Happy Trails to You ... in Malibu?

There are career freeways to drive, social postures to assume, mortgages, dues and the devil to be paid . . . and within the moil we lose much of ourselves.

That's when the human creature must break out, says one among the slick set. A pox on Perrier, she adds. Dump false fingernails. Then find a true horse to ride an honest trail toward a certain moment.

"The moment," actor-wrangler Lori McGinley says, "is when you remember there is something inside that requires a peace. The moment when you restore balance, when you stop running and start realizing how daily lives threaten what we really are all about."

What, pray, are we all about?

"We enjoy sunsets and quiet places where deer stand still and watch. We like to hear wild birds, to feel the power of a fine horse. But these days, too many people are so busy making money and keeping up that they've forgotten this human need to be cleansed."

And with that as a mission, McGinley has set herself in business as Malibu by Horseback. With four fine Arabians in her little stable. With rare trails to hidden canyons and lonely clifftops.

Her client list, naturally, is heavy with personalities. Her trails meander around celebrity homes and gallop past their beach houses. But to lean on the veneer of fame is to reduce McGinley's equestrian purpose--which is seeking people who feel the horses they ride, who find salve in loneliness and know a gratitude for nature.

"I checked other trails but chose Malibu because it is so special," she explained. "There's the secrecy of Serra (Franciscan) Retreat . . . the waterfall . . . and being two minutes away from traffic yet in the middle of nowhere."

So we saddled two prancing bays--Debonair for her, Terrienne for me--and rode in search of McGinley's tranquillity of nowhere.

It was everywhere. In bamboo twice the height of horse and rider. In the sweet stink of licorice stalks crushed under hoof. In the eyes of grebes and egrets that followed our splashing through their pools and creeks.

No predictable Griffith Park this--but canyon country on the coast, arroyos for scrambling and skinny paths broadening to meadows and Sweetwater Mesa. Suddenly, 900 feet below, there's a pier and Malibu colony and a huge winter sun ready to dunk another day into the Pacific.

And no plodding stable laggard this horse Terrienne--but a fine beast of curiosity and mischief. Her eyes talk. They say her mind is set on teasing and testing whomever seeks her friendship.

So she ignores her rider and picks her own way around a boulder she knows. But she misses the glass bottle. Only the rider's tug kept her from a slashed frog.

Nah, she couldn't possibly know that. But we did seem more comfortable with each other. Terrienne definitely was having fun. She had read the knees, hands, weight and jounce of this man on her back. She knew I was ready for her adventure at the end of the ride.

Under Pacific Coast Highway. Through the black mud marsh where Malibu Creek feeds the ocean. To the beach and firmer sand closer to the water's edge.

It is just sunset. We are legal.

McGinley is in the lead and Debonair rears before lunging into a full and free and joyous gallop.

So does Terrienne. Her nostrils flare. And she goes . . .

Terrienne finds her stride in yards and settles into the pace. Brilliant horse. She enters a perfect rhythm for her rider, and we are one with the wind and pounding and there's the incredible rush from the raw power of 1,100-pound animal at speed.

We do not hold it long. Soft sand is not the best surface for a horse. We return, steaming, panting, up creek and through bamboo stands again and into McGinley's corral.

I dismount. Terrienne's muzzle is on my face. Her big head lowers and she jams her ear and cheek into my jacket. Nuzzling. Showing affection.

And there it is. That moment of absolute peace.

Malibu by Horseback. Weekday rides (one hour, 45 minutes) $40 per person, weekends $45. Call (213) 455-1273 for scheduling.

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