At This Horse Training Camp, Meet Courage, Sass and Diamond Jim

The Arabian mare tossed her head back, neighed disapproval of the peering human beings and nudged her week-old foal.

"She'll lay her ears back and bite you," cautioned Danielle Hughes, 21. "She's protective of her foal."

With a miniature horse named Rufus at her side, Hughes led visitors around some of the 45 acres of the Moorpark College Equine Training and Management Program.

Hughes and 22 other students age 18 to 38 attend classes, mostly outdoors, at the National Park Service's Rancho Sierra Vista in rolling green foothills near Newbury Park.

In addition to an educational center, it's a place to take the family for a bit of horse lore and perhaps a hike.

The campus, once part of a Spanish land grant, was a working ranch for a century. It produced cattle, sheep and quarter horses and grew citrus, avocados, barley and oats.

The 11-month internship offers 35 college credits and certificates in horse training, ranch management and artificial insemination, Hughes said.

The training is advertised as "not your average equestrian program." It attracts students from around the country.

Hughes introduced the Arabians, appaloosas, Morgans, miniatures, thoroughbreds, quarter horses and shires by names such as Courage, Classy, Diamond Jim and Donald Duck. Only a 13-hour-old foal was unnamed. Hughes had stories about their likes and dislikes.

"We really get to know the horses, because we have the chance to work with 10 or more at least four weeks each," Hughes said.

Hughes, who is planning a career as a horse-breeder, welcomed questions about artificial insemination ("the trend of the future"), stallion handling, foaling and broodmare management.

Children took free rides in a cart drawn by a miniature horse. At the same time, Lyssa Wright, 23, a teaching assistant from Chatsworth, introduced the adults to a huge shire horse, 1,800-pounds of animal named Sass.

"This is hands-on experience here," Wright said, explaining that the typical day starts at 7 a.m. with ranch chores followed by a two-hour training session. Training includes Western, dressage, jumping and conditioning.

After demonstrations, speakers, field trips and two hours of lectures and evening chores, the commuting students leave. Don Anderson, the program's director, and his wife, Dee, who manages the ranch, live on the property.

"All our riding tests are videotaped and our grooming test is like going to a real show," Wright said. "The program puts us in real-world situations."

* RANCHO SIERRA VISTA: Free tours are Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. From the Ventura Freeway exit at Wendy Drive in Newbury Park, go south on Wendy to Potrero Road, turn right and go west to Pinehill Avenue, turn left and go south to Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa. The tour lasts about half an hour and can be followed by an 8-mile trek by foot, bicycle or horseback to Point Mugu State Park on the ocean.

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