Malibu Creek Bubbles Up in Agoura

By September 7, 2012
Hunter rider in the arena at Malibu Creek Equestrian Center.

The Malibu Creek Equestrian Center will cater to hunters, jumpers, eventers and dressage. (Photo by Paula Parisi)

There’s a new presence on the West Valley horse scene, the Malibu Creek Equestrian Center, which in August opened under new management on the site formerly known as Pegasus.  That comes as welcome news to those who had heard the venue might be developed for non-equestrian use.

But owner Philip Atwell says he’s in it for the long haul, and has big plans for the property, which sprawls over 25 leafy acres beyond an elegant, gated entry on Triunfo Canyon Road, just off Kanan Dume in Agoura.

“Our goal is to be a premiere facility in this region, unmatched by anyone else. We have the grounds to do it. We have private arenas, a huge, shared grand prix arena and a covered arena, and we’ll be continuing to upgrade.”

Atwell―whose “day job” is directing films, music videos and TV shows―says Malibu Equestrian will remain a private training facility, with all horses in a program. “Trainers can feel free to take ownership of their space and their arenas,” he explains.

Philip Atwell poses with a horse at his barn.

Director Philp Atwell has a vision for Malibu Creek Equestrian Center.

While the facility can house up to 100 horses, Atwell says he expects to top out at about 80, “because we don’t want to feel crowded.” The plan is for each trainer to have their own barn, tack room, office and arena.

So far, two trainers have moved in, and there is room for two or three more. “The footing is nice and I like having my own space, which allows me to create a little individualism for my business,” says Brian Flanagan, whose Cloverfield Farm eventing outfit had been based in Malibu.

Tommi Clark of Griffith Park Farms is expanding her existing hunter-jumper operation at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center by adding a second location at Malibu Creek, catering to clients that had been commuting from the West Valley.

“There are some clients that like being at LAEC, because they live near Burbank, or maybe they don’t want to travel to shows,” Clark says, adding, “We’re very happy there, so this is a growth opportunity for us―a chance to refresh.” Clark explains that having her own private training ring is also “a big deal, because for the hunter clients, we can now set out logs and the type of obstacles they’ll encounter in the show ring.”

For Flanagan, “the decision was made mostly on the indoor arena. In Malibu in the winter, we get more wet days than dry days, so the ability to ride on rainy days and not have to cancel lessons is a big advantage.”

As with Clark, Flanagan says geography was a factor, since he has clients on both sides of the canyon. “We’re three miles from the 101 Freeway, seven miles from the Pacific Coast Highway and about 20 minutes from Hollywood, so it’s well-situated,” Atwell says.

Atwell cites a nicely situated dressage berth―”with an arena just a few steps from the barn”―awaiting a trainer.

In anticipation of a full house, he is busy landscaping. Discussing his plans, he sounds as excited as his new tenants, who talk excitedly about  things like fountains and an Equicizer. “Whatever people left at home, they’ve left behind. I want them to feel they’re in an environment of total enjoyment, that they’re really glad to be here, and don’t want to leave,” Atwell says, segueing into a discussion about planting grass.

Main arena at Malibu Creek Equestrian Center.

The main arena at Malibu Creek Equestrian Center, nestled in the hills of Agoura. (Photo by Paula Parisi)

To manage the facility Atwell has hired Karen Adam,  formerly of the Bell Canyon Equestrian Center, but he intends to stay involved. “I’m excited about being here because Philip is going to be a hands-on owner, and he has a vision, which I appreciate because it fits nicely with how I’d like to grow my business,” Clark says.

Atwell began riding as an adult and bought his first horse in 1995 (he now owns two). He purchased the facility, then known as Pegasus, in 2004, maintaining the existing clientele for three years before allowing a third party to assume control. When that operation moved on earlier this year, Atwell decided that if he was going to keep the place he’d roll up his sleeves and get involved. “I’m a very visual person, really into aesthetics,” he says enthusiastically.

Another big plus, and something Atwell doesn’t have to work on, are the miles of scenic riding paths in the adjoining Malibu Creek State Park. “I have already explored the trails,” Flanagan says. “It’s really lovely, and good for the horses. It’s all very intense and competitive during the lessons and at shows. It’s nice for the horses to just hack and relax.” Flanagan plans to sometimes bring students on the trail as part of their lessons. Which seems to nicely sum up Atwell’s strategy for the Malibu Creek Equestrian Center: a facility that is practical, fun and beautiful for horse and rider.

Director Philip Atwell and actor Jet Li on the set of "War."

Philip Atwell and Jet Li on the set of "War." Atwell also directed the mind-boggling Tupak Shakur holographic performance seen at the Coachella Music Festival. (Photo courtesy Lionsgate)


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