Angeles
•    Far West Farms, Calabasas
•    Foxfield, Westlake Village
•    Mark Watring Stables, Hidden Valley
•    Hansen Dam Riding School, Lake View Terrace
•    Traditional Equitation School, Burbank

Orange County
•    Bridges Equestrian Horsemanship & Training Center, San Juan Capistrano
•    Elvenstar OC, Huntington Beach
•    Horse Play Rentals, Huntington Beach
•    Ivy Gate, San Juan Capistrano
•    Hayden Clarke Sport Horses, Laguna Niguel
•    Newport Mesa Pony Club & Riding Center, Costa Mesa
•    Peacock Hill Riding School, Orange

Inland Empire
•    Showcase Training Stables, Redlands
•    Stacey Turner Training Stable & Riding School, Norco

Central California
•    AG Equestrian, San Luis Obispo
•    Dubost Equestrian, Templeton
•    Liberty Riding Academy, Modesto

San Diego Area
•    Blue Fox Farm/DVG Show Stable, Escondido
•    Chestnut Hills Equestrian Center, Bonsall
•    Concord Equestrian Center, Del Mar
•    Hidden Fox Farm, El Cajon
•    Hunter Valley Riding Academy, Lakeside
•    Newmarket, Del Mar
•    Pathfinder Farm, San Marcos
•    Pepper Creek Equine Center, Ramona
•    Royal Oak Stables, Rancho Santa Fe
•    San Diego Riding Academy, Lakeside
•    South Coast Equestrian, San Diego
•    Sweetwater Farms, Bonita
•    UK Equestrian Riding School, Rancho Santa Fe

•    Belmont Training, Watsonville
•    BTH Equestrians, Shingle Springs
•    California Riding Academy, Portola Valley & Pacifica
•    Cross Roads Stables, Elverta
•    East Bay Riding Academy, Castro Valley
•    Marian Nelson Equestrian, Petaluma
•    Salinas Riding Academy, Salinas
•    Skyline Ranch Equestrian Center, Oakland
•    Strides Riding Academy, Petaluma

Las Vegas
•    Hunters’ Edge, Las Vegas

US Pony Club Riding Centers
•    Visit www.ponyclub.org for a list of Riding Centers in your area.