Rylee Carter, 7, jumps on Benny at Silver Gate Farms. Dan Watson/The Signal

When the Santa Clarita Valley saddles up

History tells us that horses have been in the Santa Clarita Valley since the early days of its settlement, part of a culture the area still celebrates with things like the Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival.

Now, there are numerous equestrian centers, ranches, farms as well as riding trails in the area, and whether you’re just starting out or have been riding horses for years, and the SCV offers many horseback riding opportunities.

“I think it’s very important that we preserve this aspect of our culture,” said Linda Luger, trainer and owner of Jump for Joy. “There’s something so empowering about riding a horse, and a lot of people don’t realize what a passion it becomes.”

With 12,000 acres of open space in the city, the equestrian community has continued to flourish over the years.

Rylee Carter, 7, left, on Benny and Samantha Van Loo, 10. on Chex during their lesson at Silver Gate Farms in Santa Clarita. Dan Watson/The Signal

Lessons

If you’re getting started, there are numerous equestrian centers that offer horseback riding lessons in the area for riders of all ages, from children to seniors, and all skill levels.

Copper Horse Riding Ranch, for example, is family-owned and -operated and teaches horseback riding “from the ground up,” according to Jenna Roper, head instructor and co-owner.

Riders learn to brush and saddle their horse before they are even taught to ride. Afterward, they bring the horse in, unsaddle it, rebrush it and learn some of what goes into care and maintenance.

“We want them to feel like it’s their horse for that hour,” Roper said. “You learn a horse by bonding with it, brushing it. Every horse is different just like every person is different — I’m a really strong believer in that.”

Sydney Cook and her horse Izzy at Jump for Joy. Courtesy of Linda Luger

Most instructors will not only teach their riders the “ins and outs” before they get to saddle up but also emphasize horse safety and good horsemanship, according to not only Roper and Luger but also Julie Van Loo, head riding instructor at Silver Gate Farms.

A lot of Luger’s students are people who rode when they were younger and decided to come back to it years later.

“There is always something more to learn,” Luger said. “You can really enjoy the process of your development because getting better is fun, not miserable. The act of riding in itself is a reward, and in the process, you create a bond and a friendship with this amazing animal.”

There are also two very distinct styles of riding — English and Western. Many ranches will either specialize in one or the other, but there are a few who offer lessons in both styles.

When deciding which style to choose, remember that each rider has their own niche, Luger said. “All of us have our areas of expertise, it’s just a matter of where you click as a rider and what style you like.”

Rylee Carter, 7, jumps on Benny at Silver Gate Farms. Dan Watson/The Signal

Competition

Santa Clarita is also home to quite a few competition riders, especially those who compete in hunter, jumper and dressage.

Van Loo is one of the few United States Hunter Jumper Association-certified trainers in the local area.

Although the majority of Van Loo’s competitors are 9 to 13 years old, she trains riders well into adulthood, as well.

“That’s what’s neat is you can compete with horses well into your 50s and 60s,” Van Loo said. “If you’re physically fit, it’s never too late.”

Hunter and jumper are very similar competitions, both of which have riders jump obstacles. The differences lie in the scoring: While hunters are judged by how the horse looks and performs, jumpers are scored in a timed trial and faulted for mistakes.

Then, there’s dressage, which Van Loo describes as more of a dance.

Head Trainer Julie Van Loo, left, instructs students as they ride at Silver Gate Farms in Santa Clarita on Thursday. Dan Watson/The Signal

“It’s more advanced training with a horse where riders dance to music,” Van Loo said.

Most junior high and high schools in the area also have Interscholastic Equestrian League (IEL) teams for students who want to compete in amateur equestrian competitions.

The IEL allows schools from Los Angeles and Ventura counties to compete as a team against other schools.

Students are also able to compete for scholarships that are awarded based on riding ability, academics and community service.

Horse Trails

A trail ride in Santa Clarita. Courtesy of Linda Luger

With approximately 90 miles of trails running through the city, Santa Clarita is very trail-friendly if you have your own horse.

The trail system in place today was created in the 1980s with the help of Santa Clarita City Councilwoman Laurene Weste, who continues to be an advocate for open space. The trail system that includes both city and county trails and networks into the greenbelt surrounding the city.

The Santa Clarita Valley Trails Advisory Committee continues to work to preserve rural areas and create trails into the 12,000 acres of open space “We’re very fortunate because it allows us to go from our urban area into non-urban, and enjoy nature with trails that are easily accessible,” Weste said. “It also allows Santa Clarita to stay healthy and really be a part of the natural community that surrounds us.”

Isabelle Jolicoeur riding Toro through the trails in Santa Clarita. Courtesy of Linda Luger

There are many multi-use trails in the area that have special standards for equestrian use, many of which have trailheads with a staging area where riders can park horse trailers.

For more information on the multi-use trails in the area, visit hikesantaclarita.com/.

Birthday Parties

Copper Horse Riding Ranch is also one of the many ranches in Santa Clarita where you can book a birthday party.

“We built a real Western saloon where kids can come celebrate their birthday,” Roper said.

Children can learn to steer a horse, pan for gold in a panning basin, pin the (foam) tail on a real donkey (with tape), learn to brush the donkey, shoot Nerf guns in a shooting gallery and go fishing.

Horse, Peanut, at Jump for Joy. Courtesy of Linda Luger

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