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SUMMERTIME : Discoveries : If you've exhausted the usual tourist spots, here are some destinations off the beaten path. : Acrobatics on Horseback

June 26, 1992|JAMES E. FOWLER

If you want a chance to get upfront and personal with some rather large and well-trained animals, this might be the show for you.

Zoppe's Wild Wonderful World of Horses at Paradise Ranch north of Castaic features Percheron horses performing stunts and demonstrations of strength and intelligence. Percherons are a breed of large, fast-trotting draft horses.

The animals notwithstanding, the star of the show is James Zoppe, 38, who represents the third generation of a family of circus bareback riders. Zoppe leads a troupe of 10 to 15 human performers (the number varies from show to show) along with seven Percherons and five other horses.

"It gives me a great deal of satisfaction to make someone forget their troubles for a short period of time," Zoppe said.

The atmosphere is casual and rustic. Shows begin about 2 p.m. most Saturdays and Sundays with Ravel's "Bolero" played over a couple of home stereo speakers set up on the ground before a small crowd. Although this is not a high-budget production, the acrobatic and riding skills of Zoppe and his crew are first-rate.

The show, staged in an outdoor arena, includes a medieval tournament-style contest (similar to what visitors would see at Medieval Times restaurant in Buena Park), a barbarian warfare demonstration and a Roman riding display. All performers are in costume.

The audience sits on bleachers set up against the hillside; behind the bleachers are the horse stables.

A refreshment stand offers hot dogs, snacks and drinks, including beer. Youngsters can ride ponies for an additional charge.

Dianne and John Pietrolungo of Castaic said their family enjoyed the show and the rustic setting.

"It's perfect," Dianne Pietrolungo said. "The whole place is dirt, and our kids love dirt."

Shows at Zoppe's Wild Wonderful World of Horses, 36200 Paradise Ranch Road, Castaic , begin at 2 p.m. most Saturday and Sunday afternoons, but call first. Take Interstate 5 about 10 miles north of Magic Mountain, exit at Templin Highway. Turn right, and then make an immediate left onto Paradise Ranch Road and follow the signs to the stables. Tickets are $7.95, children 12 and younger get in for $3.50, and there is no charge for youngsters under 3. Pony rides are offered for $2. Call (805) 295-5036.

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