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Saddle Up L.A. Raises Funds for The Life Group

by Winnie McCroy

EDGE Editor

Thursday June 26, 2014

On Saturday, July 12 in California's Griffith Park Mountains, riders will gather for the 9th Annual Saddle Up LA event, a horseback ride and country BBQ to raise funds for the AIDS service organization The Life Group L.A. to run their POZ Life Weekend Seminars. Think of it as an AIDS Walk -- only on horseback. And this year's honorary trail guide is Jai Rodriguez.

"We try to make it a full experience that can be inclusive on different levels," said Executive Director Sunnie Berger. "There is the ride aspect of the event that people register for, which gets them a horse, dinner at the BBQ, and their own fundraising page so they can ask their friends and family to support them by sponsoring them."

Berger, a cowgirl by nature, started the award-winning event almost a decade ago, when she helped found Life Group L.A. in 2005. She had proposed a similar idea to several different ASOs for whom she'd worked, and found that nobody gave it much attention. So when she started her own group, she thought to try it out.

She partnered with Rocken P Outfitters in Glendale, California, and organized a two and a half hour ride in Griffith Park, followed by a short drive to the nearby Pickwick Gardens banquet facility for the sit-down barbeque dinner.

"I have known the Perez family for decades, and when I approached them about this, they were very interested," said Berger. "You can register whether you have your own horse or not," as the stables have 75 horses for riders to use.

Riders take a trek through the park and its gardens, have a snack and water their horses, and are back by 7:30 p.m. for a gourmet dinner, featuring barbeque chicken, vegetables, mashed potatoes and all the ’fixins.’ DJ Rick Dominguez from Oil Can Harry’s spins the records, while Mike Hennessy serves as the emcee, as he has from the very start.

"It’s not a typical fundraiser; it’s not another gala," said Berger. "People get on the trail and get dirty, have something to eat, and shop the silent auction. People can buy tickets to just the barbeque, they can support us by riding and raising money, they can raise money and get a free ticket, or they can just buy a ticket. Registration is $125 and covers the horse and the dinner, and we ask riders to try and raise $400, but we don’t hold them responsible for covering it if they don’t, like some pledge events do. We are just very grateful for the participation."

The fundraiser worked from the very beginning, with L.A. locals enjoying a new way to help support charity, and horse lovers traveling from San Diego or Palm Springs with their mounts to be part of the event.

"I think the majority of the people who don’t have their own horses are part of the L.A. community and are supportive of the fundraising for the services available to people infected and affected with HIV," said Berger.

In the past, Berger and her crew have raised $75,000 for their programs. This year, they are hoping to raise $100,000, and have already secured $30,000 of that goal.

At The Life Group L.A., these funds are used to host weekend seminars to help people make informed choices about their healthcare and well-being. Presenters talk about an array of issues, from insurance and public benefits to drug options, sex and intimacy, disclosure, music, art, yoga and other things relative to people living with HIV.

"We try and inspire and empower people to live long and healthy lives," said Berger. "It is one of the only HIV programs that has no demographic boundaries. We welcome gays, straights, men, women, HIV-positive or not, all to come together with the combined consciousness of healing."

So saddle up and help raise funds for Life Group L.A.’s POZ Life Weekend Seminars. Berger said that putting everyone on horseback puts everyone on the same playing field, and swears that more longtime friendships have been made at this event than she can count.

For more information or to support Saddle Up L.A., visit

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.