The horse country of Long Beach contains no rolling hillsides, no vast pasturelands. It stretches for two blocks along Atlantic Place on the northwest side of town, spilling over the Paramount border.
Surrounded by a field of concrete and stucco--two freeways, miles of boxy pastel houses, a new industrial park--are 20 aging homes, each with a barn in the backyard. Behind the barns, which house more than 100 horses, a bridle path leads to the San Gabriel Mountains. The trail runs along a wall of cement bordering the Los Angeles River.
Although owls, jack rabbits and foxes roam there, an occasional bulldozer cruises by atop the dike. Skeletal transformers and the Paramount pump station--complete with gang graffiti--loom on the horizon.
But the welders and carpenters, retirees and office clerks who live nearby and board their horses in neighbors' barns don't seem to mind. The small scale of their horse country keeps the cost down to about $100 a month for shelter and feed--$50 to $100 less than the usual tab elsewhere in the Los Angeles area.
The result is that a daily horseback ride for pleasure need not be reserved for the rich.
'We're All Horse-Poor' "This is the greatest neighborhood in the world," said Lori Goyette, 25, who keeps her buckskin gelding, Jessie, at one of the stables on Atlantic Place. She lives in Lakewood with her parents, works part time and hopes to land "a real job" soon at the McDonnell Douglas Corp. aircraft plant.
"We say around here that we're all horse-poor," Goyette said. "But in this area (the cost) is so reasonable that we hope it never changes."
Goyette and the other regulars worry these days that their haven may disappear. If it does, they say, there is no affordable place to turn to in the Los Angeles area. They will most likely have to give up their horses.
Their fears center on the fate of a dirt strip of unincorporated county-owned land, a quarter of a mile long and 150 feet wide, that separates the stables from the bridle path that runs along the eastern bank of the Los Angeles River.
The city of Paramount, prompted by an adjacent industrialist, wants to annex the property. The neighbors believe that if Paramount controls the zoning of the land, a private warehouse or parking lot would eventually be built there--eliminating their training space and blocking access to the trail.
Although Paramount officials deny that annexation will bring changes, the horse owners have asked Long Beach to annex the property instead. Most of them are Long Beach residents and believe that the Long Beach City Council would be more responsive to their pleas to keep things the way they are.
Twenty years ago, the neighbors banded together to build a horse-show arena in the middle of the county property, which is managed by the Los Angeles County Flood Control District. With county permission, they spent more than four months piecing together a rail fence made of discarded oil-field pipe. Working mostly in the evenings and on weekends, they watered the dirt inside to keep the dust down and built bleachers for spectators.
A local chapter of Equestrian Trails Inc., a nonprofit statewide horsemen's group, helped pay for the project, "but the actual cash outlay was very minimal," recalled Joe Nab, who was treasurer at the time.
The arena has been used daily ever since for shows and for training the horses.
"We're very proud of it," Nab said.
Until recently, no one thought much about the intersection of the cities and county. Eighteen of the house-and-stable combinations are in Long Beach; two are in Paramount. The arena site belongs to neither city. It didn't seem to be a matter of concern to anyone but Thomas Brothers, the map-making company.
But the possibility of annexation by Paramount made them realize the importance of boundaries. For months, among themselves, the horse owners have discussed the worst that could happen from their point of view: a warehouse or a factory where their arena now stands. The scenario may seem farfetched, but "we'd rather play it safe now," said Connie Thompson, who owns a stable housing 14 horses.
Under Consideration If industry does encroach on the arena, "there wouldn't be much reason to have horses here," she said.
She is among 44 local horse owners who have signed a petition asking Long Beach to annex the arena site. Long Beach Community Planner Larry Krupka said that city officials are considering annexation as a result of the petition, which they received two weeks ago.
The executive officer of the state Local Agency Formation Commission confirmed that both cities have expressed interest in the property. Formal applications, which have not been filed, would lead to public hearings before the commission decides whether to "approve either petition or neither," said the officer, Ruth Bennell.
Paramount's request for the arena property is part of a drive to annex more than 90 acres of unincorporated land along the river, some owned by the flood control district and some belonging to private interests.
"It's a function of economics," said Dick Powers, Paramount's community development director.
Several owners of Paramount property have expanded their businesses by buying adjacent land in unincorporated Los Angeles county. Others hope to purchase county land in the future, Powers said. Both groups would like to deal with one zoning authority and pay taxes to one local government, he said.
The strip that includes the arena is on Paramount's wish list, Powers said, because an oil-hauling company, Cool Fuel Inc., is just north of the Atlantic Place stables. Cool Fuel property straddles the border and is in both Paramount and unincorporated Los Angeles County. The owner, Tays D. Cool, asked Paramount to extend city control by annexing the unincorporated land, Powers said.
Powers and Cool say the horses are not threatened.
"Cool Fuel is one of the city's largest tax producers and it's important to us," Powers said. But, he added, "We are trying not to be insensitive to the horse owners."
Because the county owns the arena and its adjacent strip, he said, no development should be expected.
This line of reasoning does not reassure the stable owners. Several asked why Paramount wants control over unincorporated land Cool does not own. They noted that Cool bought some land from the county three years ago.
Still, Cool said he is not interested in buying more land from the county.
"I just want to standardize the zoning of my own property so I can sleep at night," he said. "You think you're complying on one parcel, and across the boundary, you're in violation on another."
He said he knows that many of the stable owners "think I'm the big ugly capitalist and I'm going to come down and overtake them," he said with a chuckle.
"That horse-riding trail is passionately defended by people that ride horses, even though it isn't used very much. I don't have any quarrel with that. None whatsoever," he said.
To calm the horse owners, Powers said, he will probably recommend that Paramount let Long Beach annex the arena, "though I don't know what the (Paramount) City Council will do." As for property just north of the arena, which is along the river and includes and abuts Cool Fuel: "We want that."
The neighbors said they are still uneasy.
"I don't think for a minute that they're going to leave the arena," said Thompson.
And even if the arena is spared, if other property becomes industrial, "we'll just have more traffic and more trucks," said Daisie McCord, who owns a stable down the block. "That scares the horses."
Their concerns are not unique. All over the Los Angeles Basin, use of horse trails is increasingly threatened by development, said Gwen Allen, president of Equestrian Trails Inc., which was formed in 1944 to lobby for more public bridle paths.
"The trails are still there, but you can't get to them," Allen said. "They are putting in freeways, housing. We're really having a struggle" even in more affluent areas. She cited a battle in Sylmar over a proposed industrial complex and zoning changes in La Habra Heights that made keeping horses illegal.
The Atlantic Place stables have endured for more than 30 years. The neighbors were riding horses there before Paramount existed. Before 1957, the Long Beach border was shared with two small dairy towns. One was Clearwater; the other, Hynes, declared itself the hay capital of the world.
Until 1977, Long Beach did not regulate where horses could be kept. Then, residents in the Wrigley District, about five miles south of Atlantic Place, complained about flies and the odor of manure.
A new set of zoning ordinances was the result, and several Wrigley District stables had to close. But the long, narrow Atlantic Place lots, ranging in size from half an acre to an acre, were big enough to fit the requirements.
Now, Long Beach Zoning Director Dennis Eschen said, there are just three areas zoned for horses and Atlantic Place is the largest by far. The others are in the Wrigley area and several houses on Myrtle Avenue, four blocks from Atlantic Place.
Many of the newer residents moved to the area to be close to a place where they could board horses inexpensively. Trisha Martinez, for one, moved into the neighborhood after she told her husband she wanted to take up riding again.
Stable Cost Too High
"We lived in Huntington Beach and there were stables there, but they cost $170 a month"--more than her husband was willing to pay.
They could have found lower prices in the Riverside area. But "our Realtor found us this place," Martinez said. She lives across the street from Thompson's stable.
On weekends, the arena and trails are packed.
The bridle path begins north of Willow Street in Long Beach, follows the river for 10 miles to the Rio Hondo Channel, then continues along the channel into the San Gabriel Mountains.
At the arena, horse shows are often scheduled by one club or another. Contestants jump their mounts over hurdles, guide them around around barrels or show off their riding form. After school, one of the adults sometimes helps a group of children train ponies. In the mornings, a solitary rider putting a horse through his paces is a common sight.
'Never Had . . . Trouble' "The kids in the summertime come down in the morning and bring their lunch and stay the whole day," said McCord. "I've never had any trouble with these kids because they were busy."
Goyette started out as one of the kids. She learned to ride at 10. Her father bought her a horse when she was in seventh grade "to keep me off the streets," she said.
"He thought I'd outgrow it, but I never did," she said. Now a two-hour ride is part of her daily routine, "just like brushing my teeth."
Like most of the other riders here, she does not stand on ceremony. Jeans and T-shirts are the approved riding costume ("What are jodhpurs?" she asked.)
This is hardly fox hunt country. Residents organize "poker rides"--ride your horse to prearranged points and pick a card at every stop.
"Lori won last time," Martinez said, leaning against the arena fence.
Astride Jessie, Goyette smiled. "This is our life," she said. "I don't know what I'd do without a horse."
She patted his flanks. "This is my buddy," she said.