Construction required before Del Mar Horse Park equestrian activities resume

Groom Raul Aguilar rakes in front of the stables of six horses on the backstretch at the Del Mar race track in 2019.
Groom Raul Aguilar rakes in front of the stables of six horses on the backstretch at the Del Mar race track in 2019.

Water board wants waste management measures at Del Mar Horse Park


Waste management measures that could cost up to $4 million must be underway before equestrian activities can resume the Del Mar Horse Park, officials said this week.

The 22nd District Agricultural Association, which runs the Del Mar Fairgrounds and the horse park two miles to the east, announced in December it would indefinitely suspend all activities at the equestrian center this year such as horse shows, boarding, riding lessons and dressage competition because of the requirements.

Some activities were moved from the horse park to the fairgrounds, but many could not go there because of scheduling conflicts and the limited facilities available at the fairgrounds. Meanwhile, the 22nd DAA is planning the wastewater work and looking for ways to pay for it.

Among the ideas discussed so far was a proposal to find an independent operator who could step in to resume activities at the horse park and oversee the improvements.

However, that seems less likely since a March 25 letter from the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board, also known as the water board, that states the horse park can’t resume any equestrian activities until the waste management measures are already underway.

The regional agency requires the property owner to ensure that no trace of manure or other pollutants enter groundwater or streams.

The horse park is a 64-acre equestrian center at the intersection of El Camino Real and Via de la Valle. The 22nd DAA purchased the property in 1996 for $4.9 million to expand boarding and training for horses at the fairgrounds and to provide parking accessible by shuttle services during the annual San Diego County Fair.

The 22nd DAA discovered after purchasing the property that the previous owner never sought the required state permits for some of the facilities there, including buildings, a restroom, and wash racks that were not connected to the public sewer system, according to a report by fairgrounds General Manager Carlene Moore.

“There might have been some misunderstanding,” said Moore, who joined the staff as deputy general manager in February 2019.

Since about 2005, those facilities have continued to operate under waivers with the understanding the improvements would eventually be installed.

Research continues to clarify the situation and to determine what must be done to comply, Moore said. Additional information will be presented when the board meets in May.

“For us to restart operations, improvements have to be in place,” said Wayne Rosenbaum, an attorney for the 22nd DAA. “You’ve got to be able to demonstrate you are fully compliant.”

Previous estimates of work needed at the horse park have ranged as high as $8 million, but Moore said Tuesday, April 13, that administrators are considering a “medium level” of work that would cost between $3 million and $4 million. That would allow a the previous level of operations at the facility to resume.

The district spent $15 million on a two-year project completed in 2020 to meet the water board’s requirements at the fairgrounds racetrack. That work included construction of a holding pond and water treatment plant, and the restoration of wetlands as a mitigation project.

A group called Friends of Del Mar Horsepark is urging the fair board to reopen the equestrian center as quickly as possible.

“This year due to the closure of the horse park, most of the high-level hunter/jumper and dressage shows went to Thermal, near Indio, or to Temecula at Galway Downs,” said Friends member Carla Echols-Hayes in a recent letter to the media.

“These shows are large, very profitable, and draw from the entire western coast of the US and Canada, as well as the entire Southwestern U.S.,” Echols-Hayes said. “The visitors and local Californians all had to reside near the show locations, as horse people need to be near the barns for early morning feeding, exercise, etc. That means San Diego County lost a great deal of ancillary business in lodging and restaurants, as well as revenue for horse services such as feed and supply stores.”

The 22nd DAA, which derives most its operating revenue from large events at the fairgrounds, has been especially hard hit by the closures over the last year and laid off nearly 60 percent of its full-time staff in October.
— Phil Diehl is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune