Keep Rancho’s Trails Safe

By Rochelle Putnam

September 15, 2022

Mixing horses and bikes on Rancho Santa Fe’s private trail system would be extremely dangerous and irresponsible.

First Hand Experience

A few years back, I was riding a horse on a dirt trail next to a paved bike path in a nearby community and a small group of cyclists came up behind me, causing my horse to bolt. The bikes didn’t stop, in effect “chasing” my horse. When he took an abrupt left turn, I flew straight onto the bike path. Semi-conscious and bleeding profusely, I was transported to Scripps Hospital by ambulance, where basically my whole body was X-rayed and I received an MRI.  I was diagnosed with a concussion and received seven staples in my head, and counted my lucky stars I was alive.

I’m an experienced rider who owns six horses, including two who have been in the RSF 4th of July Parade for ten consecutive years. I have over 10,000 hours in the saddle including 14 years of riding six days a week on our trails. There is no way I’d ride on a trail with bikes, never mind e-bikes – it’s just too dangerous. There are hundreds of equestrians in this community and I would bet that 10% would be lucky to own horses that wouldn’t spook if a bike came up behind them, while the other 90% would spook, endangering both rider and biker.

Equestrian Community

We are fortunate to live in what I believe is the finest equestrian community in the country.

My husband and I did extensive research selecting a location to retire 17 years ago, and concluded that Rancho Santa Fe’s trail system is unmatched. Rancho Santa Fe also has a spectacular golf course as a beautiful visual centerpiece. But there are many wonderful golf communities in the area. What makes RSF different is the large lot sizes and the equestrian properties that are located here.

Think of the prominent equestrian properties that are worth well over $10 million in the Covenant: Clear Spring Farm on La Noria, Buena Vista Farms plus two other 8+ acre equestrian estates currently under construction on Montevideo; Tres Palomas on Los Arboles, High Point Farm on Via de La Valle, Milberry Farm on Via de Santa Fe, the new equestrian estate on La Orilla, the former Scripps estate on El Secreto, the Sea Horse property, the Manor House property, the former Rocky Mountain Warmblood estate and the Bunn property which are all on on El Camino Del Norte, the Wishing Well Ranch and multiple others on Lago Lindo, the recently built property on the corner of Lago Lindo and Montevideo, several large equestrian properties on Via de Fortuna, the former Sahm property on Del Dios, and of course the 77 acre Willow Creek Estancia on El Sicomoro (currently listed at $98 million). Plus dozens of smaller equestrian properties scattered on almost every street in the Covenant including San Elijo, La Glorietta, La Crescenta, El Mirlo, Los Morros, Via del Alba, Las Colinas, El Vuelo, Avenida Alondra and so forth.  And of course we have the Rancho Riding Club and Osuna Ranch. These world class equestrian estates are here because Rancho Santa Fe is unique. Imagine breaking faith with these property owners by creating an unnecessarily dangerous situation by allowing bikes on the equestrian trails!

One of many equestrian estates in Rancho Santa Fe.

History of the Trail System

It’s critical to realize that our community’s trail system was not acquired as part of a modern master plan, like Santa Luz or other new communities in the area. Our network of trails has, in large part, been cobbled together over the last fifty plus years by the hard work of volunteers soliciting individual easements numbering in the hundreds, carefully acquired, documented, and recorded with the County, linking segment by segment to create a fifty plus mile network.

This work goes on today in accordance with Chapter 16 of the Regulatory code which details the procedure for establishing equestrian and hiking trails. See 16.0101, “A primary element of the rural character of Rancho Santa Fe is its accommodation and promotion of equestrian activities. Equestrian activities are supported by the private keeping of horses and the capability of Association members to ride on trails and through open spaces within the community.” Section 16.0102 goes on, “The incremental expansion of a varied and interesting Association-maintained system of private riding and hiking trails has historically been, and continues to be, an important long term goal of the Association.” 16.0103 “The formation of a system of trails dedicated to equestrian and hiking uses separates vehicular traffic from equestrian and pedestrian traffic, thereby maintaining the general welfare of Association members.”

In accordance with Chapter 16, the language in the hundreds of easement documents executed over roughly the last fifty years refers specifically to “equestrian and pedestrian” use, not bikes. We would jeopardize the legality of these easements if we were to change the use. The Association’s liability policy, which extends to property owners who grant easements, would need to be revisited if we were to introduce a dangerous new hazard.  Our beautiful, peaceful trail system is fragile and needs responsible stewardship.

“Multi-Use” Trails

It has been mentioned that there are several multi-use trails in the area that allow walking, biking and and horseback riding. When you go to these trails you rarely see horses. I know from first hand experience that after a white knuckle ride on a multi-use trail, or an accident like the one I had, most equestrians thank God they are done and never go back. In reality, multi-use trails become biking trails.

Obviously, bikes and horses are a dangerous mix. But bikes and pedestrians are also a tricky mix, especially given the curves and rolling hills on our trails. Imagine strolling along the golf course with friends, and perhaps a couple of dogs (on leash, of course), and having a group of teenagers crest a hill on e-bikes coming speeding straight at you. We have a friend who was struck by a bike while walking on a trail in a nearby community, and unfortunately his neck was broken, he needed multiple surgeries, and he will likely never regain full mobility of his neck.

Girl looking after pony at the Rancho Riding Club.


Logistical challenges would make allowing bikes on the trails difficult. Would you differentiate between e-bikes and mountain bikes? How would you decide how many bikes is too many? If we haven’t allowed regular bikes in the trails for the last fifty years, why would we allow e-bikes, which go significantly faster, on the trails now?  How would you regulate speed?  Would you tell teenagers to “go slow”?!

We already have pedestrians and the occasional horseback rider trespassing on our private trail system. You would never be able to catch a biker trespassing from outside the community, and it would be easy to get here.  Fairly soon you’d be overrun by bikes from surrounding communities with no way to police it. Once the “cat was out of the bag”, wouldn’t bikers from all over the county love to ride their mountain bikes on our beautiful, peaceful trail system?

Current Issues

In general, bikes don’t ride solo but in groups. When we encounter the occasional bikers on our trails, half are very nice, declare they weren’t aware they couldn’t bike on the trails (despite clear signage) and then keep going. 10% are very courteous and turn around. The remainder are pretty hostile, and insist that they can ride the trails if they want to, and continue on their way. When we call the Patrol, it’s difficult for the Patrol officers to intercept them.

You might argue, let’s just allow bikes on the golf course trail. How would bikes get there if they don’t live on one of the streets around the golf course? Would they ride on the trails to get to the golf course? How would you monitor this? Would you allow bikes on the trail by the ball field alongside the Rancho Riding club, where children and adults are riding horses in the rings close to the trail, endangering them?

Main barn at Osuna Ranch.

Trail Satisfaction

When I served on the RSFA Board of Directors, we felt it was an integral part of our mission to “protect and preserve the rural nature” of our community. Current satisfaction with the trail system is very high. Take a look at the recent survey conducted by the Association. 56% of respondents said that the trail system is “extremely important” and an additional 33% said it was “ very important” for a stunning total of almost 90%.

79% of respondents said that they are “extremely satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the trail network. Combining “importance of” and “satisfaction with” on a grid puts the trail system, just slightly behind the Patrol in terms of importance and satisfaction combined. Would we want to tinker with a feature of the community that has such a high ranking? You could never reverse course.

Road Safety

For those parents who are concerned about their child’s safety riding on the streets. I understand their concern, and I think it’s worth exploring alternative ideas. We can lobby the county to improve the bike paths beside the road from the school to ball fields on the Avenida de Acacias-via de La Cumbre-San Elijo route. We could shut down La Granada for a short period after school on weekdays during the school term so kids can ride down to the ball fields safely on the street. Or the kids can walk or jog, since it really isn’t that far. Perhaps a minivan could be arranged by the school or the team they are playing for. Somehow they’ve managed to get there over the last fifty years. But the idea of having teenagers ride e-bikes down the trail alongside La Granada from the school to Rambla de las Flores is just too dangerous.

In Conclusion

While Rancho Santa Fe is a fabulous place to live, it can’t be all things to all people.  There are several terrific gated communities with traffic control where kids can bike and play in the streets. Rancho Santa Fe doesn’t qualify in that respect. But you can’t surf here either. That shouldn’t be a surprise.

Previous article

Leave a Reply