How the Arabian Horse is Getting Vulnerable Girls out of Inner-City Los Angeles


By Caitlin Pigott

What is Taking the Reins? 


“Taking the Reins has taught me to adapt and take on things that might be challenging,” active Taking the Reins member Kaeli said. “The horses and staff push me in a way I am grateful for.”

Taking the Reins Student, Junior Board President and Youth Judging Team member Kaeli with Taking the Reins horse “Gunner”.

Testaments like Kaeli’s are bountiful from the students who participate in Taking the Reins (TTR) programming. This little haven in the heart of Los Angeles serves as a safe place for inner-city girls to learn confidence and test their capabilities through the power of horses. Taking the Reins serves girls ages eight – 18 with various programming. In addition to their extensive equine program, girls also tend to an active garden, learn to make healthy meals with the food they grow, and receive help with education goals like applying to college.


Celebrating 25 years in 2023, this program has grown to serve girls in ways that were even beyond the founders’ dreams. Staff, volunteers, and horses have helped over 5,000 girls since 1998. Although Taking the Reins has evolved its services, the core of what they do remains true. Everything done at 4004 Verdant St, Los Angeles, California, is for the love of horses and the love they return to us. More on the history of Taking the Reins can be found here.

Executive Director, Jane Haven, and active Western Pleasure competitor Brandi Burroughs attend Taking the Reins’ Junior Board Career Fair with her K-9 unit.

Taking the Reins was established so that girls who would otherwise not have horses in their lives because of financial shortcomings and other reasons could have the chance to experience the connection of horses and humans. Horses have restorative, motivating, and inspiring qualities, making them great companions for girls like Kaeli and the 300 others TTR serves annually.

Jane Haven has been the executive director of Taking the Reins for ten years. As a second-generation Arabian Horse owner and breeder, she naturally brought her network of friends and community members into this mission. Six of the horses at Taking the Reins are Arabians and Half-Arabians. Most of them are past competition horses who have been recognized at the most prestigious of competitions, like the upcoming U.S. Nationals.

Haven is very grateful for how the Arabian horse community has shown up for Taking the Reins. Furthermore, she feels the blueprint they have created at TTR can answer some significant issues in the breed, like engaging more grassroots participation. Haven has helped lead the organization and its people, at all levels, to become very involved in the Arabian horse community.

Taking the Reins in Arabian Horse Association Programming


A topical and exciting thing for four TTR students is that they are participating in the 2023 national event for youth judging and hippology during the U.S. Nationals Championships. They will be led by Liz Aulestia, Equine Program manager for Taking the Reins, and lifelong equestrian, who has earned many national titles with her Arabian horses. 


The four TTR students who qualified on the Arabian Horse Association San Fernando Valley (AHASFV) team are Lacey, Kaeli, Sally, and Tai. The girls had to compete in multiple events throughout the winter and spring of 2023 to earn their spot on the team. They were tested on their judging decisions and verbal reasons given for those decisions. This goal of competing on the national stage took the girls and their instructors to California Polytech University, San Luis Obispo, for a weekend. You can read more about that journey here. In Tulsa, girls will be judged as a group and individually. In addition to their youth judging journey, these dedicated teens will participate in the hippology contests. 

Taking the Reins’ students have an impressive track record in these local, regional, and national competitions. Over the last seven years, TTR has invited girls to Youth and U.S. Nationals. They have earned reserve champion and national champion spots in the hippology division and many top ten awards in judging.


“Having competed on the same team in my youth, I know firsthand the hard work and dedication that goes into preparing for such a competition,” Danielle Garcia, TTR alum and youth judging coach, shared. “I am honored to watch them grow and learn personally and as horsewomen.”

The Youth Judging team at Silver Star Training for their national qualifier.
Danielle Garcia (far right) during her time doing youth judging with Taking the Reins.

Showing up to large competitions like U.S. Nationals is one of many ways that Taking the Reins takes advantage of the Arabian Horse Association programs and benefits. Haven shares that the nonprofit financially supports any girl who wants a membership at her local Arabian Horse Association Club. Being in Southern California also means that they have access to some exciting events and barns.


The girls are often volunteers at local shows like the Region Two championships. They also travel to the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show, where they can watch impressive competitions and tour facilities like Burkman Centre.

Taking the Reins in Arabian Horse Association Leadership


The experiences Taking the Reins girls get, particularly with the Arabian horses in their care, have led them to pursue leadership roles within the AHA community. Four students have served on the Arabian Horse Youth Association national board, including Sally, who currently serves as the Vice President of AHYA and attended 2023 Youth Convention in Denver. Two TTR staff members currently serve on the Region 2 Board as Youth Director and Delegate, and another employee is the Vice President of the San Fernando Valley club.


“Getting our girls involved in leadership roles inside and outside our organization is something I am proud of,” Haven said. “We encourage them to be active participants. I have served in many leadership roles within my local Clubs and at the national level, so I know the impact you can have when you make the effort.”

Sally attending the AHA convention during March 2023.

The Arabian Horse Community Giving Back to TTR 


The Arabian horse community has generously returned the girls’ investment. Several girls have received educational scholarships from the Region Two Arabian Horse Association. One of the most exciting things that TTR could do within AHA was be the charity of choice for the Arabian horse team in the 2021 Rose Parade. TTR students walked beside the horses and riders through the streets of Pasadena – raising awareness for the Taking the Reins mission. 


In addition to the financial donations, members of the Arabian horse community are giving back to the organization in other ways. Over the years, many fellow families and competitors have shared their horses with the organization. (Cindy Beck, Cynthia Burkman, Cal Poly Pomona, Kayli Fortun, Kim Gouch, Jane and Liz Haven, Nancy Harvey, Carol Hastings, Nedra Johnson, Karen and Kathy McClay, Alison and Caitlin Pigott, Anna Redman, along with the Schwanz and Van Devander families.)


Professionals in the community also donate their time and properties in significant ways. Tammy Burkman, Dana Geatty, and Dusty Morgan have all volunteered their time as coaches for the show team. A few months ago, Dana Geatty hosted a judging clinic for the girls to qualify to attend U.S. Nationals for youth judging. At the same event, Mark Stinson provided feedback on the girls’ judging decisions. More on that event can be found here.

Taking the Reins youth judging team at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Ideas Worth Repeating


Taking the Reins has achieved a lot of things in our 25 years, but something I am proud of is how we have integrated these girls into the Arabian Horse community,” Haven shared. “Being a part of this industry personally, I know the benefits and resources available. It was important for me to share that with Taking the Reins; however, at the same time, I want the girls to understand that you get out of something what you put into it. That is why we ensure they do things like volunteer in addition to applying for scholarships.


This organization has brought a lot of young girls from underserved urban communities of Los Angeles into the Arabian horse industry. These girls might not be the typical individuals to participate in the community. But, with Taking the Reins’ help, they can enjoy Arabian horses in a meaningful, impactful, life-changing way. Some graduates of TTR have become horse owners and pursued careers in the equine industry.

Haven’s most significant advice is to get people in your barn doors and let the horses do the rest. Young people will be motivated by their love of the Arabian horse. And, it is the responsibility of people in the industry with the means to give, to follow the Taking the Reins founders’ lead to share their horses and resources in ways they can.


To make Taking the Reins your charity of choice or get involved in the mission, please visit Taking The Reins.