When the Anaheim Equestrian Center first opened around 1970 next to the Santa Ana River, the 57 freeway and Angel Stadium were already nearby, but not much else was.
Originally built to house a retired Anaheim fire captain’s racehorse, what was then called Rancho Del Rio became a boarding stable and place for aspiring riders to learn English, Western or dressage skills or have equine therapy.
But the fortunes of the equestrian center have been declining since even before the Great Recession of the late 2000s winnowed out the ranks of those who could afford to board and feed a horse or pay for riding lessons – and now that a major entertainment-centric development is planned with the adjacent Honda Center at its heart, the stables’ fate is fixed: they’re set to close permanently at the end of 2021.
‘We were here before everything else,” said Jayne Jones, who rode at the center even before she and her husband bought the business in 1998.
But Jones has long thought a horse stable in the middle of increasingly urban Orange County was on borrowed time.
It’s been a struggle to keep up the place as the number of boarders has dwindled, she said, and “I really believe within a few years, with all the construction, even if we stayed we’d lose everybody.”
The 7-acre equestrian center includes several riding arenas named for Orange County’s canyons, a long, low barn with rows of largely empty stalls, a couple of broken-down old wooden wagons and a tack store.
It sits on land owned by the city of Anaheim and leased to a business venture of Anaheim Ducks owners Henry and Susan Samueli, who have an option to buy and plan to use it as additional parking for their new mixed use development.
OC Vibe will be a 115-acre complex surrounding the Honda Center that will include a 6,000-seat concert venue, restaurants and shops, public parks and plazas, offices and apartments. Plans are going through the city approval process, with a first phase expected to open in 2024.
The Samuelis made a deal with the city in 2018 to buy the Honda Center parking lots, to which they’ll add other nearby properties they’ve bought to make room for OC Vibe.
Because of a Southern California Edison easement and power lines that run over the equestrian property, “we’re somewhat limited in terms of how we could redevelop it,” said Matthew Hicks director of government relations for H & S Ventures, the Samuelis’ company.
“The thought is that parking will be at a premium once we start construction on the Honda Center parking lots,” and construction equipment staging could also be done on the equestrian property, he said.
Hoping to stay
Hicks said they wanted to give plenty of notice to riders, trainers and people who board their horses at the stables so they could plan for the closing. But some people are hoping they may not have to move on.
Judi Reiprecht, who has kept her two horses at the equestrian center for about five years, posted an online petition urging officials to take another look at the plans and see if there’s a way the riding facilities could remain. On Saturday, Aug. 15, about 1,800 people had signed on.
The new development focuses on sports and recreation, Reiprecht said, so why couldn’t riding be included? While the number of horses boarding at the stables has dwindled to about 50 (there’s capacity for about three times that many), Reiprecht said she believes a few improvements to the property and some better marketing could revive the business. She’s hoping to get the ear of the Samuelis to make her case.
“There’s not a lot of places for us to go in Orange County,” Reiprecht said. “We’re just asking for some kind of understanding.”
But others say the writing is on the wall. Cami Contreras, who offers an equine therapy program and also serves as resident caretaker at the stables, said she’s sad about the equestrian center’s closing – she competed in her first horse show there as a kid – but she understands.
People who need a place to board a horse or take lessons will have to drive farther, and it may be hard for the trainers to find new places to teach, Contreras said.
As the county has grown more populated and developed, many of the horses and public riding facilities have closed, she said, adding, “I started off in Santa Ana, and there’s condos sitting on the property I boarded at as a kid.”
Jones said she’ll miss the center too, but she’s been planning to retire for a few years and wants to spend more time trail riding with her horse.
“I am looking forward to riding off into the sunset,” she said.
Source: Orange County Register