IN SOUTHERN California, Clydesdales effortlessly tote the race track gates with dignity and thoroughbreds snap and prance and eye the competition. In Los Angeles, 18 of our civil servants are horses that carry police officers about their business of law and order. But among the hardest working of all are those that toil at rental stables, having someone new on their backs nearly every hour of the day. Now they must also face the possibility of unemployment as the number of rental stables decreases.
“There were nearly 20 stables renting horses from Ventura to Santa Ynez a few years ago, and now there are two of us,” says Gene O’Hagan, who has owned Gene O’Hagan Riding Stables in Goleta for about 33 years and supplies horses to neighbor Ronald Reagan and his posse of Secret Service men.
Lack of demand is not the reason behind the dwindling supply of rental horses. The culprit is the sharp rise in liability insurance costs. “We’re putting people on the backs of live animals that are going to react to each individual, so we assess all of our prospective riders and choose their horses for them,” O’Hagan explains. “We send one of our guides out with the party if we have any doubts. If they do OK, they can ride on alone.”
Other rental stables have called it a day and are concentrating on boarding, breeding, lessons and riding clubs. “Rentals are no longer feasible, in my opinion,” says Larry Lewis, owner of the Ojai Valley Stables. “A small stable may only net $20,000 to $25,000 a year and could be paying up to $10,000 of that for liability. You can’t charge enough to make up for that kind of overhead.”
There remains a number of stables in Southern California where a horse can be rented for about $15 per hour. Steven Bernhard notes that while riding the more than 150 miles of trails at his Smoke Tree Stables, in Palm Springs, one sees falls, streams, mountains, desert, the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation and West Fork Canyon (a protected area for wild mustangs).
Located at the original end of the Santa Fe Trail, Sunset River Trails, in El Monte, offers routes that take horse and rider through and along the waters of the San Gabriel River into Horseman’s Park and its bird sanctuary. For sand and surf riding, there is Sandi’s Rental Stable, in Imperial Beach (south of San Diego, near Border Field Beach), and Red Barn Stables in Malibu. River Trails Riding Stables, in Norco in Riverside County, has 381 acres.
Other horse rentals include Sunset Hollywood Stables, in Hollywood, and the Griffith Park Livery Stables, in Burbank, both of which offer riding through Griffith Park; California Horse Rentals, in Imperial Beach; Coal Canyon Stables, near Anaheim Hills, and Country Trails, in Orange.