Malibu High School’s mascot may be the shark, but the public school located just up the street from Zuma Beach also happens to sit right in the middle of some of the finest horseback riding country in Southern California.

So perhaps it’s no coincidence that, in addition to usual prep sports like basketball and soccer, MHS boasts an equestrian team with a stable full of talented young riders.

These girls love horses, and many have grown up riding the scenic trails of Zuma and Trancas canyons since they were children.

“Some of the more competitive riders have been riding for as long as they can remember,” team co-captain Edie Denker, 15, said. Others, Denker said, have a background of one or two years.

Boasting 16 members of varying skill levels, Malibu High’s equestrian team competes in the Los Angeles Interscholastic Equestrian League (IEL). Formed in 1983, the IEL is one of only seven nonprofit high school riding leagues in the U.S., three of which are in California.

The riders compete against 50 other private and public high schools in Los Angeles County.

Shows are held at Hansen Dam Equestrian Center in Lakeview Terrace four times per year. Malibu High’s final show of the year is scheduled for Sunday, April 30.

“I have always loved horses,” says sophomore Kelsey Holmes, also 15, the team’s other captain. “Riding is my favorite thing to do. Horseback riding is a team sport with your horse. It’s really fun to be on a team with other girls who share the same bond with horses.”

Equestrian is a sport that tests horsemanship. Under that term exists a wide range of different competitive equestrian activities. Among them are dressage (putting the horse through a predetermined series of movements, almost like ballet), endurance riding and show jumping (leaping over gates), said Kelsey’s mother, Lisa Holmes, the team parent.

Lisa has lived in Malibu for 30 years and this is her first year as team representative for Malibu High School’s equestrian club. Although Lisa didn’t have an equestrian club at her school when she was in high school in Portland, Oregon, she has also grown up with horses.

“What a great thing to do to be able to join a club,” Lisa said. “I wish we’d had that. It’s such a great opportunity that we have for our horseback riders to be part of something.

The girls all wear matching shirts. It’s very nice to be able to be part of something like that.”

The equestrian club does not provide horses for the riders and the girls on the team have to provide their own horses. While some girls on the team own horses, others borrow from a friend or lease their horse.

Riders on the team have their own private coach/trainer, Lisa said. They select the coach on their own and train on their own. Then they come together as a team at the IEL four times a year. The trainer and rider decide in what level they want to compete.

“Kelsey trains with her trainer three times a week,” Lisa said. “But she rides six times a week. She gets the information from her trainer and practices on her own. She can’t jump without her trainer, but she practices everything else. They have to condition and workout on their own.”

Aside from participating in the four shows, the Malibu equestrian team meets five times every school year to discuss how the team is doing and how each rider is doing for their division, Lisa said. The team has also had guest speakers and has helped out at the local October Shrimp Show in Malibu.

Last year, the equestrian team participated in an event for Ride On Therapeutic, a nonprofit corporation founded in 1994 that is dedicated to enhancing the quality of life of children and adults with disabilities through a unique combination of equine-related therapy, recreation and fun.

“It was definitely my favorite experience,” Lisa said about the event with Ride On Therapeutic. “The smiles on their faces, the kids and adults. It will be a moment I will never forget.”

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