Everyone in the hunter/jumper business knows that the serious horse scene is back east-or at least it used to be. The West Coast is becoming a powerhouse in the show jumping world, boasting riders such as 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist Will Simpson, Nation’s Cup Team Member Ashlee Bond, and the Master of Faster, Richard Spooner. You can see any of these riders, and more talented international equestrians, at almost any Southern California A show.
California has a rich history with horses, spanning from the day of the Spanish missions to the present. Cars may outnumber horses these days, but equines still take precedence for many Californians. Los Angeles and San Diego boast large horse populations, and even Orange County, despite its declining stabling options, has a thriving equestrian community.
Since a number of different shows are held at each of the four main SoCal show grounds, I’ll go by location, beginning up north with the Los Angeles Equestrian Center. A storied old facility, the LAEC is located in Burbank and hosts dozens of shows each year, from the popular Gold Coast Series to the International Jumping Festival in the fall. Put on by Langer Equestrian Group, these shows take place under dappled trees and have a real feeling of old Los Angeles charm. Grand Prixs are a frequent occurrence in the famous Equidome, and equitation and hunter classes are traditionally held in the instantly recognizable ovals. A grass field and bridle trails round out the center and provide for a fun show experience. Spectators will find the LAEC’s proximity to local attractions a major plus when visiting, as there are plenty of sights to see when the show day is over.
A relaxing stay in Palm Desert is right up most Californian’s alley, especially those used to the hustle of Los Angeles. Luckily, the equestrian set’s needs are satisfied by one of the nation’s largest shows, Thermal. Put on by HITS (Horse Shows In The Sun), a show management company that runs shows across the nation, Thermal is the replacement facility for the old Indio show, located a few miles away. After years of memorable and successful shows, Indio became outdated, and the search for more space began. This need resulted in the Desert Horse Park, a wide, sprawling show ground with excellent footing, broad desert vistas, and a unique atmosphere. Each winter, the Desert Circuit hosts weeks of shows, including Grand Prixs and World Cup Qualifiers, which are run in the large Grand Prix Arena and the small indoor ring, respectively. Thermal is a great weekend destination for spectators, and features the best of the best competing in huge classes for considerable prize money.
The Oaks Mission Viejo Riding Park, located in San Juan Capistrano, is a breezy, sun kissed slice of land tucked into a valley a few miles from the ocean. A local favorite, it has a laid back California vibe that makes showing not so nerve wracking. In fact, showing under the towering oak trees on the huge open lawn is downright relaxing. Sitting on the banked Grand Prix field and watching a big class is the best way to spend a lazy weekend afternoon. Shows at the Oaks are run by Blenheim EquiSports, which manages a number of excellent shows at the facility each year.
Blenheim EquiSports also oversees showing at Showpark, located in Del Mar, just inland of the famous racetrack of the same name. Showpark boasts many of the same classes and amenities of the Oaks, and is a great location for those closer to the border. Equestrian enthusiasts that share a love of the beach could easily ride a few classes and then unwind at the beach. Spectators could also double the equine fun by watching some jumpers in the morning and then catching world class racing in the afternoon at Del Mar.
Although California shows may not have quite the history and grandeur that Eastern events do, the competition is equally fierce, and the facilities are world class. Top-quality horses and riders travel this circuit, and many hold their own both on the other coast and abroad.