His name is “Poco,” but he seemed pretty big to me. And though he’s a quarter horse, I’m confident in saying he’s 100% horse.
I met Poco at Renee Baker’s stables at the L.A. Equestrian Center, a place always right down the street; but until last week, I never ventured very far under its single white arch. The 72-acre property beyond sprawls like a little mini-city at the junction of Burbank, Glendale and L.A.
Baker, who lives in Glendale, runs a Western-style training school, and like most folks at the equestrian center, she’s been around horses her whole life. She learned early on from her father that the trick to training horses and riders is patience.
“I train show horses and people,” she said. “The horses are the easy part.”
It helps to match the personalities of the horse and rider, she said. Poco’s a really easy-going Appaloosa — an older horse who’s very much into hanging out, taking naps and eating cookies.
Oh, yeah. We’ll get along just fine.
I’ve watched enough Westerns to get the right swing of the leg over Poco’s back. The cheater’s block I’m stepping on also helps.
With the reins in my hand, we’re soon off, walking along a sandy trail that’s dangerously uneven if the horse goes much faster.
The pace is fine with me and Poco. We seem to be of the same opinion of the view of the nearby L.A. River — not much to look at usually, but on a clear day spent outdoors, the sun gives it just the right sheen to convince you it’s more than a drainage ditch.
Baker tells me it takes about five years to train a good trail horse and make him responsive to the reins and voice commands. The equestrian center has a few such horses in a rental area, where you can ride for an afternoon along the trails in Griffith Park.
This being L.A., the center’s had its share of Hollywood fame. We pass by a field near the park’s entrance where “Little Giants” was filmed for the peewee football scenes. And Baker has trained actors who need to learn how to ride for their roles. Poco’s owner is an actor — Lin Shaye, who may be best known as Cameron Diaz’s neighbor, Magda, in “There’s Something About Mary.”
We complete our loop around the center, and though we’ve been gone 45 minutes, the time seems to have gone by more quickly. By the end I’m thankful for the Western-style saddle, as opposed to the English version — there’s a lot more surface area on a Western saddle.
Baker has me lead Poco to the showers for a bath. I give him a good rinse, lead Poco back and give him a cookie. He gives a polite nod back, and we part ways.
Baker says I did well for my first ride — I kept my back straight, whereas new riders tend to arch forward a bit. That may change for our next date — this fall Baker’s going to teach me a few reining moves in her arena across from the stables.
No problem, as long as the horse and I can agree on naps, long walks and cookies.
BRYAN MAHONEY is a recent transplant from the East Coast. When he isn’t galloping into the sunset, he can be reached at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and on Twitter @818NewGuy.