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Arroyo Seco Stables House a Storied History

Fifty-two horses are humbly tucked into a corner of South Pasadena at Arroyo Seco Stables, a place where Briar Corder both feels the past and sees the future.
“My grandmother gave me a horse named Sundance when I was 4 years old,” Corder recalled. “She told me he was mine; he wasn’t actually mine but it didn’t matter. My feet didn’t even go past the edge of the flaps of the saddle and it was amazing to be connected to a horse at such a young age.”
Corder now owns Arroyo Seco Stables, one of the oldest and storied businesses in South Pasadena and she’s helping riders of all kinds allow themselves to feel what she felt when she stretched her feet down to the edge of the saddle as a kid.
The staff at the stables works to make horses accessible to anyone who wants to ride or make a connection with an animal. Fees to board a horse are less than other barns around Los Angeles and lessons are kept affordable, too.
“It’s always seen as … an old money sport and I’m trying to change that a little bit,” said trainer Isabel Simpson-Kirsch, who has been giving lessons at Arroyo Seco Stables for roughly a year.

Caty Fragosa volunteers at Arroyo Seco Stables working with horses such as Dulcina The stables have been family owned and operated since the early 1900s| Photo by Haley Sawyer

Simpson-Kirsch is one of the newest additions to the stables since Corder took over three years ago. Other changes in recent years include a website and lots of outreach to the community on social media pages, although Simpson-Kirsch said that word-of-mouth promotion has also helped them gain clientele.
In a more physical sense, there are new boards on barns and a new metal roof on a stable. A new plastic waterline to keep water for the horses cool has been installed, too.
Miguel Gonzalez, one of the longest-tenured employees, oversaw most of those changes. In his 35 years with Arroyo Seco Stables, he’s now worked under Corder, her father, Terry Williams, and her grandmother, Margaret Williams. Although the work can be demanding, Gonzalez says it’s worth it.
“I love the horses, I love animals. This is like therapy for me,” Gonzalez said. “I prefer not to work in a restaurant and things like that; that’s kind of jail for me. This is like, I’m out of jail. I’m free. I’m like a bird. That’s why I’ve been here for so long.”
Like other staff members and volunteers at the stables, Gonzalez has a horse that he mostly rides on trails in the area and shows off in local parades. The intimate, emotional connection shared with a horse makes all the effort of riding and caring for the animals seem automatic.
“Learning how to ride horses teaches us … a lot about ourselves,” Simpson-Kirsch said. “How to be patient, how to listen to your body, listen to an animal. It’s something that’s so out of the box for a lot of people.”
Arroyo Seco Stables has been owned by Corder’s family since 1909 and the first barn was built in 1926. Since then, the wooden walls have seen a lot of history in South Pasadena.
The original stables housed up to 100 horses, but the property was split up when the Williams family gave part of it to the city of Los Angeles to develop a park and it further splintered with the development of the 110 freeway. Trestles that were part of the train tracks that once crossed the Arroyo Seco are now part of a barn, too.
“It’s multi-hundreds of years of history that’s in that area,” Corder said.
Corder says the property and her grandmother’s efforts stopped a rock quarry from interrupting the landscape, which includes the Arroyo Seco itself. Gonzalez also recalls Margaret Williams turning down a $4 million offer from a development company that wanted to build a hotel.
Arroyo Seco Stables has been steadfast in value to not just the horse community, but to South Pasadena since before Corder had even tried to stretch her feet into the stirrups while sitting on Sundance. Now that she’s comfortable in a saddle, she’s not forgetting the generations before her.
“It’s not something that I’m ever going to make money doing, but I feel like I can do something to continue on what was important to (my dad),” she said.
“If I can keep it a stable and keep having the community have access to it, then I feel like I’ve done what he wanted to have happened. That’s been my main goal, keeping it a stable and trying to bring it back to what it was when I was a kid.”

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