Del Mar Fairgrounds officials announced on Dec. 17 that, in an effort to curtail underground water pollution resulting from equine activity, no horse shows will be held in 2021 at the Del Mar Horsepark. Boarders must vacate the facility by March 31. The 22nd District Agricultural Association, which runs the fairgrounds, hopes to move horse shows for the coming year to the fairgrounds itself, which just underwent many water quality upgrades.
The 64-acre Del Mar Horsepark, located two miles east of the fairgrounds, hosts horse shows year-round, including the Showpark series, which is run by Blenheim EquiSports, and the Del Mar International and the Riders Cup, which are managed by West Palm Events. But the Del Mar Horsepark is located near the San Dieguito River. Suspending shows and boarding will give the 22nd DAA time to assess the investments needed to meet the requirements set by the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board.
“Continuing with an equestrian presence at the horse park property would require a significant and immediate investment of funds to address water quality requirements, which is simply not possible given the dire effects that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the fairgrounds’ revenues,” 22nd DAA President Richard Valdez wrote in an email to the Los Angeles Times. “Once we stabilize, our board will continue with our strategic planning process, which will include a comprehensive assessment of all possibilities for our property, including equestrian usages for the horse park property.”
The fairgrounds just underwent a $15 million project to improve water quality on the 340-acre property, which includes a treatment plant, a holding pond and wetlands restoration. And though the 22nd DAA hopes to move the horse shows to the main property, some aren’t convinced they can be held at the same capacity due to conflicts with the racetrack and other events. This announcement also comes on the heels of fairground officials canceling the venue’s 2021 entertainment contracts.
Local equestrian Carla Hayes started a petition on change.org to save the Del Mar Horsepark, citing that despite COVID-19, horse shows brought in $1.34 million worth of revenue for 2020, and the 35 horse shows scheduled for 2021 would have generated over $1.75 million.
“It doesn’t make sense,” West Palm Events CEO Dale Harvey told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “It’s one of the parts of the fairgrounds that is profitable and has a steady stream of revenue.”
U.S. Show Jumping Chef d’Equipe Robert Ridland, owner of Blenheim EquiSports, released a statement warning the equestrian community that this facility loss was unwelcome but not totally unpredictable.
“Unlike many sports where the equipment is minimal and competition venues are plentiful, the equestrian sport is expensive both for the participant and the organizer,” he wrote. “Most riders, trainers and owners are acutely aware of the costs of participation, but very few have any idea of the investment required to put on the events that keep the industry alive. Having an inside perspective to the finances of a show management company, I can personally attest to the immense costs of producing the competitions that we all rely on. Unfortunately, those numbers pale in comparison to the red ink that is typically associated with many of the actual facilities that host the events.”
Ridland stated that horse shows facilities now fall under concentrated animal feeding operation government regulations, requiring specific infrastructure, and because of these restrictions, Blenheim EquiSports had already moved several show dates from Del Mar to San Juan Capistrano, California, in 2020.
“While we need to do all we can to save Del Mar Horsepark, that is only one piece of the puzzle if we are serious about preserving our sport on the West Coast,” he said. “At the same time while we navigate these uncharted waters, we can demonstrate our sport’s commitment to leaving a positive environmental imprint on the land we are so fortunate to use.”