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The Horse Place : * The Los Angeles Equestrian Center is home to some major events and has just about everything a rider could want.

June 25, 1993|KATHRYN BAKER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Kathryn Baker writes regularly for Valley Life

The area in Burbank along Riverside Drive, east of the studios and west of Victory Boulevard, is home to a number of riding stables, thanks to its proximity to the trails of Griffith Park. The most impressive of these equine establishments is the Los Angeles Equestrian Center, which is home to some big-deal horse events throughout the year. The San Fernando Valley Fair will be held there July 8 to 11. And there's an equestrian antique show and sale the last Sunday of each month.

1 p.m.: Drive under the big white arch just south of Riverside on Main Street, and you are in horse world. To the left is a grass field that is sometimes the site of grand prix jumping events. To the right is a tree-shaded area that leads off to some of the riding trails. Turn left and park in the lot.

First stop is Glenroy's Equestrian Gifts. Though your horse might appreciate a mug, these gifts are geared more toward the two-footed critter. The small store is packed with tempting items. Some examples: horse-motif earrings in the $15 to $20 range, woven throws at $48, a mug with a horse as the handle for $12. Glenroy's also boasts a wide selection of books on equestrian sport, from the general how-to-ride variety to treatises on training horse and rider for specific disciplines. There's even a biography of the famous British jumping horse Milton.

1:15 p.m.: Across the main entrance street are a series of tan-colored boarder barns. The Equestrian Center can house up to 700 horses. The population is generally between 500 and 600. These fancier box stalls cost $410 a month. For that, a horse gets the horse version of maid and room service--shavings to sleep on, stall cleaned and a diet of hay cubes.

Seventeen trainers work out of the center, teaching such disciplines as hunter-jumper, dressage and three-day eventing. Trainers charge between $400 and $500 a month, which includes instruction for horse and rider. Hunters are judged subjectively on how politely they canter around a course of obstacles. Jumpers have to clear all their obstacles, which include banks and water jumps, in the fastest time. Dressage is a high form of equitation in which the rider demands a level of obedience from the horse that, when done well, can look like a classical dance. Or can be, as a character in the horse movie "Sylvester" said, "about as exciting as watching the cement set." You be the judge. Three-day eventers compete in both dressage and jumping and ride a strenuous cross-country course as well.

Also housed in these boarder barns are American saddlebreds and other gaited horses that are trained to perform fancy steps beyond the usual walk, trot and canter.

Bear in mind that these are private barns, and most of these are show horses costing thousands of dollars. Many owners prefer that their animals be left alone, so observe from a distance and don't pet a horse unless the owner is around and says it's OK. Some horses do bite.

A dressage ring is to the west of the boarder barns. You can recognize it by the signs around the side bearing letters in random order. Dressage riders are tested by how well they perform a series of movements and gaits between the letters. North of the barns are jumper rings. Trainers' schedules vary, but you might chance upon a training lesson in progress that you can observe quietly.

1:30 p.m.: Beyond the boarder barns is the Traditional Equitation School, next to some of the pipe stalls, which are more like small covered pens. They cost $305 a month. Many of the horses in these stalls are the school's horses. A one-hour group lesson costs $25; a half-hour private one is $40. Before you can join a group lesson, though, you have to take a $30 evaluation lesson so the instructor can decide what class to put you in and what horses you can ride.

The school teaches Western and English riding. It provides saddles and hard hats (which are required) and, if you want to take a lesson, wear shoes or boots with low heels. If you really get into it, you'll want to get your own saddle and helmet and . . . well, we'll come to the Dominion Saddlery a little later on.

1:45 p.m.: Walk back toward the east and, to your left, you'll see a couple of show rings. Up ahead are barns where polo ponies live and where visiting horses stay during shows. To the right is a wood-fenced arena that is the site of "team penning" Wednesday evenings. Team penning is a contest in which a three-rider team tries to separate a certain number of calves from a herd and get them into a pen at one end of the arena. Competitors range from experienced cowhands to Gower Gulch wanna-bes, and for sheer Hollywood-cowboy posing, team penning offers four-star people watching, most of it outside the arena.

Turn left and you'll come to a big covered structure, the Equidome. From April through May, polo is played there. The Equidome is also often the site of grand prix jumping events and other competitions. A call to the box office, (818) 840-9066, can tell you what's upcoming.

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