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Not just horsing around

LAH horsemen's association has fought for equestrian rights for the past 25 years

Members of the Los Altos Hills Horsemen's Association gather last week at the Town Ring on Purissima Road for a group portrait. Pictured, clockwise from the top, are: Thomasina Fry on her horse, Pippin; Bob Stutz, past president, on Charlie's Orbit; Steve Haze, current president, holding the reins of Jake; Charlie Dougherty, Ray Whitley and Stu Whittelsey, all past presidents.

Photo by MONIQUE SCHOENFELD/TOWN CRIER

This Saturday, the Los Altos Hills Horseman's Association (LAHHA) will celebrate a quarter century of hard work. The association's 25th anniversary celebration will take place 3 p.m. at the Westwind Barn, in recognition of efforts that have had a vital impact on shaping the town.

Since incorporating as a non-profit organization in 1971, LAHHA has fought to preserve the trails and interests of horse owners in Los Altos Hills and surrounding communities. It hasn't been easy.

Horses were always part of the original Los Altos Hills plan of incorporation. The first planning map was officially accepted by the Town Council in 1964 showing the original path plan for riding and walking.

LAHHA is a spin-off from the original Los Altos Trail Club, a social club that started in 1942. It presently has 135 members.

"Originally we needed more political input in Los Altos Hills to save ourselves from Los Altos," said Pete McSweeney, past president. "Los Altos had quarter-acre parcels and you can't keep a horse on that small a lot."

LAHHA was formed and incorporated in 1970 as an influence against the town council forming "no horse subdivisions." Four people formed the association to ensure multi-use trails and pathways were built and maintained.

"One of the city councilmen wanted to put license plates on horses in order to get rid of them," McSweeney said. We formed a candidate night to inform the electorate on those running for the city council. It wasn't who would fit on the council, but who wouldn't fit on the council."

LAHHA is one of the few equestrian organizations that still exists after 25 years and the Town Council had a lot to do with its existence. Zoning laws and few registration requirements put few restrictions on residents who want to keep horses. However, all is not well in the Los Altos Hills equestrian culture. Land has become too valuable to justify any horse stables and residents with stables are becoming fewer and fewer.

Steve Haze, president of LAHHA is well aware of the changing demographics.

"Equestrian trails are being used for running and mountain biking and we have to co-exist on these popular trails with other users. Commercial stables have closed over the years so people don't have a place to keep horses anymore. "Haze said. "Our membership has remained constant because we are involved in not only issues important to Los Altos Hills, but in issues that affect horse owners in other communities."

Bob Stutz, former president of the association, said new residents are not as interested in horses as long-time residents.

"They move to the hills because they want to move to the country and then they build dormitory style homes with tennis courts and swimming pools and don't have enough room left to build a sandbox." Stutz said.

However, horse riders feel lucky to be so close to the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District's preserves. All of the preserves have equestrian trails which also serve hikers and joggers.

Currently LAHHA has an agreement with the Town of Los Altos Hills for the maintenance and management of the Town Ring on Purissima Road which they rebuilt with council funds in 1984 .

"It is the desire of LAHHA to have the Town Ring master planned to better accommodate events," Haze said. "It is our ambition to have the Town Ring evolve into an "equestrian park" with tables and shade trees planted so residents can use the facility for family picnics during the shows."

The relationship between LAHHA and Hidden Villa has not been a neighborly one. Several years ago the Hidden Villa Trust stopped boarding horses on its 13 acre meadow and wouldn't fix up the ring for the association's annual Horse Play competition it had the previous 55 years.

Triona Wilson, former LAHHA president said she was personally disappointed with the direction Hidden Villa has toward horses. "From the Horseman's Association view, we have donated hundred of hours and a lot of money in improvements for the horsemanship center at Hidden Villa.

"The Hidden Villa trails, many built by LAHHA members, have also been restricted and in many cases closed under the direction of the Trust for the Hidden Villa." Wilson said.

Judith Steiner, executive director for the Trust of Hidden Villa, said we are not open to the public while the summer camp is in session. Everything is closed from June 24 to Aug. 23 and if they would have called here we would have explained that to them.

Haze said Hidden Villa is very ambitious in its activities and product offerings and no longer include their neighbors or the Horseman's Association.

"These were the people who worked with the Duvenecks in the past. Originally the Duvenecks always included the neighbors, but they look at things as a corporation now instead of a public trust. We would like to see a trail go through Hidden Villa again, one that is always available to the general public," Haze said.

"Trails are closed because children use the trails for their winderness experience," Steiner said. "The valley has grown so much with a lot more people and we have to consider everyone. "

The 25th anniversary party will start at 3 p.m. with a working dog exposition, Westwind drill team demonstration, Santa Clara County vector control information and a miniature horse petting for the kids.

Westwind Barn is located at 27210 Altamont Drive in Los Altos Hills. For more information, call Noelle Rodalari at 967-4649.

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