One of the best-kept secrets of Los Angeles is the surprising number of equestrian communities scattered along the fringes and tucked into the nooks and crannies of the city’s 469 square miles of plains, hills and mountains.
Relics of L.A.’s agricultural past, when the city was more renowned as a producer of lima beans than of movie stars, these outposts provide direct links to the days when the region was knit together by a network of dusty bridle paths that have long since been paved to make way for our latest beast of burden, the car.
Not surprisingly, the San Fernando Valley has the highest concentration of equestrian communities within the city limits. As a generally suburban island surrounded on all sides by a moat of rugged mountains and hills, it has a development pattern and geography that have conspired to produce pockets of land where horses still graze in the shade of live oaks.
In the far northeastern reaches of the Valley, where the Verdugo Mountains drive a wedge between the 5 and 210 freeways, lies what may be the most fiercely defended remnant of the pastoral past, the horse-centric neighborhood of Shadow Hills.
Actually, the term “neighborhood,” with its connotations of the cheek-by-jowl living most of us experience in the compact confines of our own neighborhoods, may not be the best descriptor. Shadow Hills sprawls across over 12 miles of foothills and mountains and has one of the lowest population densities in the city. It’s a community tied together by one abiding mission: to preserve its semirural character.
Its residents have excelled at executing that goal. One of the sharpest-elbowed homeowners associations in a city notorious for hard-nosed neighborhood groups guards Shadow Hills from the ever-present threats of mailbox thieves, run-down properties, speeders on Sunland Boulevard, and now, the high-speed train.
The fact that Shadow Hills is still home to large lots zoned to allow barns and stables, an intricate web of riding trails and an abundance of chaparral-covered open space, is testament to the association’s focus and pull with City Hall.
All the powers of an activist HOA cannot, however, protect Shadow Hills from the propensity for its scenic sage-covered slopes to send forth raging infernos when the humidity drops and the Santa Ana winds come whipping through its canyons, as happened twice last year.
The neighs have it: Shadow Hills knows what it wants, and it wants horses. For those looking for a place to wholeheartedly dive into the equestrian lifestyle, this is undoubtedly it.
Hidden architectural gems: Lest you think Shadow Hills is all barns and log cabins, it boasts a number of Midcentury Modern homes, including designs by John Lautner and others.
A convenient retreat: Although Shadow Hills prizes its semirural feel, it is convenient to all the major studios in the Valley, as well as Pasadena via the 210.
All horses, all the time: For those suffering from equinophobia, Shadow Hills — with its many, many hoofed residents — may be a hard pass.
Janaka Perera, an agent with Perch Properties active in the area for 14 years, described Shadow Hills as a close-knit community.
“There’s a daily e-newsletter that goes around, so if someone loses a pet or has a break-in, everybody can know about it,” Perera said.
He added that Shadow Hills estimated that 70% of residents own horses and more than 90% of properties are equestrian-zoned. As asphalt replaces more of the neighborhood’s dirt roads, however, the vibe is shifting.
“It’s not uncommon to find 5-acre properties here, but in recent years, people are splitting the larger lots,” Perera said.
As a result, the area’s mix of ranch, Spanish Colonial and Midcentury-style homes often sit on 2 or 3 acres — slightly smaller than in years past.
In the 91040 ZIP Code, based on 25 sales, the median sales price for single-family homes in May was $670,000, up 13.6% year over year, according to CoreLogic.
The two public schools within the Shadow Hills boundaries — Stonehurst Avenue Elementary and Vinedale Elementary — scored 817 and 774, respectively, on the 2013 Academic Performance Index.
Two schools in the surrounding area scored over 900: Abraham Lincoln Elementary, at 915 and Dunsmore Elementary, at 908.