Early Saturday morning, while many of her fellow students at UC Irvine are still asleep, Annaliza McBride is trying to persuade a dusty mare to come in from the pasture so she can ride her.
"Hold your lead rope behind your back," calls out riding instructor Linda Pine-Rossi, who is observing at the gate. "If she sees it, she'll run away from you."
Along with several other horse enthusiasts, McBride is enrolled in the learn-to-ride program at the UCI farm. The private program, which Pine-Rossi contracts to the university, is open to the public as well as to UCI students.
Group and individual lessons are offered at basic, advanced beginner and intermediate levels. The $170 fee includes everything from the saddle to the horse. Group lessons meet for eight weeks, individuals for six.
McBride is in the basic class, which is designed for newcomers to the equestrian world. She found herself atop a horse in her second lesson, learning to maintain her seat in the trot while Pine-Rossi controlled the animal from the center of the arena with a longe line.
"I can take someone who has never been on a horse before and by the seventh lesson have him or her experience a canter. It may not be perfect, but at least the student knows what the canter feels like and how to give the aids (signals) for it," Pine-Rossi said.
The UCI program is not a typical riding program where riders arrive at the stable to find the horse already groomed and tacked. Pine-Rossi is a firm believer in teaching all-round horsemanship from the ground up, from grooming the horse before the lesson to cleaning the tack afterward.
The foundation of the UCI riding program, she said, is to expose people to horses in a safe and positive manner. "Beginners should be told how a horse behaves. It shouldn't take years of accidents to find that out," she said. "I want my riders to enjoy horses and my horses to enjoy being ridden."
In the final week of classes, she generally takes small groups out for a relaxing ride on the trails. Pine-Rossi, who lived on the UCI farm as a child while her mother was a graduate student, is familiar with the 100 acres of hills and dales behind the UCI campus.
Years ago she left Irvine for the East Coast, where she received her formal training to become a riding instructor. A graduate of Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre in West Virginia, she has more than seven years of experience as a professional riding instructor and recently passed the American Riding Instructor Certification Program.
Pine-Rossi said she is happy to be back at the UCI farm, where she was married in September in a ceremony performed on horseback. She keeps several of her own horses at the farm and uses them for students in the UCI program.
"These are unique horses. They really teach you how to ride," she said. "If you look at a cone on the ground, the horse will walk over to the cone and stop because he thinks that's what you want. So you learn how to direct the horse--otherwise he'll make the decision for you."
For Pine-Rossi, the program is clearly a labor of love. Because the program receives no money from UCI, she and her husband, rider Randy Rossi, borrowed the money to build a riding arena on the farm and to install lights for night riding.
Some students in the program show up on occasion to pull weeds, and others have donated equipment. "Everything has really been step by step," Pine-Rossi said.
On a recent Saturday morning, two students were learning their ropes from Quesi and Patti-wag, both of whom belong to Pine-Rossi. Patti, a bay mare who has appeared in movies and has taught hundreds of neophytes to ride, was not in the best of moods. She ground her teeth and occasionally tossed her head as the student lifted the saddle onto her back.
"When you're saddling, stand to the side and don't turn your back on the horse. Some of them will bite you when you tighten the girth," warned Pine-Rossi, who bought the horse two years ago. "This horse has been ridden by kids all her life, and she's afraid you're going to yank on the girth. You have to try to understand her."
After a few practices with a Western saddle, she has the students go through the same process with an English saddle. Why teach both forms of riding at the same time?
Pine-Rossi said: "At the basic levels, I don't care what kind of riding you're doing--bareback with a halter, Western saddle, whatever kind of equipment you use--you're going to be doing the same thing. It's horsemanship.
"When you specialize, you start needing a jumping saddle, a roping saddle, a dressage saddle. By that time you're usually an intermediate rider, and you have an idea of where you want to go."
The next session of classes begins in April. For information and registration, call Pine-Rossi at (714) 854-6602 or campus recreation at (714) 856-5346.