RSF Association looking for answers in Horsepark closure

The Del Mar Horsepark will suspend shows and boarding in 2021.
(K.C. Alfred)

The Rancho Santa Fe Association is taking an active role in speaking out against the closure of the Del Mar Horsepark and the impact it will have on the community.

On Jan. 7, the Rancho Santa Fe Association board authorized Manager Christy Whalen to draft a letter to the 22nd District Agricultural Association Board of Directors, as well as to all local state elected officials, demanding transparency on what the plans are for the future of the 65-acre property adjacent to Rancho Santa Fe.

The equestrian community has risen up against the closure—a “Save Del Mar Horsepark” petition has gathered over 10,000 signatures and those who oppose the decision plan to address the 22nd District Agricultural Association Board of Directors at their Jan. 12 meeting (after press time for this issue).

The Del Mar Fairgrounds made the announcement that horse boarding and shows would be suspended in December, catching many people by surprise. According to fairgrounds officials, the suspension allows the 22nd District Agricultural Association board to evaluate the investment needed to meet San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board requirements to address groundwater pollution. The investment is not possible as the fairgrounds is currently facing significant financial challenges due to the pandemic which has forced the cancellation of its revenue-generating events.

With the announcement, over 35 shows scheduled for the horsepark in 2021 were canceled and horse boarders at the park were given through March to vacate. One of the last remaining public riding schools, which has operated for the last 26 years, will also be evicted. According to the fairgrounds officials, they will attempt to move horse shows to the fairgrounds, however, the park has served as a site for shows during the summer months when the fairgrounds is not available due to hosting racing meets and the fair.

After hearing about the impending changes, Rancho Santa Fe resident Rochelle Putnam wrote a letter to the Association board urging them to get involved and prompting the Jan. 7 agenda item.

“There was no public notice of this decision and it appears to have been made with little or no transparency,” said Putnam, a 14-year resident and former Association board member who has served on several committees including the trails committee for the last 12 years.

“It’s a very important issue for us in the Ranch,” Putnam said. “Rancho Santa Fe is the largest and most prominent equestrian community in Southern California period. What makes us unique, unlike all the golf communities around us, is our equestrian heritage, we have an amazing trail system with over 50 miles of trails and incredible equestrian estates here in the Covenant.”

Putnam said “extensive” infrastructure exists to support the local horse community including world-class equestrian hospitals, Del Mar Racetrack, Mary’s Tack and Feed and a large number of barns and trainers, including the Association-owned Osuna Ranch and Rancho Riding Club. The Covenant’s training barns have many children, adult amateurs and professional riders that show at Horsepark every year.

“The closure at Horsepark will create a significant gap in local infrastructure,” Putnam said. “It’s critical that we make every effort to preserve and maintain the rural character of our community and horses are part of that character.”

The board was unanimous in supporting Putnam’s call to action.