OAKLAND -- The Metropolitan Horsemen's Association -- now in its 75th year in Oakland -- hosted a meet and greet at the Anthony Chabot Equestrian Center on Skyline Boulevard on Sunday, when a busy schedule was announced for the coming year.
The equestrian center, which is home to about 70 privately owned horses and boasts outdoor and indoor arenas, is one of eight stables owned by the East Bay Regional Park District.
On the immediate agenda this spring are two work parties to clean up the Sequoia Arena in Joaquin Miller Park, where MHA holds horse jumping, hunting, schooling and dressage shows throughout the year. The Sequoia Arena is celebrating its 65th year since then-Oakland Mayor Frank Mott broke ground on the facility, which includes a clubhouse, in 1948.
"The arena property is owned by the city of Oakland, but MHA is the contact for events there," said MHA member Michelle Burrill, who said horsemanship has a long and colorful history in Oakland.
Melanie Diamond, MHA's board president, greeted the audience of about 30 people at the open house, which was held in the old barn. She said MHA welcomes new members and volunteers, especially at horse shows.
"We need volunteers of all ages, such as kids who might need community service hours for school," Diamond said.
Some children sign up with an owner to "sponsor" a horse. The equestrian center provides an opportunity for kids to groom, feed and ride the horses -- without the expense of owning one.
"My dad brought us here because he knows we both like horses," said 12-year-old Priscilla Gonzalez, who sponsors two horses with her 10-year-old cousin Juan Oregon, both of Oakland. "Whenever I have time, I come here to look after Petunia and Fiona. We feed them and take them out to walk."
Skylar Black, 11, of Oakland, visits the stables every week to ride and care for a horse called Cory -- who is 30 years old.
"I've sponsored him for a couple of years," said Black, who also takes riding lessons at the center.
Black's mother, Nancy Henderson, said the equestrian center is a great option for kids.
"It's a win-win for us," she said. "We don't have to own our own horse -- that's a huge responsibility."
One of the speakers at the meet-and-greet event was Rebecca Thomas from the park district mounted patrol. She addressed what seemed to be a hot topic -- equestrian etiquette on the park trails, which horse riders share with cyclists, pedestrians and dogs.
"As equestrians, we have to be responsible," Thomas said. "We have to do our part to train and prepare our horses. Things aren't going to change, so we all need to get along."
Two presenters at the meeting spoke about Equine Assisted Therapy -- known as EAT -- and its benefits to humans and horses.
"The attributes of horses can be very therapeutic," said Marty Monetti, a psychologist and equine specialist. "Equine therapy can help a person get to whatever goal they might have."
It helps the horses too, she said.
"Using horses gives them a role in human interaction and service," Monetti said.
Meg Howard is also a psychologist who began working in the EAT field about 10 years ago.
"Research has shown that equine therapy can help people with multiple sclerosis, head injuries and troubled teens who need help with social skills," Howard said.
Howard drew cheers from the crowd when she described the Anthony Chabot Equestrian Center as "an amazing place to have a therapeutic experience.
"I see owners here having a deep therapeutic experience; it helps people to get into their body," Howard said.
Horse owner Joanne Gillespie spoke about the local branch of Pony Club and the opportunities it affords children to learn and enjoy horses -- including this summer's Bort Meadow Horse Camp, right in Oakland's back garden.
"Most kids in the Bay Area don't own a horse," Gillespie said. "The Pony Club is a great resource to learn about horses, safety and grooming."
For more information on the Metropolitan Horsemen's Association, go to www.mhaoakland.org. The Anthony Chabot Equestrian Center is located at 14600 Skyline Boulevard and is open to the public.