Horses and riders abound on the Peninsula, with riders showcasing their competitive skills or taking to the trails for leisurely rides through the equestrian-friendly cities of Los Altos Hills, Woodside and Portola Valley.
But Los Altos Hills has something few other California cities can claim - a free, public horse-riding ring. The town arena is located on Purissima Road adjacent to the Little League fields. Before the ring’s construction in 1976, there were few local arenas available, and the ones that did exist levied fees or required lessons.
Promoting horse-related activities
Over time, the ring has become a focal point for the Los Altos Hills Horsemen’s Association (LAHHA), a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving horsemanship in the community.
"It’s rare to have an arena of this quality to ride in for free," said Delme Stutz Fry, an association member.
The ring routinely hosts LAHHA PlayDays, events, horse and veterinary clinics and schooling shows. In July, the association sponsored an all-day schooling show with riders from the area judged on jumping and trotting skills and awarded ribbons for their efforts.
Charlotte Bain, 11, won a ribbon in the jumping competition. She’s only been riding for 18 months, but she said it’s fun to have a connection with her horse and to partner with him.
Another schooling show ribbon winner, Sofia Murray, 11, has been riding for five years.
"I like the horses and the excitement when I go over the jumps," she said.
Founded in 1971, LAHHA promotes the care and ownership of horses in Los Altos Hills and neighboring communities. The group supports equine-related activities and encourages local residents to build, maintain, supervise and use horse trails and pathways.
Continual maintenance of the town arena is a joint venture between LAHHA and the town of Los Altos Hills. Association members take part in workdays by trimming, pulling weeds, raking and polishing the facility. The town’s maintenance crew is responsible for dragging the arena weekly.
Fry embraced horsemanship from an early age. As a child, she squirreled away savings until she was able to buy her own horse - at age 9. She became active in LAHHA when Foothill College prevented residents from riding their horses on campus.
"They didn’t want horses going between the buildings," she said, "so we put in a trail around the campus."
Fry joined the LAHHA Board of Directors and served until she went off to college in Sussex, England, where she studied to become a horse master. Her father, Bob Stutz, assumed her seat on the board and became an instrumental contributor to the construction of the town ring.
"He helped build the first arena in 1971 as well as trail bridges," Fry said.
LAHHA member Bob Garcia coordinated the ring’s resurfacing project in 2006 but insisted that he couldn’t have completed the project alone.
"Everything we do is a group effort," he said.
Perhaps it’s that support network that encourages members to remain with LAHHA. Fry, for example, spends some of her free time judging the group’s shows and events.
Young riders are "almost an impossible class to judge," according to Fry.
"You have to look for all kinds of things - from partnership with the horse to position and posture when jumping, and whether they are taking the horse to the center of the jump," she added.
But members also participate in various other ways. There’s work at the shows, from placing and removing equipment to cleaning the ring, along with parties and other social events, including an annual holiday party.
LAHHA shows once took place monthly, but the group hasn’t been as active lately - it hosted only one show in the summer due to conflicts with school starting.
But things are beginning to change, noted Alisa Bredo, LAHHA’s current president.
"We have new people joining, along with a passionate core of members who have been around for years," she said.
The group is hoping to expand both its board and membership.
Memberships offer the ability to join a network of local horse owners who regularly ride through and among the trails of Los Altos Hills and Hidden Villa. They may also attend spring PlayDay, the Summer Schooling Show, various clinics and tack swaps, and take advantage of discounted fees for paid events. Members can run free classified ads on the LAHHA website, receive annual newsletters and have access to Yahoo Group sites. Dues, $25 per year, are used for maintenance and equipment. Meetings are scheduled quarterly, and members are not required to live in Los Altos Hills. Riders of any age may join.
LAHHA member Jolon Wagner said children are especially encouraged to join. She believes that horsemanship is beneficial to children, teaching them responsibility and patience.
"They help center you and keep you in the moment, so they don’t startle or stumble," Wagner said of horses. "They allow you to watch what you are doing and not think about other things - to be in the here and now, where we all should be."
To join, mail a check to LAHHA, 26786 Robleda Court, Los Altos Hills 94022.
For more information, visit lahha.org. r