Friday, May. 24, 2024

New Agreement Reopens Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park



Updated May 24: A U.S. Equestrian Federation official said Thursday that a decision on reinstating Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park’s hunter/jumper show dates will be released early next week.

After a tense few weeks in which Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park in San Juan Capistrano, California, was shut down, forcing the relocation of two weeks of major horse shows to Los Angeles, 65 miles north, a legal agreement has been reached to reopen the park—at least through mid-November.

The agreement requires the horse park’s operator, The Ridland Group, to meet deadlines for completing temporary and permanent stormwater and wastewater management improvements at the property. Those deadlines begin June 3 and extend through the end of the year. If the deadlines are not met, The Ridland Group will be charged daily fines ranging from $5,000 to $25,000, and horse park operations could again be halted on Nov. 15. If all improvements are not completed by Dec. 31, the group will be required to pre-emptively cancel its entire 2025 show schedule for the property.

The next hurdle to clear before shows return to the facility is securing the return of competition dates granted by the U.S. Equestrian Federation. Ten more USEF-recognized hunter/jumper shows are scheduled to take place at the facility between June and September, including the Adequan/USEF Junior Hunter National Championships—West and the USHJA Gladstone Equitation Cup—West in late July, and all those shows have been removed from USEF’s 2024 competition calendar. With the Coastkeeper agreement now in place, The Ridland Group’s Blenheim EquiSports event management company has submitted an application to USEF for the return of those competition dates previously assigned to the venue and is awaiting a decision, the group announced Wednesday on its Facebook page. A USEF official said that decision will be released early next week.

Horse shows can resume at Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., under an agreement announced May 18 between Orange County Coastkeeper and The Ridland Group, which manages the facility. Blenheim EquiSports Photo

Lack Of Infrastructure Progress Closed Facility

The current situation came to a head on April 25, two weeks before the start of the San Juan Capistrano International Horse Show on May 8, when the nonprofit clean water advocacy group Orange County Coastkeeper announced that equestrian activities at Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park would stop immediately due to the park management’s failure to perform infrastructure improvements outlined in a 2018 agreement.

“For the past six years, Orange County Coastkeeper, a regional nonprofit organization protecting water quality, has attempted to work with the responsible parties to protect San Juan Creek and its terminus at Doheny State Beach without hindering equestrian activities,” the statement read.


“In 2017, Coastkeeper filed a lawsuit against the City of San Juan Capistrano and The Ridland Group, which manages and operates the riding park, citing multiple violations of the [federal Clean Water Act]. In 2018, the parties entered into a [consent decree] representing a collaborative effort and clear course of action to protect water quality in the creek while continuing equestrian operations at the riding park. Coastkeeper granted two extensions beyond the original five-year timeline, but the riding park has not met the obligations required for continued equestrian events after missing the recent April 15, 2024, deadline.”

With the park temporarily closed, The Ridland Group, operated by Hillary and Robert Ridland, also the chef d’equipe of the U.S. show jumping team, had to quickly move two scheduled May shows, the San Juan Capistrano International (May 8-12) and the Blenheim Surf & Turf Classic (May 15-19) to a new venue. Los Angeles Equestrian Center agreed to take on the shows, and a number of improvements including installation of new GGT footing in the indoor Equidome and outdoor Hap Hansen arenas, as well as adding the upgraded footing to all other arenas on the property, were completed before the first show began. 

However, 10 more USEF-recognized hunter/jumper shows are scheduled to take place this year at Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park, should USEF return the dates, requiring a long-term solution.

Agreement Will Reopen Park For 2024 Season

On May 18, The Ridland Group announced it had reached an agreement with Coastkeeper to resume use of the facility for shows in San Juan Capistrano.

“We are profoundly grateful to Coastkeeper for their hard work and cooperative efforts to assure the long-term future of equestrian events at the Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park under the strictest of environmental protocols,” Robert Ridland, president of The Ridland Group, said in a statement announcing the agreement. “This agreement confirms not only that the equestrian competitions will continue in 2024 but that all the other various community and charity events will as well. Most importantly, this agreement assures that all equestrian activities at the riding park will operate in a manner that provides the highest degree of protection to the environment and the surrounding watershed.”

The statement added that The Ridland Group is “committed to upholding Coastkeeper’s goal of improving local water quality to protect the people and wildlife of the San Juan Creek Watershed.”


Progress Deadlines And Fines

The agreement Coastkeeper reached with The Ridland Group and the city of San Juan Capistrano includes the following provisions, which The Ridland Group must meet by the dates listed or face daily fines. The entire text of the agreement can be viewed here

• Implement an interim stormwater management plan for the 2024 summer season by June 3. This includes preparing a plastic-lined pond to serve as a collection area capable of holding a 25-year, 24-hour rainfall event; grading; and the removal or relocation of certain wash stalls. If the June 3 deadline isn’t met, The Ridland Group will pay $25,000 per day to the California State Parks Foundation to be used for “an environmentally beneficial project.” 

• Complete grading for containment pond and install groundwater monitoring wells by Aug. 15 or face daily $5,000 fines payable to the state parks foundation.

• Complete construction of the stormwater infiltration system by Nov. 15 or, again, face $5,000 daily fines.

• If the park has not completed infrastructure work that allows it to retain all wastewater and stormwater run-off from a 25-year, 24-hour storm event by Nov. 15, the park will not be allowed to hold further equestrian events. If all conditions of the agreement are not met by Dec. 31, The Ridland Group will pre-emptively cancel all equestrian events scheduled for 2025.

• If there is any discharge of wastewater or stormwater runoff from the showgrounds into San Juan Creek after the agreement goes into effect, The Ridland Group will be fined $50,000 per day, payable to the state parks foundation.

• The Ridland Group will pay Coastkeeper a total of $112,500 for costs associated with the new agreement and to offset Coastkeeper’s anticipated future costs related to monitoring the site for compliance with the agreement.



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