Sophie is half-leasing her pony and gaining a lot of confidence in her riding lessons.
Punk Pony Riding School at Malibu Valley Farms began as a place where solid horsemanship and riding skills were taught in a very fun setting: neon leg wraps, pink saddle pads and lots of fun and games laced into the learning.
Under founder Jen Dallis Lopez' direction, it remains that way, but now the program has a new, shall we say, more dignified, counterpart: Fox Canyon Farms. It's the next step for Punk Pony Riding School graduates as well as newcomers who want a program more targeted to competing on the local schooling and rated hunter/jumper circuit.
Both programs grew out of Jen's desire to make the sport she loves accessible to a wider swath of participants and to provide some of the opportunities she was afforded as a youngster. She didn't own a horse of her own until she was 25 and, instead, learned to ride and care for horses as a working student. She's grateful to Cindy Merritt and Far West Farms, in particular, for getting her started, at 19, on a professional path. And she'll never forget friends and acquaintances willing to loan her an unused horse in trade for lessons and to agree to other symbiotic arrangements.
Part of Jen's program includes learning to groom and tack their own ponies.
"Thanks to a lot of help from a lot of people, including opportunities to ride sale horses and catch rides, I had really good junior years." Not the show accomplishments with high price tags, she notes, but the progressive milestones in the ability and confidence needed to strike out on her own. "I loved teaching so much and I always knew what I wanted and I worked hard for it." Running a training business and riding school that makes the sport relatively affordable is one of many gratifying returns on the sweat equity and heart she's invested.
With the expansion of Fox Canyon, Jen and her husband and partner Mike Lopez have grown their endeavor into a thriving little business. Hands-on horse care is an emphasis for both Punk Pony and Fox Canyon students, mostly young and pre-teens. "Having kids do things on their own makes them more invested in their horses," Jen observes. "We notice that kids who do that go into the ring and work twice as hard and we feel their horses are happier and more apt to be forgiving when a mistake is made."
Jen's two programs provide great horsemanship instruction for riders with goals of all kinds.
Caring for their own horses also helps kids keep perspective, Jen says. "Even if they had a bad round, they don't come out of the arena completely distraught and I think that's because they have such a connection with their animals." The approach also engenders cooperation. Running the barn without a groom, Jen and Mike sometimes ask for students' help getting a horse ready and they are happy to reciprocate as needed. Kids are supervised by Jen and Mike and only assigned tasks that are safe for their age, experience and ability.
Punk Pony Riding School and Fox Canyon own six horses that are available as lessons or for full or half-lease. They are a versatile string that ranges from lesson ponies to a jumper Jen feels has potential at the higher levels. In most cases, they have the capacity to quiet down for beginners and brighten up as show mounts with more advanced riders.
Twins Megan and Rebecca Berkovits are big fans of Jen's fun approach.
Jen and Mike enjoy filling the niche of preparing riders for courses from 2'6" to 2'9". Those who want to compete more frequently than what's on the Fox Canyon schedule are partnered with professional friends happy to look after them at other competitions. Riders ready for bigger jumping challenges are referred to appropriate training programs, Jen explains.
The couple welcomes those who own their own horses and adults, too. "I'm so happy to teach at any level and we are looking forward to taking on more show-focused riders through Fox Canyon," Jen concludes.
For more information on Punk Pony Riding School and Fox Canyon Farms, call Jen Dallis Lopez at 818-317-4786 or visit www.foxcanyonfarms.com.