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907688-1705A Newstrader PHOTO_AAGOURA HILLS — James Wyllie, a fabled Los Angeles equestrian educator, father, and grandfather, died March 16 in Agoura Hills at age 98.

Born March 2, 1919, in Lincoln, R.I, Wyllie’s remarkable teaching career spanned six decades. He continued to instruct students in the ways of the horse until shortly before he died. From preschoolers to senior citizens, Wyllie taught over 65,000 people to ride.

Wyllie taught courses at UCLA, Cal-Lutheran, and for 30 years at Malibu’s Pepperdine University, plus ongoing courses for Santa Monica College. He was firm but kind, principled but fun, and never stopped being curious about life.

As an Air National Guard pilot during WWII, Wyllie flew hundreds of reconnaissance missions. He married his high school sweetheart Helen (now deceased) and attended Michigan State College. After stints as a pilot to Havana and as a Washington, D.C. air traffic controller, the Wyllies moved to Los Angeles.

At the Hollywood Arts Center, Wyllie earned a degree in industrial design, taught by members of the Germany’s prestigious Bauhaus Group. An early project was the re-design of Brentwood’s Crestwood Stables, the popular riding hub of David Niven, Robert Taylor, Barbara Stanwyck and Ray Milland. Researching all he could find on horses and their role in society, his intense interest turned into a devoted equestrian life.

Wyllie owned Paramount Ranch in its heyday, where Michael Landon gifted him with his “Bonanza” pinto, Cochise. His late-1950s Pacific Palisades riders included local Girl Scout troops, who proudly strutted their horses in local parades. He taught courses at UCLA, Cal Lutheran and for 30 years at Malibu’s Pepperdine University, plus ongoing classes for Santa Monica College.

“Jim was not only a great equestrian and stable master, he was a life coach,” said Pepperdine’s President Andy Benton. “He was a teacher to so many students, and a surrogate father to many young boys and girls. When they rode with him in those hills, he made them better people.”

History, art, music and literature accompanied Wyllie’s horse management studies. His popular courses were accented with student trips abroad to ride horses from different cultures in Europe, South America, Russia and Asia.  “He understood his craft at a deep, deep level,” remarked Benton.

In the 1980s, newly elected President Ronald Reagan, a longtime friend and former ranch neighbor, asked Wyllie to help train his Secret Service agents to ride.

Wyllie and his daughter Cheryl,who taught alongside him for years, trained four of his horses from Pepperdine for the 1984 Olympics Pentathlon.  At age 65, Wyllie completed the one-day, 100-mile Tevis Cup Race in 19 hours. His eclectic life was showcased in the 2010 documentary “Legendary Horseman,” by Malibu filmmakers Jennie and Neel Muller.

Wyllie blazed trails throughout the Santa Monica Mountains, embodying the Western ideal of horsemanship. His program continues at Malibu’s Saddlerock Ranch. He is survived by daughter Cheryl Wyllie (a dressage trainer and Grand Prix competitor, now based in Wellington, Fla.), son Robert Wyllie, daughter-in-law Kathy, grandson Jimmy, sister Jessie Higginson and her husband Bill of Rhode Island. A memorial was held April 15 at Pepperdine’s Stauffer Chapel, followed by a reception attended by generations of students and friends.

— by Lisa Marlowe

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