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Local equestrians present plan to save Earl Warren Showgrounds horse facilities

Earl Warren horse facilities board meeting
More than 60 local equestrians came to Thursday's board meeting at Earl Warren Showgrounds

SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. - With horse facilities’ future at Earl Warren Showgrounds in question, dozens of horse owners and riders came to Thursday’s Showgrounds board meeting to show support for keeping and improving the property’s horse facilities.

Earl Warren has faced financial struggles in recent years. The Showgrounds’ large, impressive horse shows of the past have become just a few small shows each year.

“The horse shows have been slowing down and have had less attendance due to the very poor footing, and it’s unsafe for many of the horses,” local equestrian Karen Christensen said. “Also the facilities have been so run down over time through a lack of maintenance.”

The Showgrounds has also played a critical role in sheltering horses and other animals from across the state during destructive wildfires. The Showgrounds recently took in horses during the Easy Fire and Maria Fire, and was a major command post for first responders during the Thomas Fire and Montecito Mudslides last year.

At another meeting on Wednesday, the board discussed ideas including building a hotel, veterinary hospital or other income generator on the land, which could replace the property’s stables.

Christensen and a team of other local horse riders—meanwhile—are trying to save the Showground’s heritage of horses.

“We decided as a group that we were going to figure out what it took to fix it,” Christensen.

Their plan involves new, safer footing material for horses and refurbished stables. They believe the community is ready to help and there are enough donors to pay for the plan, which costs in the neighborhood of $2 million.

“It’s so easy to think about what people can do,” Christensen said. “We have large scale donors that would like to maintain this heritage and build it back up. We have small scale donors that could basically clean up a stall.”

Christensen was also encouraged by the meeting’s attendance, which one board member called the “largest” and “most passionate” she’s seen as a board member.

“The fact that there’s all these cowboy hats here means that you’re involved, too,” Christensen said to the audience during public comment. “And care enough about Earl Warren and trying to make this a great facility again.”

The money from donations to Earl Warren under previous boards, however, has not always gone where donors wanted it to go. The current board now must deal with that lack of trust.

“The board is working very hard, I believe, to try and deal with problems that have been left here for many generations,” Christensen said. “[The Showgrounds is] not going under, but [it’s] going to change.”

The board carries the tough job of rejuvenating the Showgrounds’ finances while trying to maintain a storied part of its history. Only some of the board members come from an equestrian background.

Other members of the public who do not own horses came to the meeting to show support for the current Showgrounds. Some suggested that Earl Warren could generate more revenue and help the community by hosting more local sporting events.

Even those without horses themselves feel strongly about keeping Earl Warren’s horse shows and stables. Santa Barbara local Ricardo Bimbela says seeing the stables or a horse show at Earl Warren is like stepping “back in time.”

“[The board members] need to focus their efforts on making this facility a better place, one that we can all be proud of,” he said. “And I believe horses, the equine facilities, should be given more respect.”

Those interested in learning more about the team’s plan to save the Showgrounds’ horse facilities can contact Christensen at

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Ryan Fish

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