Aggressive fundraising campaign by local equestrian community will attempt to improve Earl Warren arenas and barns by April
By PAUL GONZALEZ
NEWS-PRESS STAFF WRITER
The Santa Barbara horse community has undertaken an aggressive fundraising campaign to bring key Earl Warren Showgrounds equestrian facilities into the 21st century by April.
Showgrounds CEO Ben Sprague said the movement began this past August amid rumors the Showgrounds was in danger of closing its doors.
He explained the Showgrounds was never at risk of closing or moving away from equestrian events, but the conversation motivated the local equestrian community to invest time and money into restoring the facilities to a level that will attract bigger events.
“Part of looking at this entire place and starting the strategic planning discussion is sort of what we are. We’re a multi-use community event center with a very strong equestrian tradition and that’s something that we want to continue,” said Mr. Sprague, who added that the local horse-lovers rallied around that message.
“As that conversation started, the equestrian community really started to rise up and participate in trying to figure out how to fix things moving forward.
“We all, the board included, realized this is a state facility, but the state is not going to move us forward. The state holds onto this place for us. We as a Santa Barbara community are going to have to make this place better.”
Santa Barbara County Riding Club, Santa Barbara Chapter of the California Dressage Society, Fiesta Livestock and Rodeo, the Earl Warren Showgrounds Foundation and Arabian Horse Association Region 2 all helped to identify the most needed improvements.
Karen Christensen of the SB California Dressage Society helped Mr. Sprague unite the equestrian “disciplines” behind fundraising for three goals: new equipment, footing and barn renovations and future projects. The future projects are still being developed, but they include finishing the arena and barn improvements and possibly adding a new arena.
Ms. Christensen said the roughly $48,000 needed for “Phase One” has already been secured from local donors who were asking for ways support the Showgrounds before the fundraising campaign was even officially announced.
That money purchased a new sound system, drag or paver for horses that smoothes the soil and makes it the right depth and texture and a water truck that is in the process of being delivered.
“Phase Two” will combine the Mountain View and Warm-Up Arenas, install a new base built to improve drainage and minimize damage from other uses, repair two or three of the 14 Showgrounds barns, and level and add sand to Kramer Arena and El Camino Arena. The equestrian community is also hoping to raise enough money to help offset the running costs of these improvements.
“See how the ground is unlevel there? That’s dangerous for the horses and there all these kinds of nails and things,” said Mr. Sprague, as he opened one of the barns stalls to reveal its worn concrete floor.
“Some of the wood is falling apart. There’s holes where the horses have literally eaten at the wood. It’s just 70 years of wear and these are the things that are gonna get fixed.”
Ms. Christensen said it took until around December 2019 to raise the money for the first phase. She said her goal is $300,000 to $400,000 for the second phase.
“This is an aggressive timeline. The Santa Barbara National is our horse show, and it has two weeks. The second week is a hunter, jumper week. That show was cancelled last year because of the (arena) footing, everyone knew it was an issue. When everything got moving the goal was to make this first investment in the equestrian facility before the 2020 season starts in May,” said Mr. Sprague.
Ms. Christensen added that the equestrian community has always cared about this issue, but did not know where to put their funds.
“Once we had our concept formed within our informal team and presented it to the (Showgrounds) board, we partnered with (Santa Barbara Equine Assistance and Evacuation Team Inc.) and in that time we created our own accounts to establish the restrictions on funds and how we’ll work with the state. We are about to kickstart the serious fundraising,” said Ms. Christensen, who is also a board member of SB Equine Evac.
To support the Showgrounds with a tax-deductible gift, checks payable to Santa Barbara Equine Assistance & Evacuation Team, Inc. memo: “Showgrounds Equestrian Restoration Fund” can be mailed to P.O. Box 60535 Santa Barbara CA 93160.
You can also send funds through Venmo to SBEquine-Evac Team. In the memo write: “Showgrounds Equestrian Restoration Fund” or “SERF.”