“Retirement” has done little to diminish Larry Langer’s long-standing impact on horse sports. His 50-year-plus career encompasses international roles as competition manager of the 1992 World Cup Jumping Finals in Del Mar and the 1996 Olympic show jumping in Atlanta.
In addition to Larry’s international roles, he guided Langer Equestrian Group to national prominence as a competition management company, with its LA National long regarded as one of the top shows at the end of the year. Larry also guided and influenced the hunter/jumper sport through his various leadership roles in both the USEF and the USHJA.
Larry prepared for his own success and the continuation of LEG by working closely with his wife, Marnye, over a 20-year-peirod. In 2017, he quietly handed the reins of LEG and its various companies to Marnye and focused his attention on HDHP.
In the fall of 2017, at 76, Larry began pursuing his unusual form of retirement. He thought he “could best stay out of everybody at LEG’s way” by becoming Managing Director of the Hansen Dam Horse Park, in which the Langers had just taken an ownership interest. Along with rehabbing the physical structures and amenities of a run-down property, Langer had the challenge of rebuilding its reputation as a desirable place for trainers, their clients and, most of all, their horses.
Trainer Stephanie Haney recalls many years ago thinking that “If I had to move my business to Hansen Dam, I would have retired.” Yet, she moved her nationally successful training barn to the 38-acre property in Lake View Terrace about two years after Langer took over. “A lot of people told me I was a little crazy.”
Nobody says that anymore. “He has taken a bare bones place and made it beautiful,” reports the owner of Open Arms Farm. Hundreds of tree and flower plantings are the aesthetic icing on a cake made of things horseman care most about: good footing, attentive maintenance and thoughtful and fair management practices. “Larry doesn’t care if a trainer has 10 horses going back east to the Indoors circuit, or 10 Pony Club horses,” Haney explains. “He treats everybody the same. That’s important and I think it’s hard to do.
“Larry’s experience really comes into play,” Haney continues. “Trainers can get territorial over their place. I think we have to in some respects. Larry has created an environment where we can run our businesses and not feel like we have someone ‘in our business.’ Yet, he drives around checking on everything. It’s nice to have an owner who is around and not just sitting behind a computer somewhere. When I’m at Hansen Dam, I’ll see him at least three to four days a week.”
Avanti Equestrian’s Amy Hess was also initially reluctant to relocate her business to Hansen Dam. She acknowledges being a tough tenant because “my horses come first.” The best in footing, bedding and all other amenities that impact their well-being are priorities on which she won’t compromise. Plus, she’d managed her own facilities and knew the challenges involved.
“I had not been fond of the facility, and I was honest with Larry about my reservations,” Hess recalls. “I have been very impressed with what Larry has done. He is trying to make the necessary improvements and whenever I’ve asked for something, he gets right on it. I initially told my clients to give Hansen Dam the benefit of the doubt and they have been happy and pleasantly surprised.”
An “Actual Horseman”
Successfully managing the Sleepy Hollow Riding School in Chatsworth, then the Pacific Horse Center (now the Brookside Equestrian Park), in the Sacramento area were the initial successes in Langer’s equestrian facility career. (Although he is a lifelong horseman, Langer began his professional life as an engineer.) “I was told the other day, by two trainers separately, how gratifying it is to base their business at a place being run by an actual ‘horseman’ — someone who actually understands the business.”
Horses appear to agree with the praise for Langer’s horsemanship. Especially when they’re enjoying hand-grazes on the many stretches of grass throughout the property.
Langer’s breadth of knowledge, experience and perspectives enable a multi-faceted view on challenges faced by resident trainers, horse owners, show managers and exhibitors. His experience with effective and ineffective stable management approaches informs his decisions without stifling consideration of new ideas.
When asking for the facility’s largest arena and a Eurociser, Haney got responses from Langer that satisfied her priorities while becoming win-wins for her clients and the facility. The Eurociser, for example, was purchased and installed by Hansen Dam Horse Park and made available to Haney, who manages its facility-wide use. The big arena request was met with the proviso that it be shared occasionally with others and sometimes used as a warm-up area for shows. For Haney, the convenience of having well-run competitions at her home stable balanced the prospect of needing to share the space a few weekends of the year. Plus, it’s a big enough arena to ensure constructive schooling and lessons even when only using half of it.
Fairness and professionalism are Langer watchwords. “It’s amazing to me to know that, at some other stables, there is a footprint that exists where trainers are at each other’s throats all the time,” Langer explains. “That does not happen here. I expect professional trainers to be professional trainers. The idea of soliciting somebody else’s client doesn’t happen here because it’s unprofessional.”
Careful screening of prospective trainers and a clear statement of expectations has naturally selected Hansen Dam’s roster of professionals.
The Hansen Dam Riding School is another major asset for the facility. The Langers created it in 2015, two years before taking over the facility. The separate business is thriving as an affordable entry point to the sport and a pipeline for new training clients and lifelong horse people.
An Excellent Model
Insisting that all boarders’ horses be under the supervision of a training program has been critical to Hansen Dam’s success, Langer asserts. “We have 195 horses here and without that policy, I would be dealing individually with all 195 owners.” When an individual calls about boarding, and there are openings, Langer’s team refers them to the trainers on Hansen Dam’s website.
“We don’t recommend one trainer over another, and with 11 trainers, plus the Hansen Dam Riding School as a 12th, people interested in moving their horse to or riding at HDHP can find a program that’s a good fit.” The quality horsemanship and competitive success of all those trainer options speaks to the quality of their base. “We just had four or five trainers return from top-rated shows and do very well,” Langer says. “I think that reflects the great service Hansen Dam is providing to the sport in having a place where trainers can be so comfortable and happy and give their clients the best of their coaching and training skills.”
Being a stickler about accounts receivable has helped maintain cash flow required for all aspects of Langer’s plan. Clear and enforced policies regarding fees and, worst case, eviction over late board payments, help keep things on track. “I’d rather have an empty stall than an owner who is not paying the horse’s bill.”
On his regular golf cart cruises of the property’s many arenas, the sight of many horses with professionals and clients soaring over jumps from cross rails to 1.40M courses provides Langer gratifying evidence of the property’s ability to help ambitious riders and high-quality horses pursue their goals. That’s true at all levels and in several disciplines including hunter/jumper, dressage and western.
Events Are On
Even successfully run facilities expect boarding to be a break-even proposition revenue-wise. The competitions and special events Hansen Dam attracts contribute to a strong bottom line. Hansen Dam has achieved solvency even though a significant portion of Langer’s tenure overlapped with the pandemic’s no-event mandate.
Langer’s initial vision for HDHP included a full and diverse event schedule. The property’s substantial size and design enable staging of wide-ranging activities without imposing on boarders’ routines. From horsemanship clinics to quinceanera parties, baptisms, birthday parties and weddings, the venue has proved itself a successful staging ground.
The equestrian competition calendar is filling fast. Top-class hunter/jumper shows managed by West Palms Events join with Interscholastic Equestrian League and Equestrian Trails, Inc. Corral 101 events. And Hispanic cultural events spice up the schedule throughout the year.
Hansen Dam’s ability to host such events enhances its position as a hub of equestrian activity in the West. There’s even access to extensive trail networks throughout the Hansen Dam Recreational Park that surrounds the Horse Park. Its role as an Emergency Evacuation Center for Los Angeles County Animal Control amplifies Hansen Dam Horse Park’s importance to the community.
HDHP’s remarkable success comes in an era of diminishing opportunities to keep and enjoy horses in urban areas. That makes Langer’s “retirement” even more of a boon to the entire Southern California equestrian community.
More info: Hansen Dam Horse Park
Feature photo: Kristin Lee Photography