Chris Baredian squinted as she gazed across a freshly graded field in Lakewood toward Carson Street.
"To tell you the truth," she admitted with a smile breaking across her sun-wrinkled face, "I like horses more than I like most people."
Baredian was in good company. On a warm weekday at the Lakewood Equestrian Center, Baredian was surrounded by about 200 of her equine friends and only a handful of their owners. In a couple of years, there should be plenty more of both.
Baredian, her daughter and a longtime friend have joined the city of Lakewood in spending more than $1 million to transform the time-worn stable into a top-notch riding facility for 330 horses.
The 26-acre center just east of the concrete-lined San Gabriel River at 11369 E. Carson St. will sport everything from three riding rings to a petting zoo for children. It will serve as a retreat from the urban runaround where smoke-belching cars and jangling telephones are replaced by the thud of horse's hoofs and sweet smell of hay.
"It was always a dream of ours to develop that area as a public facility," Lakewood Councilwoman Jacqueline Rynerson said. "It's going to be improved and offer a lot more to the public."
Some Resistance Noted
The change has not occurred without resistance.
Some horse owners have moved since the new management took over last July, as the country atmosphere was being broken by construction noise. Some are concerned about rent increases after the grand plan is complete.
But other riders have taken their place and filled the stable to capacity. Monthly fees will increase to a yet undetermined level, but owners will have nicer facilities, said Baredian's daughter, Sandie Mercer.
Changes at the Lakewood stable represent the trend toward large, modern equestrian centers like those in Huntington Beach and Industry.
While grander and fancier, such centers are not without problems. For example, the Los Angeles Equestrian Center, bordering Griffith Park, went into foreclosure last week after amassing $27-million in debt over the past six years. Before being ousted in the legal action, the center's director had proposed turning horse stalls into equine "condominiums" selling for $30,000 each, building a medieval-style restaurant and staging jousting matches.
Modern centers also cater to a variety of riding disciplines such as English, Western and dressage, while boarding stables are oriented more toward a single style, Baredian said.
"The days of the mom-and-pop back-yard boarding stable are being phased out," Baredian said.
She should know. She has run her own 300-horse operation in Long Beach for 33 years. In a few months, Baredian said she will close her Sandie Mercer Stable in Long Beach as the 40 remaining horses are trailered to Lakewood or elsewhere.
The closure will be the latest among riding stables in Long Beach where horses may eventually go the way of the strawberry patches.
"I would wager that in 10 years we won't have any stables in the city," Long Beach Planning Director Robert Paternoster predicted. "I think that as the city becomes more urban, it becomes more difficult to keep a horse."
That is partly because the city zoned horses out of all but a few select neighborhoods several years ago, he added.
A handful of stables still remain, however. Trainer Lisa Wall said that the Rancho Rio Verde Riding Club operated by her mother boards more than 100 horses. Two other stables are across West Carson Street.
The End Was Coming
Baredian, 60, said she knew encroaching residential development would eventually put her old stable, on Golden Avenue near Wardlow Road in Long Beach, out of business.
"We were slowly getting crowded out of our Long Beach location," she said. "I was going to retire. We could see the writing on the wall."
Then along came the opportunity for a quick gallop to Lakewood.
Lakewood officials launched a search in 1986 for concessionaires to join in the renovation of the stables as part of a 25-year lease arrangement.
What is now the Lakewood Equestrian Center has been a fixture since the early 1950s, known then as Spiller's Stable. Over the years it changed management several times both before and after the city purchased it in 1980.
Baredian, Mercer and Gloria Simpson won the bid to become the new concessionaires. As part of their 25-year lease, they are supposed to invest $721,000 over four years to build all new horse barns, corrals and other facilities.
The city is committed to spending about $350,000 for parking, block walls, landscaping, irrigation, underground electrical lines, sewers and other improvements.
"It is going to be a combination of two things," said David Rodda, Lakewood's director of Recreation and Community Services. "It's going to be a fine boarding area at reasonable rates and it's going to have the capability of unique public programs."