Wet Blankets Make for Good Horses

Tony Alfieri

Glendale Rancho equestrian neighborhood is a rare patch of green between freeways and movie studios. Signal buttons tower above crosswalks to accommodate high riding locals. Hitching posts are as common as hedges in front yards. And children arrive to play dates on their mothers’ saddles.

“We don’t have an alarm clock,” says Danni Schultz, 36, an eight-year resident. Her gleaming Arabian stallion, Maverick, resides in a cozy backyard corral a stride or two from her bedroom. “Every day at 7a.m. he’s up and whinnying at the window.”

An actor by trade, Schultz’s, chic sunglasses and glamorous physique might say urban princess, but her broken-in Justin riding boots and sandy jeans scream country girl all the way. Known as Danielle Rayne professionally, her fans might not know the “other Danni.” Her stuntman husband, Tom, 38, assures that despite the brick compounds and gabled estates that line the neighborhood’s main avenue a blue-collar ethic exists here, too.

“We sacrifice a lot of space to have the horse with us,” he says, opening a storage shed crammed with saddles, horse blankets, laundry detergent, and the family washer-dryer. “We sacrifice space for quality of life.”

His wife adds, “We’re zoned for 1.5 horses.” The city permits one horse per 3,000 square feet. The Schultz’s lot – affectionately dubbed “Triple-Two Ranch” – is 5,500 square feet.

“We’re still looking for the other half-a-horse.

The full horse they do have didn’t always afford such comfort. Before the Schultz family, Maverick was wrangled in the divorce of his previous owners. When the squabbling couple couldn’t settle on who would get him, they decided neither would. Meanwhile, Maverick paced in a corral, under-trained, wary, and un-ridden.

At the same time, the Schultzes were looking for a horse to replace Doc Holliday, a veteran of the Wild Wild West show and a notorious “rearer.” Upon meeting Maverick, Danni felt an instant connection. “I thought, ‘I have no business training a horse this green,” she recalls, “but I’ve got to have this horse’.”

Within minutes the skittish animal prone to hiding in the shadows and jumping at the sound of grooming clippers was gently plucking carrots from Schultz’s palm and nuzzling her chest. The wife of the couple wanted a companion for Maverick, a “trail buddy” as Schultz puts it. Apparently, she found her match; she sold the horse to Schultz in spite of more lucrative offers.

This wasn’t Schultz’s first horse rescue. When she was ten, after years of begging her father, she began riding lessons in her hometown of Ballwin, Missouri near St. Louis. As a teen, her enthusiasm earned her a job at the stable where she befriended an aging yet stout mare named Lass. “Her owner moved to Chicago and was not riding it,” says Schultz, so she volunteered to train the neglected horse.

Schultz rode Lass into prime shape, enough to compete in a combined event where Lass literally hurtled expectations. Soon after, on Thanksgiving, Lass died of severe horse colic. “When horses get a kind of indigestion they can’t throw up,” Schultz laments. The surgery to correct the condition, a routine procedure now, was not available then.
“I was heartbroken.”

Within days of her loss, an encouraging drama teacher cast Schultz as the lead in her high school play. Schultz swallowed her grief and transferred her passion from the trail to the stage.

Her love for horse riding never died over the years, but it wasn’t until she settled in Rancho Glendale that she was able to devote herself to it again. Schultz estimates she rides Maverick six times a week, far more than if she commuted to a boarding ranch to lure him out for a fleeting jog.

“There are certain things you just can’t do in other places,” Schultz says. She couldn’t “brush him for hours and hours” or “gallop to his hearts content.” And certainly, they couldn’t watch movies together.

“Maverick can look right through the window and watch,” she giggles. During a viewing of the animated horse film Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron with five-year-old son, Jack, “there was a scene where the horses were racing and Maverick whinnied right along with them.”

Nancy Sherwood, a lifelong Glendale Rancho resident and an admitted “admirer” of Schultz, will testify to the effort Schultz put in with Maverick and how it built trust and expectations of each other that made him “a better and better and better horse.”

“And cuter, too,” she chuckles.

Sherwood remembers an event on Hollywood Boulevard they worked together. “I was on a chariot and [Schultz] was on Maverick,” she says with a hint of astonishment. “It was not easy with the buses and cars whizzing by, and I was sweating bullets thinking about everything that could go wrong, but she was so cool and calm. And that’s all that mattered. She takes care of him and he takes care of her.”

Schultz and Maverick’s rides are typically more serene; a casual trot around the neighborhood beneath the sycamores or a stroll along the bridal trail where Tom asked Danni to marry him. Remarkably, if one balances on their tiptoes, the proposal site is visible from their back porch.

“I think it’s a popular spot for people to propose marriage,” Schultz says pointing to a winding ridge peppered with brush on the skyline. “I ride there about twice a week and everyday there’s a heart drawn in the dirt. Everyday.”

At the end of a ride, Schultz removes Maverick’s saddle for him and sends him off with a gentle pat to snicker on hay in his corral. “There’s a saying: Wet blankets make for good horses,” Schultz says. The logic is that an active horse is a healthy horse and a healthy horse is a happy horse.

She offers Maverick’s blanket for inspection. Indeed it is wet.