The road to Ridgewood Farm is reminiscent of sweeter days, a road the modern age forgot. Everywhere you pass dreamy citrus and avocado groves leading to gentle foothills, palms waving in the bright California sky — a bucolic tableau of rural beauty, wholesome and bursting with life. Then you arrive at the boarding facility and riding school, where you’re greeted by more vistas of exuberant health: magnificent horses shining with loving care, immaculate tack boxes, stalls in impeccable order. There’s barely a whiff of manure, just enough, perhaps, to suggest an equine theme. It rhapsodically supports every theory there is about horses as therapy, for the autistic, the nerve-damaged, for inmates. Betsy Woods owns this luxurious realm where up to 25 horses live in comfort and beauty. She herself is an ideal of the great outdoors, open space, exercise, and discipline. She has received the Jimmy Williams Sportsmanship Award at the National Amateur Horse Show, and is known throughout the county as simply one of the top trainers around. Her students consistently take home the ribbons.
Svelte and groomed, she appears as if the life of a stable owner, riding instructor, horse trainer and ballet enthusiast – her other passion – has much to recommend it. There’s not a trace of fat on her, and whatever her real age, she’s fit, fit, fit. Everything’s fit. The horses are fit. The students are fit. Employees are fit. In fact, they don’t even seem to speak English or Spanish; they speak horse. You may never have thought about riding but the minute you get to Ridgewood Farm you’re thinking, I could lease a horse. Because the life calls, the pristine Old California look of it compels; the triumph of the intuitive bargain between rider and horse starts to exert its appeal. Most of the appeal, of course, is Betsy. She’s the poster girl for rising to the challenge, making the jump beautiful and precise, for winning.
“There’s a frustration when the horse falls back to its old pattern,” she says, and your reverie’s interrupted by the reality that it could be hard work. Anyone who wants to ride is going to eventually fall off, she says. Ouch. There was a 90-year-old gentleman whose lessons came to a reluctant halt after a little spill. Generally, it’s a much younger crowd. Betsy’s both riding instructor and counselor to the anguished teenage heart, surrogate mom to “at least 150 daughters,” she laughs. She trains riders, she trains horses, and for those of us who find the whole thing glamorous but know nothing, there are ribbons for both. The animal loves its routine; the rider loves successful communication and perfect execution of moves.
“There’s a bond of trust between human and animal,” she continues, describing a love affair between species. Betsy’s been at the top of this game for decades. Her folks had no idea they’d have to get her a horse, but it was a passion meant for a lifetime. She ran Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden’s riding program at Laurel Springs Ranch, bringing inner city kids to the outdoors. She opened her own boarding stable first in Hope Ranch, and added another in Carpinteria a few years ago. Stables seldom come with a pasture anymore; the horses at Ridgewood Farm are living the good life. And the lucky students have a dedicated teacher who actually finds teaching most rewarding. Betsy’s always looking for another way to deliver, to invent, to transcend the boundaries.