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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Horses and Open Space Equaled Freedom for a Young Malibu Equestrian


I think it was in 1981 that I graduated from the sixth grade at Juan Cabrillo Elementary School. That fall, I started Malibu Park Junior High School as one of the big kids. 
Those were still the days when kids could ride bikes or ponies from up in the hills all the way down to the beach without running into someone’s fenced property or being run into by someone driving too fast up Philip Avenue.
Malibu was not just for surfers, it was a great place to have horses. In fact, when I was a kid, there was a hitching post in the parking lot up at the Point Dume shopping center.
I grew up on Harvester Road, in between Filaree and Clover Heights. There was a dirt road leading from the end of Clover Heights down to the school fence line, which began at the tennis courts.
A trail along the baseball field led to a coaster-ride into and out of a gully, so that you found yourself at the mouth of Busch and Merritt Drive. Galloping down and up that hill was thrilling for kids on horses or motorbikes—and in those days, the latter were almost invariably considerate of the former, and no one was banned from going pretty much wherever they wanted, because no one took advantage of the freedoms they had.
If you went north instead of south at the tennis courts, a trail took you in between the school and private properties until you reached Morning View Drive.
If you were on your way to the Trancas Arena, you took a right and followed Morning View all the way down, riding partway on the street and partly on undeveloped sidewalk areas.
As a fairly solitary individual, one of my favorite things to do was jump on Mr. Appee, my beloved horse and best friend, and head up to the hills. Almost invariably, two or three of the family dogs trailed behind at a not so discreet distance, and I pretended not to notice that they’d snuck off the property to join us.
“My mountain” was at the intersection of Busch and Cuthbert—the one with the enormous fire trail running right up the face. There was a trail leading around the back of it, but whether you went directly or took the back way, the views from the top made all of us just stop and stare—horse, dogs, and me.
Looking through Appee’s ears, I tried to imagine what he saw as he, quite literally, turned his head from Catalina and Point Dume to the left, and slowly swept across the vast Pacific until his gaze seemed to settle on the Channel Islands to the right.
Eventually, the dogs got tired of sitting around, and found really interesting things to sniff out such as  coyote scat and rabbit trails, but Appee and I just watched and listened.
The gentle silence, broken only by a hawk’s cry high overhead or the wind rustling through dry chaparral, encompassed everything.
Through it all, nascent thoughts of my own insignificance in the face of such majesty collided with tremendous yearning to be something, to mean something.
Over the years, I left Malibu, only to return and then go again. In 2000, my parents sold the house on Harvester Road to a lovely couple and moved back to New England, where they were both born and raised. My dad died there in 2004. My mom now lives with my partner and me in Los Angeles.
I rarely get to Malibu, and no longer have a life with horses, but every so often my dogs and I pile into the car and head to my mountain. I climb as far up as I can, and then I sit and watch and listen.

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