The busy boulevard, perhaps a hundred yards away, seemed not to exist at all.
Thick underbrush and raspberries bordered the dusty trail, and water gurgled from underground springs.
It was a setting made for men and women on horseback, and the string of riders reveled in it one recent sunny morning, knowing that on the Palos Verdes Peninsula's network of horse trails--some made for gentle walking and others rugged enough to challenge the most intrepid rider--it is possible to ride from the rustic neighborhoods of Rolling Hills Estates all the way over the crest of the Peninsula to the Portuguese Bend seashore.
As the group climbed the side of a canyon, a new colt scampered to the edge of a corral and let out a series of shrill whinnies, as if to ask, "Who are you?" A short distance beyond, the riders pulled up at a gently sloping mesa and gazed for miles across the Los Angeles Basin, past oil tanks in Torrance, the Redondo Beach coastline and the white haze hovering over the metropolis.
'On the Edge of Life'
"It's like being on the edge of life, like exploring Africa or going into outer space," said Steve Deming, a commercial real estate broker who keeps horses in Rolling Hills Estates and is president of the Palos Verdes Peninsula Horsemens Assn.
Preservation of the intertwining horse trails is at the top of the association's agenda. And the job has gotten tougher, thanks to an influx of new residents--especially in the past 10 years--who look to swimming pools, spas and tennis courts for recreation, not horses.
Many of these relative newcomers object to having to live next to horse trails, which they equate with with dust, flies and manure. Some developers object to having to set aside land for trails.
Spurred by fears that horse owners may some day have few places to ride outside the solidly equestrian cities of Rolling Hills and Rolling Hills Estates, the association has been aggressively seeking to obtain official easements for trails that exist through use but whose legal status could be challenged. Most of these trails are in Rancho Palos Verdes, which has more new-home developments than the other cities and the most public opposition to horses.
22-Mile Loop Trail
In addition, an equestrian committee made up of council members and other officials from the four Peninsula cities is seeking political and community support for a 22-mile loop trail through all the Peninsula cities. According to proponents, 83% of the trail is in use, but the rest would require development of new trails utilizing such things as fire roads and easements set aside for other purposes, including streets that never were put in.
But some officials say the plan is a long shot because it would introduce horses into new areas.
Equestrians say that the opportunity to keep and ride their animals in a spectacular setting is what drew them to the Peninsula, which in many way maintains a rural atmosphere in spite of intense residential development in recent years. And, they say, it is a way of life that has become more precious now that the Peninsula has become virtually the only riding country in the South Bay.
"It's a vanishing way of life," said Deming. "You used to be able to ride in Torrance and Lomita, and now you can't."
No Trails in Lomita
Torrance outlawed horsekeeping several years ago. While some horses are still kept privately on large agricultural lots in Lomita, the city has no bridle trails and riders use the streets and--though it is illegal--the sidewalks as well.
"Once in a while, you'll see someone ride by, a 13- or 14-year-old girl usually," said Lomita Mayor Hal Hall.
Carson has one commercial boarding stable near the junction of the Harbor and Artesia freeways.
No one seems to know how many horses or horse owners there are on the Peninsula. Rolling Hills Estates is the only city that takes a horse census, and the number was 1,070 last December.
Non-equestrian residents say they do not want to drive horses off the Peninsula, but don't want them in their neighborhoods.
The dispute over what is or what should be horse territory has produced some abrasive horse vs. man encounters, most noticeably in the Crest Road-Crenshaw Boulevard area of Rancho Palos Verdes, where a push to protect a horse trail has brought horse owners into conflict with residents in developments where the only horses are on television.
"Horse owners do not understand that they are not welcome in the neighborhood," said Ray Mathys, a resident of the Mesa Palos Verdes development, where there was strong opposition last year to the designation of a horse trail along Crest Road. "A number of people in this area located here because it was not a horse community." The issue is still unresolved.