Coral Knapp and Sadie share a moment before hitting the trail.

Horse ambassadors ease trail tensions in

Santiago Oaks Park

By Elyzabeth Anderson
The trails in Santiago Oaks Park are shared by hikers, bikers and equestrians -- who don’t always get along. Park rangers field complaints about bikers riding too fast, equestrians damaging trails and hikers scaring horses.  

Park Ranger Shelly Meneely, an equestrian herself, heard one too many stories about horses being spooked and riders endangered by other trail users. She realized that many park visitors had never been close to a horse, and had no idea how to behave around them. “I knew that it was up to equestrians to solve the problem,” she said. 

She created the park’s Horse Ambassador Program about a year and a half ago to “provide opportunities for the public to interact with horses,” and learn “how to be safe on the trail with them.”

Meneely’s ambassadors are all volunteers; many are equestrians who ride regularly in Santiago Oaks. The volunteers ride their horses all over the park and interact with the public. Their primary duty is to deliver information regarding safely interacting with a horse on the trail. 

 “We just let them get up close and personal, “ says Coral Knapp, who has been an ambassador for a year. “A lot of people say this is the first time they have ever touched a horse.” 

Volunteers must communicate with a wide range of people. Some are frightened to get near a horse, while others are enthusiastic to connect with the animal. Many ask questions about being cautious, so as to not scare horses on the trail. “It’s really fun,” Knapp notes, “and our horses love the attention.”  

The Horse Ambassador Program currently has five volunteers, and is looking for more. Volunteers are “handpicked” by Meneely and must be certified in CPR and First Aid. “That training is provided for free,” Meneely noted. Additionally, ambassadors are required to attend an eight-hour orientation and a facility orientation, which includes “instruction on how to report in, how to sign in and out, and what we need specifically in our parks,” she adds.

Although numerous parks have “mounted volunteers,” Santiago Oaks is the only one with a program intended expressly to educate the public about equestrian trail etiquette. Meneely would like to expand the program to other parks. “It is up to the horse community to educate people,” she says, because some people “do not know how to act around horses.” 

Based upon volunteer reports and interactions with other trail users, Meneely believes that the Santiago Oaks Horse Ambassador Program and volunteers are making a difference.

To apply to be a member of the program, contact Meneely at Santiago Oaks directly, or fill out the interest form at ocparks.com. Meneely can be reached at  (714) 973-6620 or santiagooaks@ocparks.com. 

Horse Ambassador Linda Camisasca with sidekick Mini Cooper. Photos by Tony Richards

Shelly Meneely

September 2019