by Sarah Ettman-Sterner
Equestrian Rebecca Atwater
3RD GENERATION RESIDENT OFFERS SLICE OF HEAVEN FOR HORSES AND RIDERS
Rebecca Atwater is a lifelong Montecitan and first-class horse trainer. Her brainchild is Santa Barbara Stables, which was founded to provide a supportive, peaceful and attentive program that emphasizes safety and fun while achieving the goals of each rider. Rebecca’s motto for the stables is “Everyone deserves a little slice of heaven... even you and your horse!” Tucked away in the foothills on the border of Montecito and Carpinteria, Rebecca has cultivated an environment where joy and tranquility literally “rein” supreme. Horses and riders at the stables have an air of contentment signaling they are living their best life, far away from the worries of the world.
In addition to creating the perfect horseman’s haven, she may just have one of the best jobs in the world! While others work remotely at home or fly a desk 8 hours a day in a stuffy corporate setting, her spacious “office” is the great out-of-doors. Just past the riding rings where Rebecca works with her two and four-legged clients, there are manicured pastures encircled by neat white split-railed fences and oak-shaded riding trails that offer a sparkling view of the blue sea in the distance.
Rebecca works closely with adults, children and their mounts to refine their skills and condition their bodies to gain confidence, strength and competitive form. Rebecca adheres to a wholistic teaching approach that takes into consideration the unique characteristics of riders and their horses. Lessons are positive, therapeutic and up-lifting. Her students learn equestrian and life skills they can use beyond the ring. She is more than a highly regarded trainer. Her devotees view her as a mentor and friend. Her loyal cadre of riders have honored her with a most fitting title — “Director of Happiness.”
We asked Rebecca to tell us about international upbringing, early life in Montecito and her road to finding her true calling as a horse trainer.
MN: Rebecca, you were born in Paris. Tell us about your family and early years in France.
RA: My Mother’s family lived near Paris. I would visit them every summer and my grandfather had a little pony named Jimmy that I loved very much. We also spent time on an island called Île de Ré, near the old city and harbor of La Rochelle. It was a fantastic time for me, playing with my dozen of French cousins. When I was 9 months old, before I could even walk, my parents put me on a horse at a ranch on the island. To the surprise of everyone, I was holding on to the mane and didn’t want to get off the horse. As I got older I was fortunate enough to be able to ride horses on the island through the forest and beaches on rehabbing race horses, as the salt water was very good for their tendons.
MN: What brought your family to Montecito? Did you begin riding here?
RA: On my father’s side, my grandparents lived in Los Angeles and had a compound in Montecito. My grandmother created The Ransom Seed Lab of which my Aunt Aleta is still the owner and director today.
My family has always bounced back and forth between Los Angeles and Montecito. I have many happy memories of riding my Aunt Aleta’s horse Rocky around Montecito. I also took riding classes in Gobernador Canyon with a great horse trainer named Lindsay Turner. While in Los Angeles, I rode in Pasadena and still have many great friends from this time.
MN: When did you fall in love with horses and start riding?
RA: I always loved horses and my parents got me my first horse when I was five yers old. I wanted a pony desperately and on Valentine’s Day I got a very challenging and difficult pony that I named Valentine. I was delighted and madly in love. From then on I tried to learn everything I could about horses and horsemanship. Valentine on the other hand was less enthusiastic.
MN: Did you do much trail riding in Montecito? Did you ride on the beach?
RA: My father Ronnie and my Aunt Aleta were horse crazy and rode all over Montecito. My Aunt Aleta had a big Thoroughbred named Rocky and she would lead me around on him when I was very little until I fell asleep and would slide off. I was in heaven. When I was older and rode Valentine I had many adventures trail riding, jumping and riding on the beach. Valentine was a rascal, always kept me on point. I really attribute him in developing my strong seat.
MN: Did you compete as a junior rider?
RA: I competed in equitation as a junior on a thoroughbred named Manny. He was very sensitive but gave me 100% and had a huge stride. I was lucky to have him as a partner.
MN: What did you study at UCSB? Do you use your degree in your day to day work with horse care? What are some of the transferrable skills you developed from your studies?
RA: I studied Biology for my undergraduate degree with the intention to become an equine veterinarian, so yes, it has helped a lot. We have a lot of older horses that had big show careers and have stepped down to be teachers. It is very important that I keep them in top
MN: Why did you return to France to live as an adult? Once there, did you pursue your riding career?
RA: I took a year away from my riding career to live in France. I rode for pleasure and did not compete during that time. When I returned I refocused Santa Barbara Stables to the goal of enjoyment and relaxation and less on horse shows and competition.
MN: Tell us about your work and experiences leading up to establishing Santa Barbara Stables. What made you decide to go out on your own and establish your business?
RA: I worked for a veterinarian and assisted several horse trainers before opening Santa Barbara Stables in 2000. It was a natural progression and in a short time I had a big barn with a lot of wonderful clients with horses and ponies. We went to lots of shows and had many successes and lots of fun.
MN: What are the benefits of riding and being with horses? Does this improve our health and well-being?
RA: There are so many benefits to riding and being around horses. Horse riding is very good for cardio fitness, core strength, balance and mental focus. I find riding to be very meditative and a great stress reliever. You need to be in the present moment while on the horse’s back and when being around horses. It also creates a great sense of community.
MN: What would you like to see take place in Montecito and Santa Barbara to support and encourage the equestrian community?
RA: I am a big supporter of Earl Warren Showgrounds. It is a treasure and has been historically such an important part of horse showing in Santa Barbara. Earl Warren is also very important as a safe place to evacuate all our animals during natural disasters such as mudslides and fires.
MN: Share with us your thoughts on your junior and adult riding students.
RA: Adults can sometimes have some level of fear. I focus my lessons on relaxation and confidence. I make sure the horses are also relaxed and ready for their job. With juniors I can focus more on the responsibility of horsemanship and life skills that riding brings.
MN: What can be done to make riding more inclusive for all?
RA: I would like to see more diversity through scholarships and non-profits reaching out to create diversity. Horses are expensive. It has been a dream for years to open a not-for-profit riding school in Santa Barbara so that riders of all ages and backgrounds can learn about horses. They are so healing.
MN: What are current trends in the equestrian world?
RA: As the price tag of riding increases, horses have become a more and more elitist sport. There are many conversations ongoing in the amateur world about how to create places for people of all economic backgrounds to participate.
MN: What do you enjoy most about your work as a horse trainer?
RA: I have had many wonderful moments, but right now I enjoy the peace and serenity I find at our ranch. We have such an amazing group of people and horses. It is a pleasure to be there every day!
MN: What are your favorite things to do and places to go in Montecito?
RA: I love swimming in the ocean even in the winter. My brother and I jump in the cold water and swim at Butterfly beach year round in the evenings. It is invigorating and brings resilience. We sometimes see dolphins and seals. It is magical. I love Montecito. It has so much character and I love the privacy. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.
If you’d like to learn more about the “equine Shangri-La” Rebecca has lovingly created for horse and rider, visit rebeccaatwater.com.