There are no horses in the Fremont Hills Country Club and Stables paddock anymore. There are plenty of horses at the barn, but we never see or saw those. Just Rick Sereni’s lesson horses; about twenty-five? The fence to the paddock runs right next to Purrisima Road, one of only three or four arterial roads in LAH. The empty paddock is a visual silence.
Yesterday was the last day of spring break. We trailered to El Corte Madera open space. Midpen finished with their new parking lot, trailer parking included, last week. Julia, Skylar and Jaclyn rode Velvet, Chavi and Jackson along the Skyline trail, trotting and cantering through crisp, clear redwood forest with soft, misty fog blowing in at the end.
Spring break gives the girls enough time to take long rides. It also means there is parking for the trailer at Gardner Bullis school parking lot. The lot is 1/4 of a mile away from the barn. Like many properties in Los Altos Hills, the barn is at the end of a long, narrow, private road, which is really more like a driveway. To get the trailer near the barn, I’d have to back it down 1/4 mile of driveway, then block access to five houses while we load up. Robleda is nearer and there are two spots I can park there. One of them requires walking three horses, often by myself, also about 1/4 of a mile, down Robleda, with cars whizzing by at 35-40mph and sometimes much faster or the spot very near the barn with no loading area and a bad crossing where we were once met with a motorist who got so enraged by our presence that she rammed the side of her car, a white, four door mini-cooper with black and white check roof, into the back end of one of the horses, so we don’t load there anymore.
The trailer itself lives not in Los Altos HIlls, but in Portola Valley, about twenty minutes away. Too tired to park it after our ride, I parked it this morning and found that the cones I’d left out to use as parking guides had been moved. The trailers on either side of me, for reasons known only to their owners, have been edging closer and closer towards my trailer making it more and more difficult to park. At this point I have about six inches of leeway on either side. I’d prefer to park the trailer in Los Altos Hills at a lot where there is plenty of room, but the lot owner told me that the residents won’t allow any more trailers in because of the disturbance they cause. Instead I have to drive, with my huge rig, through twice as much of LAH as I would otherwise have to do if parked closer. Parking in Portola Valley adds more than an hour and $20 in expense to every trailering outing.
While at Corte Madera I took pictures of the equestrian/pedestrian crossing that’s been installed across Skyline Blvd. There is no crossing marked on the pavement, but there is a bright, well placed sign on the side of the road. As reassuring as this was to us, it didn’t seem to register in the mind of the driver who flew by us just after we crossed going possibly as fast as 80mph. The bold, white stripes on the pavement where the Bay to Ridge hiking trail crosses Page Mill, which we must negotiate to be able to ride in Arastradero Preserve, has made a huge difference in terms of validating our presence in the minds of the motorists and helping us cross there safely. Unfortunately, the vision impaired ADA mandated ramping on both sides cause the horses to trip and stumble their way to and from the crossing.
I don’t think the Julia, Skylar and Jaclyn were too bothered by the poor crossing. They’d had three hours of full speed ahead riding without encountering another soul, much less cement mixers, gardener’s trucks towing trailers, wood chippers, speeding cyclists, or any of the rest of the normal cacophony that we are immersed in in our rides in Los Altos Hills.
Today was another picture perfect riding day. We took the horses up the Packard Trail and down Elena back to the arena. Shana met us half way, which meant I got to get off and walk the dog, to the relief of both Chavali, who I’d been riding while dragging Dante along behind, and to Dante, who was having more and more trouble keeping up. Cowgirl did not have a rider today. As she’d been left in the paddock all day yesterday, we had to bring her along today. Savannah ponied her off of Freedom for the first half of the ride. Maya ponied her off of Stoney for the second half. With Shana on board, I was free to take the low road on foot as the girls took the “gallop hill” pathway that ends up behind the baseball fields. Sara led on Velvet, with Shana flying up second with Chavali. Freedom, happy to be free of CG, charged up after the mares, followed by a not very fast, though trying to keep up as hard as he could, Jackson, carrying Magnolia. Last in line was Maya, being torn in half with one hand trying to rein Stoney in and the other holding CG’s lead rope both high enough to clear Stoney’s butt and tight enough to keep her running. CG alternately trots; slower than Stoney’s canter; then canters; faster than Stoney’s canter; not an entirely happy arrangement for any of them, though by the time they were cresting the hill, Stoney’s white mane and tail, CG’s red mane and tail and Maya’s two feet of thick, black hair was all flapping out in the wind in unison, horizontal relative to the ground.
Los Altos Hills is apparently still on vacation as we were blessedly spared the usual onslaught of rattling trash cans, callous cyclists and sports happy, speeding baseball parents. I still have the grief of having to run my horses in a paddock with wire fencing, risking major injuries, rather than allowing them to let off steam in the arena, when needed because of an faction fight in LAH politics and of watching Mr. Jensen feed the bimonthly dinner of grass clippings from his lawn and of watching my horses slip, yet again, on one or another fancy driveway which was not surfaced as the LAH ordinances require and of knowing that other LAH horse owners think making their beds is more important to helping another equestrian in need and of knowing that though we are loved in word, in deed, the desire of the residents of Los Altos Hills is to build bigger and bigger and bigger houses and with each house we are pushed just a little closer to the point where we will no longer be able to ride in “the hills”.
And the horses are gone from Fremont Hills. Rick Sereni ran the program for forty years. Out of dozens of riding stables that dotted the hills when I was growing up, they were the last to survive. The show barn is left. That will put you out $2000 a month or more is you want to “train” there. Though it has it’s place in the equine world, it is not riding as I know it and certainly not anything that could be considered even remotely accessible. I just keep having the sickening feeling that it just doesn’t have to be this way.
I assume Julia, Skylar and Jaclyn enjoyed their ride in the woods, though I don’t know for sure. None of them bothered to say thank you.