Shell Beach equestrian riding high at 61

‘Rocky” is a beautiful, gray 11-year-old paint horse who, with his rider, Linda Rice, has won numerous awards during the past three years.

“What is a paint horse?” I ask Linda Rice. A paint horse is an American quarter horse with color that could run a quarter mile in record time.

Rocky is a big, 16-hand gelding. His official name is Fax My Delight. Rocky won two world titles at the World Championship Paint Horse Show in November at Fort Worth, Texas.

Linda, 61, of Shell Beach has been involved with horses since she was 12, when her father bought a horse for her and her sister for Christmas. She fell in love with the horse and rode it during her teen years.

Years later, after her children got older, she got the “itch” again. Her husband, Jim, told her to go for it, and they bought a horse. That was 25 years ago. She started with local shows in Nipomo and Santa Ynez, and moved up to the big time in Denver and Fort Worth. She has been through several horses.

In 2004, the Rices bought “Bumble Bee Dirty,” nicknamed Baxter. Each paint horse is given an official name, and the owner chooses a nickname. His mane is braided for English riding and banded for Western riding. The tail is extended down to the ankle. The extension is applied behind the natural tail.

In 2004, Linda and Baxter won No. 1 Amateur Paint Horse in the nation at the World Show in Fort Worth. This included showmanship (being led through cones in a pattern), jumping, Western horsemanship (rider’s ability), Western pleasure (horse’s ability), English equitation (rider’s ability in the English saddle), hunter under saddle (horse’s ability), and driving (she sits in a cart, and the horse pulls in front).

Linda acquired Rocky three years ago. Rocky is a very athletic, affectionate and smart horse, sometimes with a mind of his own. He can memorize a pattern of walking through the cones very quickly, and then can get bored. The cones are used to train the horse to walk in a certain pattern. Linda entices him with carrots.

The Western saddle has a saddle horn and is adorned with silver. The rider wears chaps with a sparkly top. The English saddle is smaller, and the rider wears a hunt coat and velvet helmet.

In February, Linda is headed to an award banquet in Bakersfield to be honored as the No. 1 Paint Horse Team in California. Her home is filled with awards, including beautiful saddles, blankets and buckles. There is also a beautiful recent painting of Rocky.

She is grateful to her husband, Jim, who has always backed her 100 percent. Her showings take her away for two weeks every month for 10 months out of the year.

Future plans are to pull back on shows to make more time for her four granddaughters, ages 4 through 10. Linda has been traveling and showing with them at pony club events. She loves to show them “the ropes” at the Rices’ barn in Santa Maria, where they keep 16 horses.

She goes to their barn for two or three hours daily, not only to ride, but also to help keep the place clean and take care of the horses.

Rocky is housed in Chino Hills, near Pasadena. Linda drives down once a week to train with her trainer. It takes a full day — four hours to get there, four hours to train and four hours to drive home.

All in all, Linda Rice is clearly enjoying her older years to the hilt and fulfilling her dreams of horse riding and showmanship.