The quarterly newsletter published by the Town of Los Altos Hills is always looking for submissions with a local interest theme. In an effort to promote horse awareness, I decided to interview Linda McKell, who’s lived and owned horses in LAH for decades. As I was writing, it occurred to me that Linda’s story should be posted to the KLH blog. I think she’s a pretty special person.
Linda McKell, Longtime LAH Resident and Horsewoman
“My father grew up in Utah, but my mother was from Palo Alto, so when they got married, that’s where they moved to. We moved to Los Altos Hills when I was around ten, I think, because my father wanted to be in the country. We had an acre on Westin with an apricot orchard. One year, the cannery worker were striking, so my dad picked the fruit and I had a little fruit stand on the corner where I sold the fruit. It was all much more open then. I have a panorama from an 8mm camera that just shows a few trees and lots of open space. Nobody had fences and we wandered or rode horses where ever we liked.”
As she talks, Linda, caretaker for her 95 year-old mother, is sorting the weeks medications. We are talking in her kitchen, which has a bay window overlooking the backyard. Once every five minutes or so, I’m distracted by the sight of Duke, Linda’s twenty-eight year old chestnut gelding, who periodically decides to walk from one side to the other of his spacious paddock.
“I’ve loved horses since I was four. There used to be a man with a pony who’d walk around the neighborhood so kids could get their picture taken on it. My dad put me on the pony and I knew that was what I wanted most of all. My dad was a horseman. He could hop up on a horse bareback and ride it wherever he wanted just holding on to the mane. That’s why he bought this property here, so we could have horses.”
Linda’s family had moved to Utah for a short time and then to Los Altos. It took another seventeen years before they were able to buy property in LAH and even longer before buying a horse.
“After finishing my master in library science, I got a job at HP and started riding at Ramos Ranch [now Page Mill Pastures]. There was a horse, Shanghai, that I liked that was for sale. The owner wanted $800 for him. I only had $400 in savings. I took the money in cash to her and along with the $12.50 I had in my purse at the time, offered it to her. She grumbled a bit, but then sold me the horse. People are different when you show them cash. I did the same thing when I bought Flash and Dancer.”
Linda has always had two horses so they would have company, but when Prince, her equine companion for twenty-one years, died, leaving her dad’s horse, Duke, alone, she decided to partner up with another horse owner to find a companion for Duke. She found Rob, who’s horse Dillinger, shortly after moving in broke his leg and had to be put down and it was Rob, looking for a new horse, who found Dancer and Flash.
“When Rob first went to see them, back in September, the smell coming from their stalls was so bad the man told Rob everyone else who’d come to see them had refused to go any farther and turned back. Rob was the first one who actually took a look at them. I kept having nightmares about them. I finally took my garage sale money, which was a lot less than he wanted for them, and sent Rob down with it. He took the cash. I’m the kind of person who when they see a problem, they try to do some-thing to fix it. Besides, I always wanted to rescue a horse at some point in my life.”
Dancer and Flash had been stuck in 10X10 stalls for almost a year. By the time Linda bought them, the manure was 3 feet deep and Dancer was close to death. Flash has stayed at Linda’s with Rob, Linda’s friend and horse helper. Dancer moved to the Jensen’s barn in LAH and is owned by Deb Goldeen. Both horses are now healthy and happy.
Linda has owned horses for over thirty years. Most of that time they lived on a ten acre pasture off Old Page Mill. She said, “Most of the time I’d ride around on Stanford land [the dish], even though you weren’t supposed to. I didn’t start riding on the pathways until I moved my horses here, seven years ago.”
There is a pathway that runs between her property and an adjacent property. Because of the topiary trees planted and sculpted by Linda’s father, the locals call it “the lollipop trail.”
“When this house was built, the town mandated that pathway be put it. You’d think it would be an invasion of your privacy, but because of the pathway, we’ve gotten to know all our neighbors and we’ve enjoyed that very much. Also, knowing your neighbors can be very helpful if there is a problem of any sort.”
Also, without the pathways, there would be no way to get the horses out. “I still get Duke out three times a week. I can’t stand it when horses are stuck in stalls or small paddocks. It’s just not right. You can’t just part them like a car. They need to be cared for. They are like family.”
Earlier she had told me about how Shanghai had died. He was out in the pasture off of Old Page Mill and had a bad colic. John Ramos called to tell her and said he’d take care of it. At this point in her story, she paused for a minute and her eyes became moist. She continued with, “even though I wasn’t there, I couldn’t go to work for three days. Even now, I still feel,” and here she paused again, briefly, then finished, quietly, with, “a little sensitive.”
I asked Linda what the neighbors thought of the horses. She said, “When those new neighbors moved in on the backside of the paddocks, they were worried about smell and about the flies, but we clean the paddock twice a day and they aren’t bothered at all. In fact, like most people, they love seeing the horses. Many neighbors, some from half a mile away, bring their grandkids to see the horses every week.”
“When I was a little girl, every birthday and every Christmas my parents would ask me what I wanted and I’d always say, ‘a horse!’ Finally it got to be they’d ask me, ‘what would you like besides a horse?’ You know how sometimes you want something and it doesn’t turn out to be what you thought? For years I wanted to play piano and I finally did it. After three months, I said, ‘forget it!’ But with horses, it turned out to be just as good as I thought, even better. They bring you peace. I used to drive up to the pasture after work and all my stress would just disappear.” Hear, hear.