The legacy of legendary horseman James Wyllie lives on – and SMC Community Ed’s Fundamentals of Horsemanship students are among the beneficiaries.

Janet Maruhashi and Lisa Marlowe with Billy.

Wyllie died March 16 in Agoura Hills at the age of 98, but he left an indelible imprint on California’s equestrian community as well as thousands of students he taught over a long and storied career. (Highlights of his fascinating life include working with Ronald Reagan’s Secret Service, qualifying horses for the Olympic Games, and teaching such celebrities as Nancy Sinatra among the 65,000 students he had.)

And his unique horsemanship and teaching philosophy continue under three of his closest devotees and friends at the James Wyllie Equestrian Education Center in the lovely Saddlerock Ranch in the hills above Malibu.

Saddlerock Ranch, where the James Wyllie Equestrian Education Center is located.

Longtime program director/coordinator Lynn Carr continues in her role as “stable godmother” to both horses and students, having ridden and worked side-by-side with Wyllie since the 1980s. Main instructor Janet Maruhashi rode with and worked as Wyllie’s assistant for three decades, having started as his student in 1983 in an SMC Community Ed class offered through Pepperdine University. And teaching assistant Lisa Marlowe rode and trained with Jim for almost 20 years, and says “he became a big, major force in my life.”

Between the three of them, they are at the center every day, offering classes three days a week, taking care of the three horses in their stalls, and handling various upkeep and administrative duties. Volunteers Sylvia Hohri and Ed Andrews, longtime students of Wyllie, help take care of the horses.

Students who take the Fundamentals of Horsemanship class learn the basics of horseback riding in a fun environment that combines classroom instruction, groundwork, and riding instruction in the ring and on the trail. Not only are the ring and Saddlerock Ranch trails beautiful, but also one of the trails leads to nearby Rocky Oaks State Park with its pond, picnic area and abundant wildlife such as deer.

Students on a trail ride in the nearby Rocky Oaks State Park.

But beyond technique and safety, students find out how to communicate intelligently with the horse while in the saddle. Indeed, Wyllie was not only a horse whisperer, but a horse philosopher and life coach, say his devotees, who are carrying on his unique approach to teaching horsemanship.

“Jim was such a creative educator and fascinating man,” Marlowe said. “He encouraged us all to remain curious and questioning; working with horses brings new ‘life lessons’ every day.”

James Wyllie with horse Brett.

Marlowe and Maruhashi love teaching and have enjoyed all their students, including those from SMC Community Ed.

“All the students are so different – they come from different occupations, ages and backgrounds,” Maruhashi said. “But they’ve all been lovely.”

The center has three horses – Billy, who the center owns, and Checkers and Sparky, who are leased. (Earlier this year, two of their horses died, the same year Wyllie died – Scout at the age of 30 and Eric, who lived to be the remarkable age of 42.)

“I think there can be a very strong spiritual bond with horses,” Marlowe said. “They bring us closer to nature, and we’re always trying to get that sixth sense. And horses teach us to live in the moment.”


  1. Marggy Wheeler says:

    In the late seventies I took a class called drawing and horsemanship. My mother Marge Lewi in those days, taught the drawing part of the class. Jim Wylie taught the horsemanship classes. The best, and almost only, horseback riding classes I ever got. My sisters taught me how to ride. But I will never forget Jim Wylie. He gave me a really frisky horse for some reason, and I loved that. I was only about thirteen years old. May he rest in peace with the horses.

    • Bruce Smith says:

      Hello Marggy Wheeler,

      How wonderful to hear from you! Jim Wylie did, indeed, leave a great legacy behind him. I will pass your message on to those who have carried on his legacy.

      Best wishes,

      G. Bruce Smith (on behalf of SMC Community Education)

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