World-class equestrians are competing on the Central Coast this week at a local facility that’s garnering recognition across the horse community.
Thanks to the mounting success of the recently established Paso Robles Horse Park, the facility is stepping into the national horse competition circuit this year.
Competition organizations are hoping to shed horse show misconceptions of affluence and exclusivity by inviting local families to watch what the talented horses and riders can do, for free.
Paso Robles Horse Park director Amanda Diefenderfer wants to share the sport of hunter-jumper competition with her hometown.
The massive horses somehow look effortless as they leap over hurdles.
“When you watch an animal that big navigate over a jump that is taller than some of the people setting them, it’s pretty incredible,” Diefenderfer said.
The Paso Robles native grew up riding and competing in horse shows across California. Now, Diefenderfer says she’s grateful to bring that experience to the Central Coast.
“We see the locals just pack the berms watching the Grand Prixs, watching the big classes, so I get a little bit of personal Paso pride watching the local community come out,” she said.
The Paso Robles Horse Park opened in 2015 as the passion project of owner Linda Starkman.
Starkman’s mission is to share her love of horses without it being too expensive for everyone to enjoy.
“At any financial level, you can be exposed to a horse,” Starkman said.
All shows at the horse park are free and open to the public.
“It’s one of our top priorities to make sure that there’s no spectator fee because we want the community to come out and enjoy the Paso Robles Horse Park,” Diefenderer said.
Visitors can get an up-close look at athletes in this sport competing at the highest level.
“We have competitors out here who have shown in the Olympics,” said Diefenderfer.
The “jumpers” are judged on how quickly and cleanly they can navigate the course while “hunters” focus on technique and appearance.
“It’s an Olympic sport and it’s unique in that it’s the only sport in the Olympics that men and women compete against each other,” said horse trainer Hillary Ridland who traveled from San Juan Capistrano to compete at the Paso Robles Horse Park.
San Luis Obispo-based trainer Amanda Garcia calls the horses “high-power athletes” and says you don’t need to have a prior interest in horses to be entertained by these competitions.
“They are just four-legged horses to most people but what we ask of them is kind of phenomenal,” Garcia said.
While the horses and riders are working hard, visitors can sit back and enjoy local wine, beer and food offered on site while kids play on the grass. Well-behaved, on-leash dogs are also welcome at the horse park.
“We really want to share this sport with the rest of the Central Coast,” Diefenderfer said.
Those interested in riding and competing can be easily connected with local trainers at horse park shows.
“Come watch and if your kid is enthralled, come again and then get them on a horse,” said Garcia.
This Saturday is the Grand Prix, the biggest competition day of the show, but the park welcomes people to visit anytime through Sunday for the park’s Spring Classic event.
If you want to learn to ride, you can meet horse trainers and practice riding and jumping at the Spring Fling Schooling Show May 11-12.
The Paso Robles Horse Park is located at 3801 Hughes Parkway, near the Paso Robles Airport, off of Airport Rd. and Dry Creek Rd.