I’m not the best rider in the world. I’m probably not even the best rider on the block. Let’s just say I’m queen of the unscheduled, spontaneous dismount and leave it at that. Still, I love horses in general, and my horse in particular. I’ve boarded my horse Vandy at Altadena Stables for twenty years; we’re two very satisfied customers.
A walk around Altadena Stables is a walk through history, a history of greater length and significance than the one I share with Vandy, but with just as many bumps along the road.
The stable, or a version thereof, has been in operation since at least 1921, perhaps as early as 1911. And like so much of old Altadena, it has gone through a series of incarnations -- from opulence to decay to rediscovery and refurbishment .
Once upon a time, Captain George C. Hester built, owned and operated the Altadena Riding Academy where Altadena Stables stands today -- south of Altadena drive, north of Mariposa and west of Lincoln.
By 1921, it was the millionaire’s row for the horses of millionaires and their horse-loving wives, sons and daughters. The Academy claimed six acres, including a 3-acre riding ring – the largest in California -- and a polo field. Most of the Captain’s 50 horses were thoroughbreds, and all came from Kentucky and Virginia. (This was a point of pride, as in those days, California bred, i.e. “homegrown” carried no bragging rights.)
The stable employed and housed grooms, trainers, a blacksmith, a veterinarian and even some guy whose job no longer has a name -- one tasked with keeping the leather of bridles and saddles well oiled and supple.
According to the Academy advertising literature circa 1921, at “The stable overlooking the arroyo… every horse is given a thorough examination, groomed, hoofs cleaned and washed at least once each day … each groom has a special grooming room equipped with every known need for that work … the room is well lighted and ventilated without draft…” and the horses “scientifically fed.”
I kind of hate to leave the story at this juncture, but time marches on.
When the Academy pulled up stakes and moved to Flintridge, sometime in the 1930s, it took most of the hardscape with it – barns, showers, grooming rooms, and even fencing. After that, for the next 30 years or so, things would get more complicated and less comfortable for “the stable overlooking the arroyo.”
Sometime in the 1940s, the property fell into the hands of local artist Alex Sison. Finding stable ownership harder than expected and unable to make a go of it, he borrowed many thousands of dollars from fellow-local artist, Elena Kellogg. Judging from Sison's correspondence, it appears Elena Kellogg made this as a good faith and unsecured loan. But when Sison continued to fall on hard times, he, by choice, deeded the property to Ms Kellogg.
Kellogg, who had neither asked for nor wanted the stable, leased the enterprise over to a Mr. Iverson for $70 a month in 1954. Iverson must have been a pretty good fellow, because to this day, people, mainly men, make a pilgrimage to Altadena Stables and speak fondly about summer days spent barrel racing and swinging a lariat.
The next lease, or maybe the next after the next, went to a county sheriff at the end of the 1950s. He, in turn, gave control to some stable hands, one who apparently had more business concerns in the area of pharmaceuticals than horses. Legend has it, drugs changed hands on the trail, bartered for the bridals and saddles off the rental horses.
Things finally hit bottom for the “stable overlooking the arroyo” by the 1960’s. Not much was left, just four emaciated horses picking their way through fallen stalls and broken timber.
This could have been the end of the story had it not been for current owner, Desdy Baggott, and her husband, William Kellogg. Appalled by the blight and animal cruelty, the two took over the reins and rebuilt Altadena Stables into what we enjoy today -- a safe haven where children and adults can learn to ride and care for horses. Altadena Stables, still owned and operated by Desdy, with the assistance of two full-time trainers and two on-site stable managers, offers individual and group classes, summer and winter riding camps, boarding, and training.
Ok, so I squeezed three decades of hard work and dedication into a couple of sentences. That’s not fair. But you see, I’m late. I should be riding now, and my horse is probably pawing the ground as we speak. She doesn't like to be kept waiting, even at a stable still overlooking the arroyo.