22nd DAA Shuts Down Horsepark, Throws Out Tenants

By Phil Trubey

December 26, 2020

The 22nd DAA, run by a Governor appointed board, has not only decided to shut down the Fairgrounds for all of 2021 (no 2021 Fair, no concerts, no entertainment of any kind), but also the 65 acre Horsepark which is currently the permanent home to about 70 horses stabled there. 

Girl learning a course on Horsepark’s 2nd grass ring.

Horsepark had been running horse shows this fall, generating much needed revenue, after a COVID delay in the summer. But now the thirty-five horse shows scheduled for 2021 have been cancelled. Worse, several trainers call Horsepark their home and stable approximately 70 horses there, and they have all been told to leave by March. 

And to top it off, these decisions were made with zero public warning, not a single public board meeting agenda item warned of these decisions. To say this is mismanagement would be the understatement of the century. The 22nd DAA receives very little government money, relying on service revenue from the very things the board has just shut down. The board is bankrupting the fairgrounds and horsepark before our very eyes. 

The secrecy, lack of transparency, and the sheer economic ineptitude has many observers wondering if this is a prelude to selling both facilities to developers to enhance Sacramento’s coffers.

Many people will directly lose their jobs due to the shutdown.

Patronage Appointments

In talking to various affected horse show organizers and trainers, it appears that no 22nd DAA board members know much about horses. These are patronage appointments by the Governor, so it isn’t much of a stretch to surmise that whatever the 22nd DAA board is doing, it is implementing the diktats of the Governor’s office. 

Ominously, the 27 year veteran General Manager of the 22nd DAA, Tim Fennel, retired this year and in his place is Carlene Moore whose last major decision at her previous job as General Manager of the Napa Valley Fairgrounds was to sell it. To cap it off, Sacramento has floated the idea of selling the Fairgrounds before.

Horsepark Makes Money

Well it did, before all boarders were evicted and shows cancelled. That’s what makes this move even more inexplicable. 

There is a water quality issue that needed to be resolved. Due to new stringent CA environmental regulations, Horsepark needs to upgrade its water runoff facilities so as to not discharge unclean water into the nearby ocean. Two accomplished and highly respected horse show managers, Dale Harvey and Ali Nilforushan were independently asked in early November for proposals to run shows in 2021 that included a plan to address the water quality issue. Both plans were verbally rejected without even public meeting board consent.

Who This Affects

You need facilities like this one to compete.

Mostly kids. Equestrian sports are Olympic sports, of course, with talented adults competing on a world stage. But go to any horse show and the majority of competitors are kids of all ages, learning their craft and competing against each other, just like any other sport. Shutting down this facility, one of a few remaining in the area (and the best) impacts youth athletics.

What the State is Shutting Down

While you’re probably familiar with the extensive Fairgrounds, you’re probably not familiar with the no-less purpose built Horsepark that has been in existence for 41 years. It is located across from the Surf Cup soccer fields at the corner of Via De La Valle and El Camino Real.

In the middle is a large covered arena, useful for night shows as well as rainy day training and showing. To its right is a world class grass arena surrounded by spectator seating. Ten other riding rings populate the place as well as nine permanent barns and eight temporary barns used for horse shows. Finally there is ample parking for large events. 

Let Them Eat Cake

Horsepark has been home to generations of competitors.

When asked about the horse show shut down, the 22nd DAA responds saying that shows can be moved to the Fairgrounds. While the Fairgrounds also has extensive horse facilities, it is built primarily for horse racing, not for dressage, western or hunter/jumper shows. The show rings at the Fairground are temporary, must be constructed for each show, and are bounded by concrete k-rails, not the best fencing to land on should your horse throw you. Even worse, due to the horse racing schedule, the fairgrounds is only available for five months from January until May, and then again in December, so half the year. And the 70 boarders? Well, tough luck for them, the Fairgrounds does not have permanent boarding facilities.

Learn More

The West Equestrian magazine recently wrote a good article about this: Equestrians Jump Into Action for Del Mar Horsepark.

The Union Tribune’s take: Losses continue to mount at Del Mar Fairgrounds.

There is a Charge.org petition here (please sign your name, just takes a minute, no need to donate): SAVE DEL MAR HORSEPARK.

There are a group of people trying to save Horsepark (they launched the above petition): Friends of Del Mar Horsepark.

The Friends of Del Mar Horsepark press release: Press Release.

The 22nd DAA Press Release: Del Mar Horsepark Moves Shows to Fairgrounds.

What’s Next?

The 22nd DAA’s next board meeting is January 12 at 1:30pm. More info about board meetings here.

Parents gather at dusk during a Horsepark Christmas show.

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