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Horse trainer is on a ride for their lives

Karin Hauenstein, 39, a 'hobo on horseback,' comes from campfires and corrals, not concrete. She's clip-clopped south from Santa Barbara County, traversing Hollywood on her Thoroughbred Glory to protest the commercial slaughter of equines.

February 14, 2012|By Nita Lelyveld, Los Angeles Times
  • Vehicles on Hollywood Boulevard slow down for horse trainer Karin Hauenstein and her three equines. Hauenstein, 39, has ridden her thoroughbred Glory and pack horses Smoke and Coley from Santa Barbara to Hollywood to increase awareness of commercial horse slaughter. "I bet you didn't know it was happening!" Hauenstein would yell to staring pedestrians.
Vehicles on Hollywood Boulevard slow down for horse trainer Karin Hauenstein… (Arkasha Stevenson / Los…)

When Karin Hauenstein led her three horses down Vine Street, the girls in short skirts stilled their stiletto-heeled sashays, the incense hawkers stopped calling out to passersby, and Trader Joe's shoppers gaped through the glass at the convoy clip-clopping up the far right lane.

Whether anyone registered more than surprise is hard to say. But on that recent afternoon, Hauenstein was making a statement.

The 39-year-old horse trainer has come south from Santa Barbara County to protest the commercial slaughter of horses.

Now, day after day, often after camping at night, she traverses Hollywood on her Thoroughbred Glory, with her pack horses, Smoke and Coley, following behind.

Smoke is a mustang she helped capture and break trekking above Arizona's Mogollon Rim. Coley, a quarter horse, is porter in chief and billboard, with "END COMMERCIAL HORSE SLAUGHTER!" painted on pack boxes strapped to her sides.

A long rider, Hauenstein once spent four years heading east on horseback. She is broad-shouldered and strong and wears heavy leather boots. She comes from campfire and corral, not miles and miles of concrete.

"I look like I just came out of the mountains," she says.

Still, she came to be seen and she has done her best to make that happen — tying the animals up outside Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles, grazing them alongside a Runyon Canyon yoga class, holding court in the parking lot of Gelson's on Franklin Avenue.

They have posed with Wonder Woman and Korean tourists outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre, stopped in at a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and entertained children at a party at the Church of Scientology's Celebrity Centre International.

California doesn't allow commercial horse slaughter. But the national picture is different. in November, Congress ended a five-year ban on funding U.S. inspectors to oversee horse meat processed for human consumption, paving the way for slaughterhouses to reopen.

Hauenstein wants everyone to know.

People often take journeys for causes. They cycle to fight cancer. They walk to end global warming. But adding horses to the mix isn't for amateurs, especially on the fly.

Hauenstein had planned a spring protest ride. She still had a lot to organize when the bill passed but set off anyway, with many a loose end untied.

She and the horses left her home outside Lompoc on Dec. 6, traveling at a top speed of 3 mph.

She wasn't sure where she would be laying her head most nights or grazing her horses most days. Not that she worried.

"I see myself kind of as a hobo on horseback, but not in a bad way," she says. "It's because I travel and I don't really know where I'm going to wind up necessarily."


Hauenstein grew up northeast of Lompoc in rural Cebada Canyon. On her family's 420 acres, she was always around horses.

"She has a rapport," says her mother, Gwen Hauenstein. "We bought a really troubled horse one time that had a lot of problems. She took that horse and turned it into the best riding horse that we ever had."

For eight years after high school, Hauenstein worked behind a desk, for the local United Way. But by her late 20s, she was back with the horses.

In 2001, she was training horses in Buellton when she saw Dane Hartwell, a wandering cowboy, interviewed on the news. He was passing through Santa Barbara, planning to ride toward the East Coast.

"I thought, what is this guy doing? I wanted to know him," Hauenstein says. So when his website popped up on the screen, she emailed him.

Soon after they met, she liquidated everything she owned.


Hauenstein and Hartwell hit the road with five horses — two for riding, three for shouldering supplies.

What they were doing, she says, was "not an endurance ride, it was a lifestyle."

They rode until their money ran out. They got jobs to earn cash. They rode again until the cycle repeated itself.

The first big layover was in Las Vegas. Hired to help build a horse ranch, they stayed for months. And Hauenstein got pregnant.

Hartwell, the father, would never settle down. Hauenstein's life, too, was nomadic. So before her baby was born, she arranged for an adoption that would let her keep in touch. (He's 8 now, she says, rooted and happy.)

By the time she and Hartwell got to Magdalena, N.M., four years of hard travel had worn away at their happiness. Hauenstein left the trail with a couple of horses, a crushed dream, little cash, no car, no job.

A friend brought her to Camp Verde, Ariz., to regroup; she worked as a teacher's aide and jail booking clerk, drove a school bus, fostered teens with severe behavioral problems.

Eventually, she made her way home to Lompoc.


In some ways, traveling by horse isn't so hard.

It's legal, for instance, to ride on any road but a freeway.

Satellite views on cellphones simplify feeding on the go. You can scope out meadows and valleys, many unfenced and lacking signs barring trespass.

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