Horsepower in the Park

This podcast was created to accompany the story “Horsepower in the Park” by Kamal Taj.

Podcast Transcript

Kamal Taj: Breezes push through the high reaching eucalyptus and fill the air with their sweet, earthy scent. Horse tours make their way via the meandering paths through meadows and trees and capture the attention of both tourists and locals alike. However, as fun and adventurous as horse rides through the thickets of Golden Gate Park might be, many of us don’t consider the time, energy and money it takes for your 60-minute ride to become a reality. I spoke with the owner, Susan Pennell of Chaparral Ranch, and asked her where her love of horses began. This is Kamal Taj, and you’re listening to The Bleed.

Susan Pennell: It’s kind of funny you should ask me that because I was just telling somebody I used to ride right over the top of 101. So it was right off of Shoreline Boulevard there in Mountain View on Sterlin Road and then we were on Terra Bella. And where I used to ride is over where Google is now. With me, I mean, just as a baby I was absolutely fascinated with that. My dad finally gave up on me at five and bought me the horse. So I just have this love for animals. And they’ve always been my passion. And I love all animals. I have dogs, cats. I have all kinds of stuff.

Taj: I asked Susan how many horses she has currently that are distributed throughout the various locations throughout the Bay Area.

Pennell: I have 160 horses right now and I’ve had you know multiple horses through the years. And I think because they’re big animals, people think they’re super brave and stuff; they’re not. They’re extremely sensitive. When you get on a horse, they really connect with you. So if you work with the same horse, you will make a connection with that horse that you’re riding with. That horse will understand you and will more than likely take really good care of you as long as you treat it with respect.

Taj: Lastly, I asked Susan how long her partnership was Shawn Mott, the resident cowboy of Chaparral Ranch, has lasted and how long he’s been working with horses.

Pennell: We’ve been partners since 2009. He’s had multiple ranches. He’s had one in Sunol, he had two in Sunol actually. And then he had another one kind of down by Gilroy — he’s a cowboy and we’ve slowly developed all these different sites, you know, together. He- he’s been doing this since he was a kid- since he was 10 years old, and so for about 50 years.

Taj: Speaking with Shawn, I asked him where it all began.

Shawn Mott: Oh, over 50 years. I started with the Boy Scouts. My dad is an electrical engineer, he was lead engineer for the guidance missiles for nuclear missiles. I got along with the school teacher. I’m the fifth of six kids, so those five boys and their their pastime was beat me up.

Taj: I asked Shawn about how they acquire their horses. He goes on to mention that his son has a ranch near Las Vegas.

Mott: So we shifted into my son at a year, year and a half years old. And then he keeps them for a year or two…So we do everything. I used to train them.

Taj: I asked Shawn about the ranches connection to Camp Mather, a Campground located in Yosemite National Park, that offers horseback riding and is connected to the city of San Francisco. He adds that the ranch has struggled keeping the camp run and operated, 

Mott: We will ship them a lot of meals up there. You know, on the business side of it, its margins aren’t real great, and getting people to go work at these places is not the easiest thing. I want to make sure not only the horses but the people can understand that they can control the horse. They don’t have to control their environment. And the more we can do that, again, the horses feel that leadership and they settle. I need more than one horse to go out on trail. Because if I can get five people out on our trail at 70 bucks an hour, that’s better than one purse. So my best line is very simple. I just kind of took what horses like to do. Things that people really need. Remember where I’m going from it’s it’s not that the people are doing the horses a favor. It’s the horses are doing the people a favor. The horses need to be respected and taken care of either. That’s our job on our planet, you know as far as I’m concerned.

Taj: When looking towards the future, Chaparral Ranch looks to expand its various facilities throughout the Bay Area, but most importantly, offer riders an experience and hopefully instill a sense of respect when it comes to the centuries old relationship between horse and rider. I’m Kamal Taj and you’ve been listening to The Bleed, a podcast for Xpress Magazine.