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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Stable Business Plans

A visitor who stands along the road that runs through JBar Ranch in Lake View Terrace can watch the horses grazing in a paddock while, just past the treeline, traffic along the 210 Freeway speeds by. It may look as though encroaching development will soon swallow up the horse land. But in actuality, what is happening to the cluster of San Fernando Valley neighborhoods that lies just below the Angeles National Forest is something very different. A newly energized community of horse lovers is buying up the ranches in the area, refurbishing the stables and the trails and thwarting efforts to develop the region further. “You’re getting real business people now that are putting money and time into the horses, whatever their reasons,” said Jamie Lynn Presgrave, who acquired NeoEquus Ranch in Shadow Hills in 2004. “And they’re learning how to actually make money while running this business.” A new breed of ranch owner, often trained in business management, is taking over these stables, located in an area that spans Lake View Terrace, Shadow Hills, Hansen Dam and Sunland-Tujunga, attracted by their love of horses and the demographic and economic changes that are increasing the demand for their services. In addition to NeoEquus and JBar, which was acquired in 2004 by Marc and Royan Herman, who also own Peacock Hill Ranch, Hollywood stuntman Dale Gibson has been expanding Gibson Ranch in Sun Valley since he acquired it about eight years ago and in the past two years the ranch has doubled in size. “I know they’re trying to push us out, but there has definitely been a resurgence,” said Gibson, who echoes other owners in his view that the city and county have favored developers in the region. “We’re boarding 74 or 75 horses. As I’ve grown, I’ve stayed full and I have a waiting list to get in.” Once, horse land crisscrossed most of the North Valley with ranches and ranch homes scattered from Chatsworth and Granada Hills and extending east. And as development has paved over much of the area, the remaining ranches have picked up the boarding business that was displaced. “I’ve seen people going out of business in Chatsworth and Granada Hills and the properties have been sold for development,” said Zsuzsu Illes who recently opened Family Equestrian Connection, which offers boarding and a children’s camp in Kagel Canyon. “Porter Ranch was called Horse Flats. We used to ride there.” The Hermans used to board their own horses at their home in La Canada Flintridge until city ordinances changed limiting the number of horses they could keep to two. They sold and moved to Shadow Hills, and 16 years ago bought an 8-acre parcel that has become Peacock Hill Ranch. There is a waiting list for the boarding facilities. In 2004, to keep the land out of the hands of developers, the Hermans bought JBar and since then, have plowed about $150,000 into refurbishing it. When it’s completed, JBar will have room to accommodate about 100 horses, and Marc Herman says he is not worried about filling up the facility. “Actually, we’re losing horse operating facilities in locations,” said Herman. “Chatsworth is gone. It’s getting to the point where the land is so valuable and the city encourages it because it provides a better tax base.” Those like Herman believe it’s not the ranches that have gone out of business that have added to their business, but rather the new residential developments that have replaced once sprawling homes. The newer homes don’t have the room to keep horses on the property, and those folks have moved their horses out to boarding facilities. With boarding prices ranging anywhere from $200 a month to $500 a month, depending upon the accommodations and the services, horse ownership is not for those watching their budgets. But the ranch owners say that as the baby boomers in the area find themselves with disposable income, they are fulfilling what, in many cases, has been a lifelong dream to own a horse. “I’m not just getting someone wanting to board one horse,” said Presgrave. “I’m getting people wanting to board three and four horses. People are making it their pastime. The interest has risen primarily from the age of the baby boomers. It seems it’s mostly women in their late 40s and 50s. Presgrave was a corporate executive who was raising Tennessee Walking horses as a sideline when she decided to make her avocation her lifestyle. “This gave me a place to live and work,” she said of NeoEquus Ranch. “The boarding stable was doing terrible, but because my specialty is business management, we’ve done really well.” The ranch owners say that the business is not making them rich, but, run well, the ranches provide a stable income and an opportunity to embrace a lifestyle that they love. “It’s got to be a business,” said Gibson. “I have a degree in business administration. You gotta really run a tight ship. The upside is that you can go and ride your horse.” With the horse properties increasingly falling under more professional management, the community is also better equipped to mobilize to make certain that the lifestyle they’ve worked to build does not fall victim to the development interests in the area. Between the trail associations, horse owner and other enthusiast groups, estimates are that about 900 community members are active in fighting any encroaching development efforts. “We returned to being a very politically active group, and we work damn hard to keep the trails,” said Royan Herman, a newly elected vice president of Equestrian Trails Inc., a nationwide organization that promotes horse riding. “Because there’s land out here, we’re under assault all the time.” Recently, about 200 community members showed up at a hearing to support one of their neighbors, relatively new ranch owners who want to build their home on the site. “The city won’t let them build a home unless they widen the street, but the community doesn’t want the street widened,” said Herman.

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