SB National Horse Show returns to renovated arenas
The Santa Barbara National Horse Show opened for its 101st year Wednesday after being canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic.
This year, the competing equestrians can appreciate newly renovated or created arenas, funded by the community.
Earl Warren Showgrounds, built in the late ’50s, has been the home turf of Santa Barbara County equestrians for decades.
When community members heard rumors about selling the facility, they stepped up to revitalize the property.
From the road, it doesn’t look different. The barns are old, rustic, and the hall sports its original facade.
But Equine Evac, a nonprofit that brings large animals to safety in times of disaster, has already renovated two of the arenas and created a new one.
“The improvements are really starting to show. When it’s infrastructure, you don’t always see the improvement,” Lance Bennett, the show’s manager, told the News-Press.
“But now with a new arena and new footing in the arenas, the riders and observers can really see what’s happening.”
With the improvements to the arenas,, Earl Warren can entice large shows to its facilities, he said — which means more revenue for the showgrounds.
Prior to the improvements, Santa Barbara was at risk of losing its equestrian shows.
“The facility was getting in such disrepair and neglect that people were now not booking events here and going elsewhere with their events,” Mr. Bennett said.
Equine Evac installed new “footing,” or the specialty sand blend the horses trot on, in the stadium and three arenas. It also improved drainage.
For horses, this is a huge change. When the dirt becomes too hard, like the previous footing, they risk injury.
“The new footing has made a huge difference for the horses as well as the performance for the riders,” Mr. Bennett said.
Perhaps the most cosmetic change, which also serves a function in competition, is the new fencing surrounding the arenas. The fencing is movable, allowing large equipment to get in.
The speaker system also received a major upgrade, and the judges’ booths were renovated for COVID-19 precautions.
But $600,000 into the project, Equine Evac isn’t finished. Next, it will renovate the barns.
Despite having “a long way to go,” said Equine Evac Vice President Ronda Hathaway, it feels amazing to see the Santa Barbara National Horse Show back again.
There are 11 barns, each with 40 stalls, that need new doors and exterior repair. But replacing 440 doors and lots of siding is not cheap.
Equine Evac has received estimates of around $75,000 to $100,000 per barn.
“The facility was built in the ’50s, and the horses have been hard on the facilities. They chew on things and kick things,” Ms. Hathaway said.
Some stables spruce up their dedicated stalls during competition, adding seating areas or even putting tent-like coverings over the front of the stalls.
The Equine Evac project encompasses the horse facilities, which houses animals in natural disasters such as wildfires.
The grounds also serve residents in times of emergency. Earl Warren was recently used for information and supply distribution in case of a power shutoff.
“The facility is not only about the equestrian center. Earl Warren, as far as I’m concerned, is a jewel of the city. It needs to be a self-sustaining facility,” Ms. Hathaway said.
She hopes Equine Evac’s work will prompt more shows and the renovation of the whole property.
“It’s a place that everybody has very fond memories of,” Mr. Bennett said,
He showed horses at Earl Warren when he was young and now his grandchildren do.
“I hear those stories every time we do a horse show here. So it has a lot of history, a lot of nostalgia to it,” he said.
The show has events daily through Saturday. For more information, visit jinglebellhorseshow.com/santa_barbara_national.
To learn more about Equine Evac, go to sbequineevac.org/ewsrenovation.