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Hooray for Hollywood and Horses

Equestrians combine a metro-country life in Southern California's Burbank area

By Audrey Pavia for the Horsetrader - March 20th, 2014 - Feature Article
A hub of horse activity plays out daily at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center - for the locals and visitors to the area.

A hub of horse activity plays out daily at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center – for the locals and visitors to the area.

photo courtesy of LAEC

BURBANK — If you are looking for a thriving horse community in Los Angeles, drive less than 20 miles from downtown and you’ll find the city of Burbank.

An equestrian haven in the middle of the second-largest city in the country, Burbank offers residents a chance to live both a country lifestyle and an urban one, all at the same time.

“There is no place in the United States where you can live nine miles from the second largest city in the country and come home, get on horseback and ride your way back to a quiet, gentler time,” says Emily Gabel-Luddy, a 20-year Burbank resident who now serves as mayor.

The Rancho
The most horsey area of Burbank is a community called the Rancho District. At first glance, this area of Burbank gives the impression of an older suburban neighborhood with lots of charm. But look behind some of the nicest homes in the community and you’ll see horses lounging in the backyards.

The streets of Rancho are lined with trees, and most of the homes are zoned for horses. Evidence of this lies in the raised “horse crossing” signs at some of the crosswalks.

The Burbank Rancho is one of the only horse areas in Los Angeles County completely supported by its city council, according to Jay Geisenheimer, a resident of the Rancho District and the equestrian estates director for Rodeo Realty. The quality of this neighborhood is reflected in the way it holds its real estate value. “In the Rancho, property values have actually soared. I actually had two sales this summer alone way over the million-four mark,” says Geisenheimer.

Whether you have horse facilities or not, living in the Rancho means having relative protection from bad real estate markets.

“Although around half the Rancho is non-equestrian used properties, the presence of horses brings a country aura to the community,” says Geisenheimer. “The Rancho has a small-town feeling. Residents know each other by their horses’ names, and the camaraderie is tremendous.”

Horse owners in the Rancho keep their charges on small lots, with 90 percent of the Rancho lots less than 9,000 square fee, according to Geisenheimer. Despite the small size of these lots, residents love having stables in their backyards.

The Rancho is close to Burbank’s movie and television studios, so it’s not surprising that many horse lovers in the film industry reside in the community.

Famous Town
People who have never even been to California know the town of Burbank, thanks to legendary comedian Johnny Carson, who often made references to “beautiful downtown Burbank” on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” The city is home to the NBC studios where “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” taped for 22 years before moving this year to New York with new host Jimmy Fallon, as well as the Walt Disney and Warner Brothers Studios.

Burbank has long been home to the movies. Part of the San Fernando Valley, the city was once part of two large Spanish land grants. In 1867, a dentist by the name of David Burbank purchased 4,600 acres of this land and turned it into a sheep ranch. He eventually sold right of way to the Southern Pacific Railroad, which brought settlers to the area.

In 1887, the town was dubbed Burbank by land speculators who had purchased the acreage from its original owner and were selling it off as farm lots. A carefully planned commercial district was built in the center of these lots, featuring wide streets and avenues. With this, downtown Burbank was born.

Western Heritage Preserved
Given its western heritage, Burbank-adjacent Griffith Park is an appropriate home for the Museum of the American West. The museum is part of the Autry National Center of the American West, along with the Southwest Museum of the American Indian and the Institute for the Study of the American West.

The Autry National Center was established in 2003 following the merger of the Southwest Museum, the Women of the West Museum, and the Museum of the American West (formerly the Autry Museum of Western Heritage). The Museum of the American West is located adjacent to Griffith Park, and features both permanent and temporary exhibits related to the country’s western heritage. Horse lovers can find plenty of equine-related artifacts and displays at the museum.

Western heritage and the town’s connection to film and television industries remain intact. Scott Perez, third-generation proprietor of a pair of popular horse rental barns as well as owner of Stephens Hay and Grain store, has rented horses to studios for years. The history according to “the old guys” he has encountered as boss wrangler on various sets is a colorful one.

“They tell me a lot of the barns here now used to be old movie barns that rented horses to the studios,” says Perez. “The westerns would need fresh horses, and I’m told they used to herd the horses down the riverbed in the days before the cement wash, and they would cut off the horses at each studio as they would be needed. In the 1940’s, the cowboys would let horses graze in the riverbed.”

Today, he adds, both the barns that house his area rental businesses – Rocking P Outfitters in Burbank and Circle K Horse Rentals in Glendale – were once studio barns.

Lynn Brown, who lives nearby in Los Angeles but has boarded in Burbank more than 20 years, appreciates the neighborhood’s colorful character, but she loves the trails.

“The specialness is extraordinary,” says Brown, whose article “Trail Riding in Los Angeles” caused double-takes when it was published in Western Horseman magazine. “To me, it is an incredible thing to have ‘cowboy land’ in the middle of cities.”

Brown, who works as Vice President of the Los Angeles Equine Advisory Committee on issues throughout the Southland, calls the area’s trails her favorite attraction.

“The area is anchored by the Griffith Park trails, and that is a very important point,” says Brown, who rides three to four times each week on them. “The fact that there are 56 miles of trails that are beautifully maintained – it is a difference-maker.”

Plenty of Horse Activity at LAEC
Another important equestrian landmark in Burbank is the Los Angeles Equestrian Center, a spectacular facility adjacent to the Rancho community. Situated on 75 acres, the LAEC is a premiere show and training facility in Southern California. For residents of Burbank, it’s just down the street.

The facility itself is part of the famous Griffith Park, where boarders at the LAEC can ride on 54 miles of the best trail riding in Southern California.

The L.A. Equestrian Center is known throughout California and even neighboring states for the multitude of equestrian events held at the facility every year. The 3,500 fixed-seat and
covered Equidome arena is host to all kinds of horse shows, including events for dressage, reining, show jumping, gymkhana, and breed associations, to name just a few.

“For several years now, the equestrian center has been a terrific neighbor,” says Mayor Gabel-Luddy. “And the fact that current leadership has seen to it that every weekend is a horse event has also been a big boon to the community. They are protecting the recreational use of the trails and keeping an eye on land uses that may go in. Having a great neighbor like LAEC has made a difference.”

Annual events held at LAEC include Festival of the Spanish Horse, Tournament of Roses EquestFest, Los Angeles National Hunter-Jumper show, Pacific Coast Horse Shows Association’s Jack & Linda Baker Reining Classic Finals, L.A. Winter Dressage, California Reining Horse Association Challenge, Hollywood Charity Horse Show organzied by William Shatner (best known for his role as Captain Kirk on “Star Trek”).

The center’s location, amenities and atmosphere put it on the ‘A’ list of event planners. When 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist dressage rider Charlotte Dujardin conducted her first clinic ever on U.S. soil earlier this month, she did so in the Equidome. When Emmy-award winning actress Patricia Heaton hosts the upcoming benefit gala for the Compton Junior Posse on May 17, it will be at the center, too.

With so many year-round equestrian events held at the facility, LAEC is also home to horse-show management companies, such as Cornerstone Event Management, specializing in dressage shows; and Langer Equestrian Group, Inc., specializing in hunter-jumper shows.

The facility serves as a training center for just about every breed imaginable, from Quarter Horses to Arabians to Saddlebreds. Several trainers call LAEC their home base.

Well-established tack-and-feed stores, in addition to a number of local horse trainers of all equine disciplines are just a few of the many wonderful aspects of the Burbank equine community. Horse-loving residents of Burbank have a lot to be thankful for in their special city!

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