Tales from the Trails

The Palos Verdes Peninsula has long fostered a special kinship with the equestrian lifestyle. From stables to street-side rides, horses are an indelible fixture in the community’s culture. Local equestrian and entrepreneur Diane Barber brings us stories from these barns, arenas and trails – a personal look at how horses uniquely impact the lives of several South Bay residents and professionals.

The Palos Verdes Peninsula has long fostered a special kinship with the equestrian lifestyle. From stables to street-side rides, horses are an indelible fixture in the community’s culture. Local equestrian and entrepreneur Diane Barber brings us stories from these barns, arenas and trails – a personal look at how horses uniquely impact the lives of several South Bay residents and professionals.

In the old days of the American Wild West, the dusty, rugged life of the horse blacksmith was without the everyday comforts of today’s practitioners, especially those who live in the pristine South Bay communities.  Redondo Beach residents Keith and Rachael DeYoung might have those weathered kindred spirits of long ago shaking their heads in disbelief.

The first time I saw this father-and-daughter farrier team step out of their truck and mobile blacksmith shop to shoe my horse, I quietly smiled. As four dogs eagerly bounded out behind them with the sweet smell of hay and horses in the warm air, fond memories colored that moment. I recalled the summers of my youth spent on my father’s construction truck with our dogs in tow and horses waiting at home.  Though time and miles distanced me from those Pennsylvania days when my deep appreciation for the spirit of horses took hold of my heart, I realized that in a special way I am still at home with the equestrian life of the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

Keith, a former restorer of vintage Porsches and a Cal Poly farrier science graduate, and Rachael, a photography major who competed in horse shows growing up, merged their close family bond with a mutual love of horses and began working together after Rachael finished college. Though they do not currently have horses of their own, Rachael proudly quipped, “In a way, thanks to our wonderful clients, we have hundreds of them.”

A typical day for the head-turning DeYoung duo and their Australian shepherds and Swiss mountain dog is a dream come true for any animal lover. They navigate the Peninsula in a custom-outfitted, black Dodge Ram truck as the dogs’ ears flap in the wind en route to private residences and community stables. Each stop begins with boots and paws energetically hitting the ground, clients greeted with friendly grins and a random dog nuzzle. The side flaps of the mobile shop are raised, buckets are filled with water, and tools and horseshoes are unloaded – a five-minute, synchronized drill. The onboard steel forge is fired up to 2,300 scorching degrees while the crisp blare of blues or classic rock on the satellite radio is switched on to soften a hard day’s work. With tools masterfully in hand, cell phones in pockets, and dogs on the ready to assist with an unruly horse, each horse is carefully evaluated and meticulously shod with precision and care.

The days are long and physically demanding, but the rewards and the joy far exceed the challenges. In appreciation for the life they share, midday you can find Keith and Rachael perched overlooking the ocean, dogs at their feet, lunching on salads and sushi, and resting from the rigors of their craft. Their mantra: “We have the best job in the whole world.” 

Jim Moore at Cowboy Camp

Jim Moore with Barley

This might not be the Old West, but according to Rolling Hills Estates resident cowboy Jim Moore, “It is still the west and about as far west as you can get!”

Out of a deep appreciation for the cowboy lifestyle and a lifelong love of horses, Jim and his wife Lori Barnett started Cowboy Boot Camp – a training program for anyone who wants to learn to ride, care for or understand a horse, or simply be close to one. Recently featured on HGTV and CNN, they focus on horsemanship, the human/animal bond, the daily realities of horse ownership, and the As to Zs of horseback riding.

Rain or shine, horse life is a 24/7 operation for Jim and Lori. “The big advantage to the business being at home is it’s in our backyard. And the big disadvantage is it’s in our backyard,” said a grinning Jim. Before the morning light, they awaken to the soft nickering of horses. Jeans and boots are pulled on, dogs are fed and Jim reaches for a cowboy hat as he steps outside into the cool morning air to greet another day. Tossing feed to chickens with Welsh corgis at his heels, 10 hungry horses anxiously await the sounds of his boot steps. The rest of a typical day is filled with trail rides, a pre-filming “look good sitting on a horse” lesson with a Hollywood actor, hands-on training with Cowboy Boot Campers, mending a fence or fixing a water leak, more feedings, horse grooming, and cleaning stalls. Interlaced with the day’s activities are Cowboy Jim’s belly laughs and colorful storytelling, Lori’s contagious ear-to-ear smile, and a shared heartfelt passion for the community.

“People from all over the world come to ride with us,” Jim said. “We have about 100 miles of trails and one of the best urban trail riding systems in the country on the Peninsula. And, in our spare time, we proudly work very hard to protect and preserve it.”

Haley Harrington and Benito

Writer Diane Barber with her horse Jesse, Haley and Benito

From galloping and chasing the wind on horse trails to the discipline of training and competition, 16-year old equestrian Haley Harrington lives and breathes the horse world. It defines her. Of her four-legged companion and best friend she said, “There is nowhere as comforting as the place I lay my head on Benito’s shoulder. It fills me with such quiet contentment and joy.”

Haley began riding at the age of four at Peninsula Riding Club, conveniently located below the back gate of her family’s Rolling Hills Estates home. Today Benito is stabled there, and the young equestrian competes on the Palos Verdes Peninsula High School team – an interscholastic league that rivals Palos Verdes High and other Southern California schools. With a hunger for excellence and a competitive heart, she also successfully competes in national and regional Arabian shows. “The best part of competing,” she said, “is the feeling of sailing around a course knowing you and your horse are a team. That is more important than the pretty ribbons.” 

The demands of the school year are compounded by young Harrington’s commitment to equestrian life. Pressure to maintain her excellent GPA (a requirement of her parents for her to have a horse) is ever-present as she juggles studies and horse time. After school, barn clothes quickly replace school clothes, and the day for Haley gleefully ends at the stables. Weekends are consumed by homework, horse shows, training, horse care and volunteering for charities. With her eye on a career in medicine, she interns with Hermosa Beach small animal oncologist Dr. Alice Villalobos.

When asked if spending time away from family and friends to be with horses is difficult, Haley responded, “Of course. But the lessons I have learned from horses have been worth it. They have taught me patience, kindness and determination, which I can use throughout my life.”

Debbie, Brynn, Maggie and Kevin McCarthy at the stables

Maggie training on Image

As spit-shined police officer boots are swapped with barn-scuffed boots, veteran LAPD officers Kevin and Debbie McCarthy balance the intense demands of their careers with their delight in their daughters and the serenity of equestrian life on the Peninsula. Between Kevin, Captain and Commanding Officer of the LAPD’s Gangs and Narcotics Division, and Debbie, Deputy Chief of Operations West Bureau, they have 1,760 employees reporting to them.

It was Debbie who introduced horses to the family, which is now a herd of four. She began riding when she was 12 as an escape from a difficult childhood. “Horses kept me grounded during a very rocky time in my life.” It was because of her experience, even while friends encouraged her and Kevin to explore special schools for daughter Maggie’s dyslexia, that instincts drew Debbie closer to the horse world.

What began as intuition and a squealing child atop coin-operated carousel rides has now become a horse life that consumes the McCarthys’ off-duty time. Maggie, 15, is a member of the Palos Verdes High School equestrian team and a highly accomplished regional and national horse competitor. At age 9, her first horse, Kisses, not only taught Maggie how to ride, she gifted the rider with patience and confidence. Her younger sister, Brynn, whose outspoken, fiery personality contrasts Maggie’s shy quiet strength, also rides and receives lessons from her big sister.

The McCarthys’ vacations to exotic places have been replaced by a new horse trailer and trips to horse shows for Maggie to collect more blue ribbons. Family time is spent at the stables exercising and caring for horses, often with officer uniforms covered up and shiny boots left in unmarked police cars; uniform pant legs are rolled up away from barnyard dirt and dust. It’s common to see the four McCarthys walking their four horses and sharing stories of the day as onlookers wonder if a cell phone in hand is a call about a homicide or simply dinner plans.

“I would move heaven and earth to give back to horses what they have given our family, especially Maggie,” said Debbie. As for Kevin’s thoughts on their horse life, he said with a Cheshire Cat’s grin, “We all smell like a horse.”

Dr. Sylvia Ouellette takes a digital x-ray

Dr. Sylvia Ouellette observes a patient’s gait

For Dr. Sylvia Ouellette, what began as selling Girl Scout cookies as a child to save money for camp and horseback riding lessons led to a degree in veterinarian medicine and a passionate commitment to the well-being and betterment of horses. A UC Davis graduate and equine specialist, Dr. Ouellette has been practicing for 15 years with a focus on sports medicine and lameness.

Her days begin at 7:30 a.m. in the office. Radiographs and ultrasounds are read, emails and consultations are managed and paperwork completed before she heads out on the road for rounds in Palos Verdes at 8:30 a.m. In addition to an assistant on board, Dr. Ouellette (a.k.a. Dr. Sylvia, adjunct professor for Western University School of Veterinarian Medicine) usually has a student or two riding along. Her Ford truck is equipped with a mobile veterinarian unit that houses multiple drawers of medications, a refrigeration system for vaccines, portable digital radiology and ultrasound machines, and other medical equipment, as they greet the day expecting the unexpected. Regarding her portable equipment, she said, “I just love the technology age we are in.”

Horse lameness exams and treatments are the mainstay of the schedule – a field that is emotionally charged with owners often in tears. Dr. Ouellette begins each call talking to the horses to let them know she means them no harm, with a natural calm that not only comforts the animals but the owners as well. With her own emotions tucked away, this gifted veterinarian goes into doctor mode, doing what she is highly sought after for – examining, diagnosing, treating and, when possible, healing a lame horse. Despite having been severely bitten, enduring several broken bones, being stepped on and pushed around, her passion drives her to continue to go back for more.

“I will always drop what I am doing to help a horse,” she shared. “I truly admire these graceful creatures and want to do what I can for them as long as I can.”

Despite a visual impairment, Laura Wilton spends her life training horses.

Native Americans have inherently celebrated being one with nature and with all species. This philosophy that resonates with most equestrians is not something that is learned. It is simply understood on a soul level. Perhaps few experience this spiritual connection as deeply and profoundly as Palos Verdes horse trainer Laura Wilton, who is legally blind. Observing Laura at work is extraordinary. A thought, a whisper, a silent lifting of her hand, a turn of her body all elicit an attentive response from the horses who love her.

At age 9, young Laura was diagnosed with juvenile onset macular degeneration – a genetic condition that results in the curving of the back of the eye and blindness. Laura does not have center focusing and her sight is blurred, though she has peripheral vision. Like horses, she views the world by looking off to the side.

Growing up, this spirited, competitive and fearless young woman experienced great frustration in her quest to find a sport that she could succeed at because of her visual impairment. However, when she joined the local 4-H Club, life as she had known it forever changed. She discovered horses and realized, “I did not have to see to excel with them. I just had to feel.” 

Thanks to a blind boy who spoke to parents at the Braille Institute, Laura found wings for the rest of her life. He said, “Don’t put us in a box and keep us from doing something we want to do. If we don’t feel safe, we won’t do it.” To which young Laura responded to her mother, “I would rather get lost 1,000 times and be scared than be locked in a house.”

Laura since graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in 2006 with a major in animal science and currently trains 15 horses in the community. She travels three and one-half miles daily up and down Palos Verdes Drive on her bicycle or beloved quarter horse, Oreo, to reach clients. A basket holds her riding helmet, spurs and chaps and a backpack carries Gatorade, her wallet, lunch and sunscreen. Chapstick and cell phone in her pocket and wearing a smile of anticipation, she is equipped for another nine-hour day of equestrian bliss.

Though the stories of these South Bay equestrians are uniquely different, there is certainly a common thread that connects the souls of all horse people here and everywhere. We share a quiet knowing that our lives, and who we are today, have been forever changed because of the love of a horse. 


If you would like to contact one of the South Bay horse specialists mentioned in this article, please see below for their contact information and a few additional resources in the area.

Peninsula Riding Club

Palos Verdes Stables

Peter Weber Equestrian Center

Rolling Hills General Store

Jim Moore & Lori Barnett
Cowboy Boot Camp
310-377-8834, cowboybootcamp.net

Keith & Rachael DeYoung
DeYoung Horseshoeing

Laura Wilton
Elite Etiquette Horse Training

Dr. Sylvia Ouellette
Elite Equine
Veterinarian Services
626-256-4788, eliteequinevets.com

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