Horses and ponies return to Golden Gate Park

For the first time in nearly two decades, The Golden Gate Park Stables are no longer horseless.

One pony and four horses welcomed riders of all ages in the park Saturday to announce the grand opening of San Francisco’s Chaparral Ranch at Bercut Equitation Field.

“This is exciting for us,” said Grace Riddle, who manages the stable in The City, as well as staffing Chaparral Ranch’s three other locations in Milpitas, Woodside and Camp Mather. “It’s nice to get horses in new places with new people.”

Saturday’s turnout was larger than expected, with crowds gathering around the equitation field as early as 10 a.m. Riddle said she had to call in two horses and a pony from Chaparral’s Woodside stable to keep up with the public’s demand for private lessons and trail rides.

First in line for a private lesson on a jolly-looking brown horse was Michael Johnson with his nine-year-old daughter. “Today’s her birthday,” Johnson said. “We were just driving by and she saw the horses and so we just had to stop.”

Scheduled for the 12 p.m. trail ride, Ariana Holmes and her mother Sandy Homes were already waiting by the stands.

“I’ve been reading the park’s newsletter for five, six years waiting for the stables to open again,” Sandy Holmes said.

“I used to go riding at Girl Scout Camp, but in The City it’s been really hard to find [somewhere to ride]. I was 14 the last time I went,” Holmes added. “I’m surprised at how convenient this is. There’s easy parking, and it’s just so peaceful.”

Chaparral is one of the first ranches to open in Golden Gate Park since The City’s century-old public stables fell into disrepair in 2001.

Because the reconstruction project required over $2 million in funding, plans for renovations and reopening were stalled for years.

In 2017, The Recreation & Park Department collaborated with Pot A Gold Adventures to set up a temporary pilot program and bring horses back to the stables. However, the program only lasted a few months.

While Riddle expects demand to decrease gradually during winter months, she said Chaparral signed a six-month contract with Rec & Park and will make the most of it.

“We still have to fix a lot of things. But the park is helping with repairs, and we’re hoping that we can stay out through the winter,” Riddle said. “There’s a big open dressage arena that used to be kind of like (the equitation field) but has no fence. And that’s where we… set up pens for the horses, where they sleep at night and where we stay in trailers.”

Next spring, Riddle said Rec & Park will be reviewing the ranch and deciding whether to extend their stay through the summer.

“Horses play a big part in Golden Gate Park’s history and we’re thrilled to have them back as our park turns 150,” Rec & Park General Manager Phil Ginsburg said in a news release. “Chaparral Ranch’s staff and horses are beloved by our Camp Mather families, and we are looking forward to a new generation of city kids falling in love with riding, nature and our equestrian trails.”

cghisolfi@sfmediaco.com

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