Written by STEPHANIE BERTHOLDO Photos by JOAN PAHOYO
When Foxfield Riding School owners Nancy Turrill and JoAnn Postel were children, the idea of owning a horse seemed like a pipe dream.
The twins already kept a donkey at their home in La Cañada, but “Becky” didn’t satisfy their desire to own and ride horses.
The girls’ parents proposed a sly solution. If JoAnn and Nancy could pay for a horse on their own, they could have one.
So, at the age of 11, the ginger-haired twins devised a plan to buy a lovely little filly. They were able to turn war stamps into cash, worked small jobs for change and, by the time they were 12, had saved $40, which they assumed was enough to realize their dream.
“We went to the owner and handed him the jar,” Nancy remembers. “He said ‘I can’t take this.’” But when the twins burst into tears, the man’s resolve melted and the horse was theirs.
The girls kept her in the garage. Buying and caring for that mare was a pivotal experience for the twins, whose love of horses grew with each passing year.
The girls honed their equestrian skills with that first mare and worked with other horses as teens. By the time they were adults, Nancy and JoAnn were more than ready to teach others how to properly ride and care for horses.
They began to teach riding at a school in Newhall, but when the beloved stable owner passed away, the women decided to start their own business far from Newhall so as not to encourage students to change schools.
JoAnn and her husband, Bill, had purchased and renovated 29 acres at the base of the Lake Sherwood Dam in Westlake Village. The lush property was swampy, but provided the ideal setting for a riding school. Both sisters built homes on the property and set about building Foxfield Riding School, a name given after the sisters spied a small fox on the land.
They opened on May 1, 1967. Soon students from Newhall followed the sisters to the new school.
Today Foxfield is a world-class school for showing horses with students regularly competing in and earning ribbons from top-rated horse shows.
The Foxfield Equestrian Drill Team performs throughout the nation and is noted worldwide. The team, whose members are between 6 and 18 years old, ride “to the wire,” which at Foxfield indicates the use of only a thin wire looped under the horse’s neck. A rider uses her weight, legs and voice to direct the horse. No bits, bridles, saddles or stirrups are used to guide the horses which range from tiny Sicilian donkeys to crossbred ponies and thoroughbreds, in team performances and individual routines.
The riders exhibit extreme horsemanship that includes Olympic-level dressage movements and complete jumps with riders standing up on the backs of their horses. The team became the first featured equestrian act in Olympic Games history when it performed at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
No matter what the activity, Foxfield often becomes a home away from home for children who, along with learning to ride, also learn responsibility, manners and giving. All Foxfield students are
responsible for the horses they ride. There are no grooms at Foxfield; students care for the horses themselves. They cool them down after rides, brush them and clean their hooves.
A cycle of giving is built into the curriculum as well. Experienced riders become “big sisters” teaching the younger children the ins and outs of riding and caring for horses.
Students must also be polite—always. “There are a lot of pleases and thank-yous,” says Krista Gosland, Foxfield’s event coordinator, who, along with office manager Caroline Waple, were students at the school as children. “There are old-fashioned values that can be hard to find. It’s one of the many things that make Foxfield special.”
Caroline says JoAnn and Nancy never lost track of her after she stopped taking lessons years ago. “They are like this with hundreds of kids.”
Nancy and JoAnn continue to oversee the care of 60 horses and hundreds of students. Both still teach along with six other instructors including JoAnn’s daughter-in-law, Susie, and granddaughter, Janie.
Nancy and the Postels continue to live in separate homes on the property just as they had planned nearly 50 years ago.
“It’s a family affair, that’s for sure,” says JoAnn, whose four children have been involved in Foxfield at one time or another.
At 84, the women foresee slowing down a bit and spending more time at their ranch in Yosemite Valley, where the family already retires aging horses, providing them with a carefree life after they are too old to ride.
But, coming home to Foxfield is always a delight.
“To this day, whenever we come home from a horse show, we go ‘ahh,’” Nancy says.
JoAnn agrees. “Life is going too fast. Our lives have been a joy.”