Sometimes living your dream means logging a few extra miles. That’s definitely the case for Kathleen Jones, who has traveled the country to turn her love of horses into a full-time career.
Raised in the Southern California equine mecca of La Cañada-Flintridge in the ’60s, Kathleen moved east to earn a Riding Master degree at the Meredith Manor equestrian college in West Virginia and then south to operate her own training, boarding and horse show facility near Little Rock, Ark.
She made the move back to California in 1998, choosing Cambria for its beauty and temperate climate. “I love living here. It’s a place where you can go outdoors nearly every day. Where you can stay fit all year round. It’s the healthiest place to live … if you can afford it.”
And that’s the rub. Though she’s put down roots, Kathleen is still putting in the miles to make a living. Like many others in Cambria, she commutes for work. In her case, it’s a daily two-hour round-trip trek over the hill to North County horse country.
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Obviously, for a woman who trains horses and teaches dressage, telecommuting is not an option.
“Like any business, you go where your clientele is,” Kathleen says. “When I first moved to Cambria, I tried to get something started here. But I learned I needed to commute to pay the bills. The trick is to buy a really small car.”
Kathleen trains about 10 horses a week at Close By Ranch, a pretty place on a hill surrounded by vineyards in San Miguel. On a recent breezy yet pleasant afternoon, a riot of songbirds swirled through the covered riding arena. Up above, a pair of horned owls sat quietly under the eaves, watching the action as Kathleen put Beau, a bay quarter horse, through some dressage exercises. Beau is extremely tall at 17 hands, or 5 feet, 8 inches high, measured at the withers. From there, you just keep looking up to see the top of his head.
Dressage is often referred to as equine ballet for its beauty and choreographed movements performed by sleek and graceful horses. But for horses like Beau, Kathleen sees it as a lot more like yoga.
“Dressage is a technique that creates a more rideable horse,” Kathleen says. “It makes him more limber, with a total lack of tension or strain, so the horse can perform with natural fluidity and grace.”
For the rider, dressage improves communication with the horse, creating smooth and steady energy between the two. “Training in dressage is a natural extension of wanting to be a better rider and a better horse person. I am fortunate to be working with an expanding circle of people who love horses and want to treat them right.”
Parts of that circle are former students who have reconnected with Kathleen via Facebook. It is a thrill, she says, to see them finding success at training and coaching students of their own. One from Texas has organized a high school team of hunter-jumper riders who, in their first year of interscholastic competition, qualified to go to the national championships in Syracuse, N.Y.
“That is so cool for them,” Kathleen says, beaming with pride.
The feeling is mutual, according to posts like this one on Kathleen’s Facebook page: “Just wanted to say that it makes me smile every time I see your name on Facebook. You are always in the back of my mind when I teach. You have helped me be the instructor that I am today.”
“You want to have the job you love, and it’s a joy to be able to pass that on,” Kathleen says. “My job is not especially lucrative, but it is never a drudge. It’s like an art form. The horses are just beautiful, and I get to do this in a beautiful place.”