Face of Malibu: Gina Merz-McCloskey

Face of Malibu: Gina Merz-McCloskey

As a life-long equestrian, Gina Merz-McCloskey can’t remember the first time she was ever on a horse. It was certainly as a baby, since she was born and raised at Rancho Sea Air, the horse property her father bought for merely hundreds of dollars 75 years ago.

Carrying on the family tradition of teaching children English riding, Merz-McCloskey operates the ranch and summer camp. She has even taught third generation riders, some whose grandparents were introduced to horsemanship by her legendary father, Egon Merz. It was Merz who taught Elizabeth Taylor for “National Velvet” as well as many other Hollywood celebrities, including Ronald Reagan. 


Tell us a little about yourself. 

I’ve lived in Malibu my whole life and have been teaching horsemanship for 30 years. My specialty is teaching children in English style. Rancho Sea Air also does equine therapy for children with special needs and war vets. I’m on Malibu’s trail committee and active with Trancas Riders and Ropers that I did as a kid.


Married? Children? 

I’ve been married for 27 years and have one son, Alec, who is 23.


Where did you go to school? 

I went to Webster Elementary until the school bus no longer went there and then switched to Juan Cabrillo where I used to bring my baby goats since we had them at the ranch. I then went to Malibu Park Junior High and Carden on Las Flores. I got a B.S. in recreation education at Pepperdine with an equestrian emphasis.


Tell me about your love of horses. 

Horses are very healing, sensitive and concerned. They’ve been helping mankind from the beginning. They’re used as therapy. They know how you’re feeling. Riding a horse is freedom. For me and my brother, it’s in our blood. Our mom and dad were excellent equestrians.


What is your mission at Rancho Sea Air? 

I like to give kids a good foundation and make them feel comfortable and safe on and off a horse. I connect kids with horses. I’m helping the kids learn to ride the horses, but the horses are really teaching the kids — teaching the riders.


Tell us about your first horse, and why you love to ride. 

Her name was Chips. It’s such a joy to be on a horse. 


What do you love about working with children? 

They have such free spirits and they’re usually fearless. The growth and self-confidence I see is so fulfilling to me — and the smiles on their faces, it just says it all. They love it. To teach is to touch a life forever. So I hope I’m creating wonderful memories for them through horses.


What’s your motto? 

Think positive. I got that from my dad who was always positive and thinking forward.


Can you share some fun facts about you and your family? 

The famous movie director King Vidor was my grandfather. Vidor transitioned from silents to talkies, founded the Director’s Guild of America and worked with the biggest stars in Hollywood. 

My first job out of high school in 1975 was opening John’s Garden with John Musante.


What’s your favorite thing about Malibu? 

My favorite thing about Malibu is the natural, healthy and quiet lifestyle with the oceans and mountains and hiking. I also love paddle boarding.


If you could change one thing in Malibu what would it be and why? 

Change? There’s always going to be progress. You can’t stop it. A lot of people want to enjoy Malibu. The park service has its hands full. With more people hiking on the trails, you see a lot of trash that wasn’t here years ago. You wish people would be more considerate of the beautiful environment.  


What do you miss about the old Malibu? 

Being able to ride my horse all the way to the beach over Point Dume and tie him up at the hitching post at Mayfair Market. Walking down to Paradise Cove pier … all these things we can’t do anymore. When I was young, we would pasture the horses on fields around us. We would give horses to our neighbors and their kids. I could ride anywhere. It’s changed a lot.


How was it having your portrait painted by Johanna Spinks? 

It was a great experience having my portrait done. She’s wonderful. I felt honored to be nominated. It was very special. She was so nice and made me feel comfortable.