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Defenders of the Old West : Preservation: Old Agoura Rangers, a 60-member-strong posse, promote the rustic lifestyle, riding trails and equestrian activities.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; <i> Poss is an Agoura Hills writer</i>

Since horses can’t talk, the Old Agoura Rangers speak for them.

And the rangers have done a lot of talking in the seven years they’ve been together.

The group of 60 members was organized in 1984 by Ron Troncatty and Ric Keehmer to help preserve the Western way of life and Old Agoura, an area little more than a square mile within the city of Agoura Hills that’s zoned for horses, farm stock and such places as a feed store and a country-style market.

“There’s too much concrete out there already,” said James Carhart, a set designer, who as a ranger lieutenant sometimes speaks at Agoura Hills City Council meetings on behalf of horses and the country way of life.

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Besides defending the area’s rustic lifestyle and equine population before civic organizations, the group patrols the Santa Monica Mountains on horseback two or three times a week as volunteers. They advise mountain visitors on such things as how to properly dispose of trash and warn them about proper places to set campfires.

“Once in a blue moon someone will act up, but with six guys like us on the trail, they usually calm down,” said Adam Smith, a lieutenant in the group.

“The rangers give us input on trail conditions,” said David Gackenbach, superintendent of the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area. “They’re a group that helps us. We don’t always see eye-to-eye, but usually we get along.”

In a recent disagreement, the Old Agoura Rangers opposed a proposed land swap between the National Park Service and a developer that involved Cheeseboro Canyon National Recreation Area. The rangers believed the deal would destroy some of the wilderness they fight to protect. The park service, on the other hand, would stand to gain more acreage. The matter is still pending.

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This is by no means the first battle the rangers have fought over territory.

“The Old Agoura Rangers are the last representatives of the old frontier,” Agoura Hills Mayor Louise Rishoff said. “There’s a real don’t-fence-me-in mentality in Old Agoura and the rangers have made that clear to us” in city government.

Agoura Hills planning and zoning restrictions state that the city intends “to preserve the unique character of Old Agoura through the establishment of improvement standards and design guidelines.” The city requires that all new buildings in Old Agoura “be of a rustic character and the materials used, limited to use of natural rock, stucco, tile and wood . . . with exteriors of natural earth-tone colors.”

But these guidelines aren’t enough to guarantee a place for the horses, the Old Agoura Rangers say.

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Troncatty, known in the group as “the Voice,” is well known at City Hall for his passionate and lengthy speeches in defense of horses and the Western way of life.

Land is so valuable in Agoura Hills--$500,000 an acre, according to one developer--that builders will now fill a half-acre lot with a 7,000-square-foot home, a pool and a spa to maximize the property’s value, Troncatty said.

“Where are you going to put a horse on a lot like that?” he asked. “We want to make sure there is always room for horses here. We ask the planners to make sure houses and concrete don’t take up the whole lot.”

The rangers meet every Thursday night at Ranger Headquarters, a converted chicken coop on founding member Capt. Ric Keehmer’s Old Agoura ranch. The coop is lit by kerosene lanterns and warmed on cold nights by a potbellied stove.

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Wearing hats, boots, spurs and long coats, the rangers resemble characters out of the Old West. As Smith said, rangers must feel that they were born 100 years too late. The rangers drink beer and talk about trails they patrol and trips they’ve taken on horseback.

Keehmer and Troncatty, the ranger founders, are called captains;all other members are lieutenants. Keehmer, a cosmetics distributor, is also godfather of Troncatty’s daughter, Ashley, 9, who teaches younger children how to ride. Ashley, who has ridden since she was 3, is the only female ranger, having earned her ranger badge after a tough and successful ride through the mountains on steep trails.

The group’s charter also requires that members perform community service and possess a desire to protect and preserve the equestrian way of life.

Although there are 60 members, there is a core of about 10 who patrol the mountains on horseback. These include Lt. Mark Voje, alias “the Frenchman,” and his son Kyle; Lt. Adam Smith, a blacksmith, and Carhart and his son Tim. They are often joined by Bub Chandler and Bonita (Bo) Waldron, known as “Belle Star,” who would like to be members, but so far no one has sponsored them.

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“Our charter holds that a current ranger has to sponsor someone that wants to join us,” said Troncatty, an actor. “So far no one has nominated Bo or Bub yet.”

“They just let me hang,” Waldron, a legal aide, said of her comrades. “Everyone’s got to have a bandit queen.”

In addition to their patrolling and civic duties, the rangers annually present a “Defender of the Wilderness Award,” an oak plaque given for work in protecting the country way of life or the natural environment. Since the award was established in 1988, it has been given twice to then mayor and current Agoura Hills City Councilwoman Fran Pavley for her work in establishing a trail within the city and another in Old Agoura.

The last award winner was developer George Krebs, who traded one parcel for a smaller one owned by the city. The donated parcel will be used by Agoura Hills as a staging area for equestrian activities in nearby Cheeseboro Canyon National Recreation Area.

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The group’s plans include forming a disaster response team, which would involve the rangers carrying two-way radios and working with park rangers when fires or accidents occur in the mountains. They are working with an attorney to become a nonprofit organization and become eligible for public grants.

Once the Cheeseboro staging area is completed next year, the group also wants to form a gymkhana district to promote horse sportsmanship and generate more community interest. Gymkhana sports depend on a horse and rider’s speed through an obstacle course, rather than on poise and decorum. “You can have a rangy mustang and still win” gymkhana competitions, Troncatty said. “In gymkhana the clock decides who wins, not a judge.

“We’re a concerned community of horse owners who want to preserve horse rides,” he said. “We think differently than the tennis court people.”


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