Growth Endangers Horse Culture

The Redlands area acreage that comprises an Arabian horse breeding and boarding business and a flourishing orange grove is now the coveted target of property developers.

The Redlands area acreage that comprises an Arabian horse breeding and boarding business and a flourishing orange grove is now the coveted target of property developers.

"We get offers every week," LaVesta Locklin said. She, her husband, Bill, and granddaughter, Vandi, own El Camino Ranch, a 22-year-old enterprise that sells stylish Arabian purebreds, often to the parents of young horse lovers enrolled in the ranch's riding academy. El Camino's steeds range in price from $2,000 to $25,000.

So far Locklin hasn't accepted any of the buyout propositions.

"I like what I'm doing. I've never considered selling," Locklin said.

El Camino Ranch is comprised of 10 acres in Redlands and 10 acres in Calimesa. Over the past few years, the 22-employee enterprise sell about 25 horses a year, Locklin said.

However other horse-ranch owners have accepted buyout offers and the number of large horse-raising enterprises has diminished over the past 15 to 20 years, said Allan Drusys, chief veterinarian for the County of Riverside.

"They can certainly make a lot more money signing off property to another owner than they could in the horse industry," he said. "A lot of the large breeding operations have relocated."

In 2002, builders pulled permits for 20,591 new single-family homes in Riverside County. In 2004, the county issued 29,478 permits. Through July this year, the county issued permits for another 19,222 new homes, according to the Construction Industry Research Board in Burbank.

San Bernardino County issued permits for 9,179 new single-family homes in 2002 and in 2004 issued permits for 13,991 new homes. Through July this year, the county granted permits for another 9,206 new homes, according to research board data.

Upland housing developer The Lewis Group of Companies purchased a horse ranch a year ago in the Lakeview/Nuevo area as one of several acquisitions the company made to build a master-planned community, said Randall Lewis, executive vice president. The Villages of Lakeview will include 13,000 to 14,000 homes, he said.

The influx of people makes it difficult to raise sensitive purebreds in a peaceful environment, said Clydene Boots, spokeswoman for the California Thoroughbred Farm Managers Association in Riverside. Boots purchased a 16-acre thoroughbred farm in Murrieta in 1977, foaling and raising horses for clients to sell and race.

As the houses have gone up, the traffic has increased near Boots' farm. One wayward driver lost control of her truck and crashed through a fence into Boots' property this spring. While no horses were injured, the experience rattled Boots. "We can't have trucks rocketing through the fencing and landing in the pasture," she said.

Boots has received offers on her property but declined to disclose the amount offered or the amount she originally paid for the property. She plans to sell by next year. "All this land down here now is worth a lot more for those of us who came in 25, 30 years ago," Boots said.

A great many of the larger farms in the region have closed and virtually all the large horse breeding farms in San Bernardino County have closed, she said.

"We're a dying breed. It's not a feasible area to raise horses in anymore," Boots said. "In this immediate area, most of the farms are closing."

Boots has 20 horses currently, half the number she typically raised in the past. Her clients plan to sell or move out most of the remaining horses by year's end and Boots plans to sell her ranch.

As business and housing developments have popped up across the region, smaller horse operations offering recreational riding and training for show horses have replaced large breeding farms, said Mary Ann Hughes, president of the Arabian Horse Association of Southern California in Chino Hills.

"It's really hard to find horse property. There are fewer and fewer areas open to horses anymore," Hughes said. The association has 200 members, a combination of families that own horses and horse farm operators. The organization held its 60th annual horse show in Santa Barbara the first weekend in September and attracted one of its largest audience to date, Hughes said.

International riding and training champion Kit Hall plans to take advantage of the population influx. Hall has trained, bred and competed Arabian horses for more than 30 years, winning many national and regional championships.

Hall sold his six-acre horse breeding and training farm in Chino last year, called Kit Hall Arabians, to a housing developer and purchased 18 acres in Riverside, renaming his business the Strawberry Fields Forever Ranch.

In March he moved to a Victoria Avenue ranch in Riverside owned by a friend and property Realtor as temporary quarters while Hall develops the 20 acres into the "largest training facility in Riverside," he said. The new ranch will include a two-mile loping track, large show arena, cutting arena, stalls and barn.

"Because of the development in Chino, I moved," Hall said. "I sold it for 10 to 15 times what I bought it for."

Hall and his employees care for 35 horses. He has between 12 and 15 horses for sale with prices ranging from $5,000 to $200,000. Hall offers lessons for $50 an hour. Photographers were taking photographs of Hall and others riding horses Sept. 14 for a new Web site.

The population growth has resulted in new customers for The Horse Connection in San Bernardino. The store sells saddles, tack and veterinarian supplies.

"We're seeing a lot of people who have never had horses coming in," including many middle-aged first-time horse owners, said Debbie Marandola, retail sales associate.

"Each year our business has increased," said Robert Christopherson, manager of All Seasons Feed & Ranch in Calimesa.

The company pulled in additional customers when a nearby competitor closed its doors, he said Most of the store's customers are individual horse owners, although the store supplies a few ranches as well as other feed stores, Christopherson said.

There are a few horse raising operations in the Chino area, a few in the Temecula region and "a lot" in Norco, Hughes said. Norco, a town of 25,000 people known for its accommodation of the horse industry, sports a horse on its city seal and boasts 10,000 to 15,000 horses.

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Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News