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Coastkeepers Shuts Down FEI level A Shows

So this has been a tad traumatic for the Orange County , Southern California Hunter/jumper community, with huge repercussions.

Both weeks of A rated horse shows including the FEI week were moved to the Los Angeles Equestrian Center more than an hour north. Our barn scratched and somehow we got entries in under the wire for Del Mar in July, which sold out in less than 4 hours (!)


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Sounds like they had ample time to comply with the terms that were set in the original lawsuit. If they are “no where near” compliance after two extensions of the original deadline, I think the only one to blame is the Equestrian Center.

Though - California has historically put untenable requirements on things like this. I’m curious if that’s the case here. It sounds like they were making progress on the easier line items, but didn’t make any progress on the big one. I can’t even imagine what kind of water retention is needed to retain a 25-year, 24-hour storm - and I’m guessing they may not have the land (not to mention the money) to effectively do it. And then - what do you do with all that water?

Curious - why didn’t the Equestrian Park immediately switch to landfilling all manure as a potential solution (though also $$$)? Or did they?


I would assume it involves underground storage, lots of it.

Then the water is slowly discharged into the storm water system with out causing a burden.


So they tried to fight it in court and lost, since right now horse facilities in California are classified as feed lots like dairy or cattle, even though the manure is managed completely differently and trucked off site…

Other stables targeted by Coastkeepers have put in on site composting facilities or in some cases have shown that the horses are not polluting the creeks - upstream housing developments or roads are.

Press release from the Ridland group … as in Robert Ridland who coaches Team USA .

I do have to say this was probably a great thing for the Los Angeles Equestrian Center.


To make everything even more fun, the deep dive on the founder of the OC Coastkeepers gets really juicy, really fast.


The organization is known as a front for developers to scare horse facilities into selling their land… which if one really cared about the environment and wildlife and clean water, not sure how paving over horse facilities furthers those goals…


were these events attracting more than 500 horses? As more than 500 horses is what is considered a large concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) which is defined as an animal feeding facility

Coastkeepers used the federal clean water requirements of a CAFO as the primary bases for their legation


I guess when your target protection is waterways, you don’t care about disturbing a boatload of native ground. I wonder if the people protecting that would then fight about the storage.

No situation is a “win” for everyone.

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Yes, this is the old Oaks facility in San Juan Capistrano which has hosted World Cup qualifiers, Young Riders etc and has shows with over 1,000 horses.

I mean that is a lot of manure. It’s just not sitting there and washing into the creek the way a dairy or beef cattle feed lot would, and there’s no manure lagoon. Horse shows don’t even run when it rains, there’s only one covered arena (the A shows require usually at least 3 or 4 hunter rings and 3 jumper rings).


Are they landfilling ALL of it? With that many horses, I don’t see another option but maybe there’s piles in the back somewhere?

I don’t know that they are a front for developers but I work in the field and Coastkeepers really has it out for horse properties. I’ve read some questionable statements from them and followed cases where landowners showed they were not the source of pollution as stated above.

On a larger basis: a lot of orgs right now are trying to essentially stop all recreational use of coastal properties that is not limited to walking on designated trails. While there are areas that need that kind of protection I strongly disagree with it on a wholesale basis for a variety of reasons, one of which is that it’s setting up an us vs them fight where all of us the little people will lose, but most of all because if people aren’t out there on the landscape and don’t feel it’s theirs then they won’t learn to love and protect it.


Very sorry to hear about the shut down. The h/j industry is quite large in Southern California, and this will cost local businesses millions in lost sales revenue.
I hope, at some point, some of the shows can be relocated to the Del Mar Fairgrounds, instead of HITS Del Mar Horsepark. The fairground facilities - the permanent shed row barns, large stalls, rings, indoor arena, seating, VIP area - are superior to Horsepark.

Perhaps COTH will do an article on the shut down. They often cover Wellington show ground problems and lawsuits, so a story about a large West Coast facility/show calendar affecting h/j world would be appreciated.


This sounds pretty simple - an upstream BOD sample and a downstream BOD sample. Do it the first big rain after a big show.


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The problem is, it only rains October (if we’re lucky) through May (if we’re lucky); and I’m in NorCal. Even less down south. No rain throughout the summer, when there are shows.

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So test it when it rains, when it hasn’t rained. Test it. Prove it.

“The CD required the owner and operators to construct infrastructure to retain a 25-year, 24-hour storm, as required by law, or cease large equestrian operations at the venue by April 15, 2024.”

This actually sounds like weather events we’ve experienced here in the last few years, atmospheric rivers and Hurricane Hilary, for example.

Is this also a boarding facility, or just showgrounds?

So I believe they did. It was the houses upstream polluting the creek.

I will see if I can find the text of the lawsuit.

I found this.



Couldn’t get past the paywall.

Thanks @Bristol_Bay, I forgot about the paywall on the OC Register. Here’s the text of the article:

Coastkeeper says no more extensions for addressing water quality issues at South County riding park

•	Annika Bahnsen
•	PUBLISHED: May 17, 2024 at 11:49 a.m. | UPDATED: May 18, 2024 at 6:03 p.m.
•	Categories: Environment, Local News, News

Susie Karlshoej rides Duke, left, and Devan Brown rides Princess Blue Z during a media lunch for the upcoming Longines Nations Cup at Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park in San Juan Capistrano, CA, on Monday, April 24, 2023. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

All equestrian operations have been suspended at the Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park after its operators did not complete a project to address water quality issues by a settlement’s deadline.

In 2017, the nonprofit Orange County Coastkeeper sued San Juan Capistrano and the Ridland Group, which operates the riding park, alleging Clean Water Act violations from horse-washing water discharge that contained feces, soap and urine.

As part of a settlement agreement, the city took on nearly $8 million in necessary improvements to prevent contaminated water from running off into nearby San Juan Creek. But the Ridland Group, which runs equestrian events and operations at the riding park, did not put in a storm drain before the settlement’s April 15 deadline, according to San Juan Capistrano officials.

The San Juan Creek, located right next to the riding park along its western border, runs directly into Doheny State Beach. The creek is an “important waterway for aquatic habitat,” said Coastkeeper spokesperson Matt Sylvester.

The 40-acre riding park has hosted many nationally recognized tournaments and events, including the longtime Rancho Mission Viejo Rodeo and Olympic equestrian team trials and other team events. With a large, manicured grass field, the riding park is conducive for equestrian competitions and jumping contests.
While not a stabling facility, the riding park does house some horses during events.

The settlement agreement required three water quality projects to be completed, said City Manager Ben Siegel: the removal of a pedestrian bridge over the San Juan Creek, restoration of the San Juan Creek bank and the completion of a water quality improvement system that would prevent stormwater runoff from entering the creek.

San Juan Capistrano removed the bridge and completed the restoration of the creek bank, Siegel said, and a 2023 lease agreement between the city and the Ridland Group stipulated that the water quality improvement project was solely in the hands of the Ridland Group, he said. The lease also allows for an up to six-month rent abatement period during the construction of the improvements.

Since 2017, Coastkeeper has agreed to two extensions for the riding park’s operators to complete the storm drain, according to a recent press release. But Coastkeeper not this time when the April 15 deadline came and went — meaning equestrian events came to a halt and the park cannot house more than 25 horses.

“We have demonstrated a willingness to work with and support both parties to address the riding park’s water quality issues,” Coastkeeper President Garry Brown said. “However, we are six years and two extensions out, and full compliance is not even near. The current circumstance is unacceptable and a threat to our waters.”
“The San Juan Creek is currently listed by the state of California as ‘impaired’ due to high levels of bacteria, phosphorus and nitrogen — the same pollutants associated with the riding park,” Sylvester said.
The Ridland Group is in the process of advancing plans for the water quality project, Siegel said. Those plans would need to be approved by the city and Coastkeeper and receive regulatory approval from the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, the water district and environmental clearance before construction of a storm drain could begin, he said.

Robert Ridland, who, through his group, has operated the riding park since 1998, did not respond to requests for comment.
Ridland has been the U.S. Olympic show jumping coach since 2013 and was inducted into the U.S. Show Jumping Hall of Fame in 2018. After re-upping the lease for the riding park in 2021, Ridland said that he wants to be a part of preserving San Juan Capistrano’s well-known horse history.

“Yes, this could be a field with no horses on it,” Ridland said in 2021. “And yes, it wouldn’t require the infrastructure that we’re putting in, but San Juan Capistrano would be missing part of its soul.”

According to Siegel, San Juan Capistrano’s primary focus is to be “compliant with the consent decree.”

“We are hopeful that the Ridland Group and Orange County Coastkeeper reach agreement on a path forward that allows for the resumption of equestrian events while meeting all applicable water quality regulations,” Siegel said.

The annual San Juan Capistrano International tournament and the Blenheim Surf and Turf Classic were moved to the Los Angeles Equestrian Center because of the suspension.

There are events still listed as being held at the Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park, according to its website, including the Blenheim June Regional and Blenheim June Classic Series, but according to Blenheim spokesperson Retha Sternberg, plans for these events are still undecided.

Related links
• Questions about future of Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park prompts fears of fading horse culture in San Juan Capistrano
• San Juan Capistrano lets non-equestrian operators bid to operate riding park
• San Juan Capistrano settles pollution lawsuit over horse center, will pay $2.9 million
• San Juan Capistrano may spend $8 million to improve San Juan Creek and keep out runoff from its riding park

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