The horse country of Long Beach contains no rolling hillsides, no vast pasturelands. It stretches for two blocks along Atlantic Place on the northwest side of town, spilling over the Paramount border.
Surrounded by a field of concrete and stucco--two freeways, miles of boxy pastel houses, a new industrial park--are 20 aging homes, each with a barn in the backyard. Behind the barns, which house more than 100 horses, a bridle path leads to the San Gabriel Mountains. The trail runs along a wall of cement bordering the Los Angeles River.
Although owls, jack rabbits and foxes roam there, an occasional bulldozer cruises by atop the dike. Skeletal transformers and the Paramount pump station--complete with gang graffiti--loom on the horizon.
But the welders and carpenters, retirees and office clerks who live nearby and board their horses in neighbors' barns don't seem to mind. The small scale of their horse country keeps the cost down to about $100 a month for shelter and feed--$50 to $100 less than the usual tab elsewhere in the Los Angeles area.
The result is that a daily horseback ride for pleasure need not be reserved for the rich.
'We're All Horse-Poor' "This is the greatest neighborhood in the world," said Lori Goyette, 25, who keeps her buckskin gelding, Jessie, at one of the stables on Atlantic Place. She lives in Lakewood with her parents, works part time and hopes to land "a real job" soon at the McDonnell Douglas Corp. aircraft plant.
"We say around here that we're all horse-poor," Goyette said. "But in this area (the cost) is so reasonable that we hope it never changes."
Goyette and the other regulars worry these days that their haven may disappear. If it does, they say, there is no affordable place to turn to in the Los Angeles area. They will most likely have to give up their horses.
Their fears center on the fate of a dirt strip of unincorporated county-owned land, a quarter of a mile long and 150 feet wide, that separates the stables from the bridle path that runs along the eastern bank of the Los Angeles River.
The city of Paramount, prompted by an adjacent industrialist, wants to annex the property. The neighbors believe that if Paramount controls the zoning of the land, a private warehouse or parking lot would eventually be built there--eliminating their training space and blocking access to the trail.
Although Paramount officials deny that annexation will bring changes, the horse owners have asked Long Beach to annex the property instead. Most of them are Long Beach residents and believe that the Long Beach City Council would be more responsive to their pleas to keep things the way they are.
Twenty years ago, the neighbors banded together to build a horse-show arena in the middle of the county property, which is managed by the Los Angeles County Flood Control District. With county permission, they spent more than four months piecing together a rail fence made of discarded oil-field pipe. Working mostly in the evenings and on weekends, they watered the dirt inside to keep the dust down and built bleachers for spectators.
A local chapter of Equestrian Trails Inc., a nonprofit statewide horsemen's group, helped pay for the project, "but the actual cash outlay was very minimal," recalled Joe Nab, who was treasurer at the time.
The arena has been used daily ever since for shows and for training the horses.
"We're very proud of it," Nab said.
Until recently, no one thought much about the intersection of the cities and county. Eighteen of the house-and-stable combinations are in Long Beach; two are in Paramount. The arena site belongs to neither city. It didn't seem to be a matter of concern to anyone but Thomas Brothers, the map-making company.
But the possibility of annexation by Paramount made them realize the importance of boundaries. For months, among themselves, the horse owners have discussed the worst that could happen from their point of view: a warehouse or a factory where their arena now stands. The scenario may seem farfetched, but "we'd rather play it safe now," said Connie Thompson, who owns a stable housing 14 horses.
Under Consideration If industry does encroach on the arena, "there wouldn't be much reason to have horses here," she said.
She is among 44 local horse owners who have signed a petition asking Long Beach to annex the arena site. Long Beach Community Planner Larry Krupka said that city officials are considering annexation as a result of the petition, which they received two weeks ago.
The executive officer of the state Local Agency Formation Commission confirmed that both cities have expressed interest in the property. Formal applications, which have not been filed, would lead to public hearings before the commission decides whether to "approve either petition or neither," said the officer, Ruth Bennell.