C California Style

Kristen Buckingham with Chrush.
Kristen, Leelee, 13, and Stella, 9.
Paris on Triple Crown.
Paris and her grandmother, Baby.
Paris jumping Triple Crown.
Ella prepares to tack up.
An onlooker at HITS (Horse Shows in the Sun) in Thermal.
Alex with Rocket (the dog), Brooke, Geri and Lucy Bidwell at home in Santa Barbara.
Lucy on Sparky.
Alex with Casper.
Ella on Fancy’s Raindance.
Gwen jumping Harvard.
Alex standing tall on Ziggy.
Brooke leading True Blue.
Waiting for their final scores.
Ella, Gwen, Paris and Baby.
The Buckinghams ride together at Elvenstar, an equestrian training facility in Moorpark.
Leelee riding Nom de Buerre.
Gwen on Harvard.
Alex and Geri.
Ella, Paris and Gwen McCaw with Gwen’s mother, Baby de Selliers.

Born to Ride

by intern

For a growing number of mothers and daughters, riding has become a shared source of empowerment to overcome any of life’s hurdles. Here, a look inside the ring.

There is a long-standing cliché of girls and their love for horses. From a young age, we have a natural urge to hone our maternal instincts on big, friendly animals we can fuss over. Horsey girls usually come from horse-loving moms, and there is a connection that grows from their shared passion. Here in Southern California, a sun-kissed equestrian’s paradise, a growing number of mothers and daughters (and even grandmothers) make this sport a family affair.

Geri Bidwell, who lives in Santa Barbara, and her daughters, Lucy, 22, and 15-year-old twins Brooke and Alex, all ride and compete alongside one another. With ocean views from the turnout pastures, their horses are treated like extended family. On many afternoons, the girls lead them down a beach trail where they can swim and meet neighbors along the path. Ronnie Hitchcock Hoffman, Geri’s mother, grew up riding and fox hunting in Virginia and now keeps her broodmares at her ranch in Tumalo, Oregon. “What I like most about being on a horse is that it puts us totally in the moment and teaches us to trust in a power that is larger than ourselves. Girls who learn to ride well grow up to be super-strong women. I have always wanted my children to have that inner strength—whether they go on to use it in medicine, law, business, the arts or sciences—and to be brave and kind females,” says Bidwell.

Kristen Buckingham, an L.A.-based interior decorator, was hooked after convincing her parents to let her take a lesson when she was eight. Now, she rides with her daughters, Leelee, 13, and Stella, 9, in Moorpark at Elvenstar, a stable 20 minutes from their Brentwood home, and travels to various shows around the state. “There are so many things to appreciate about sharing a sport and love of horses together. I get to spend so much quality time with my girls, having fun and working really hard together,” says Buckingham. “When riding, you must rely on gut instinct, intuition and feel. That experience draws us out of our heads and into our souls.”

My own fearless, horse-loving mother, Baby de Selliers, hooked me right away with a naughty pony (“Tony Pony”) that I loved and adored. She showed me that there is nothing to be afraid of and that girls can do anything. My daughters, Paris, 14, and Ella, 9, started riding in Sullivan Canyon in L.A., and it’s one of those magical places that feel like a secret green time warp hidden behind Sunset Boulevard. Now, we travel to different horse shows around California together, including the hunter/jumper West Coast circuit, which tours around California and settles each winter in Thermal.

Like migratory birds, generations of riders flock to Palm Desert with their horses to test out all the lessons they learned in the ring. With more than 10 show rings running at once, and equally as many warm-up rings, it is an oasis, with literally thousands of horses coming from all over the West Coast, Canada and Mexico. The showgrounds are a giant maze of pop-up barns—many of them customized tents outfitted with everything from orange trees and fresh grass to luxe furnishings; all to be dismantled and taken home when the event is over. Girls dressed in breeches and show-clothes ride horses, bikes and golf carts all around the grounds, rushing to training lessons or loitering to cheer on friends and family in the ring. There’s an encouraging atmosphere as all different age groups (teens to 50-and-over) compete against each other.

“Everyone wins a few, and everyone loses, too. By going to the competitions, we challenge ourselves to jump better, higher or faster, but also to learn to lose with grace. To me, there is no better way to teach my daughters to be resilient than to fail at the one thing that will make her want to try again,” says Bidwell.

Buckingham adds, “Perseverance. It teaches us to have a sense of humor. Life is short; we need to do the best we can in the moment, and if it doesn’t go as well as we’d like, go to bed and forget about it! Start the next day with a new plan for how to get it done.”

Winning is the sweet result of everything coming together at the right moment. It is the hole in one, the big wave, the giant catch, the miraculous feeling of all the hard work and effort coming to fruition. The ribbons are proof of a job well done and are often hung in the most prominent viewing spots in the house, to remind us of what we can do together.

So it’s the year of the horse. May we take life by the reins, sit up tall, be fearless and enjoy the ride.

Written and edited by Gwen McCaw.
Photographed by Coral von Zumwalt.