The horse industry in the Santa Ynez Valley not only provides incomes for thousands of people, but it also offers healthy recreation for people of all ages while supporting the natural beauty and wide open spaces for which this Valley is famous.
In California, the horse industry has a $7 billion impact on the state economy and contributes $4.1 billion in goods and services while providing 54,200 full-time jobs. This puts California at the top in the entire United States, according to the American Horse Council Foundation in Washington, D.C.
It is followed by Texas, with a $5.2 billion impact on its state’s economy, and then Kentucky, with a $3.5 billion impact, according to the foundation.
The Santa Ynez Valley, just about six miles from north to south and 10 miles from east to west, is very likely the epicenter of California’s multibillion-dollar horse industry.
While other vast areas in California have large numbers of horses, none of them have as many outstanding elements as does this small Valley. For several decades, it has been one of the most important horse locations in America.
In addition to the numbers of our very high-quality horses, it is also our prominent clinicians, veterinarians, showmen and judges that make the Santa Ynez Valley so well known.
There is very little data on the horse industry compiled by local government because it has not been categorized as agriculture. Because the industry isn’t raising anything for food, such as cattle, sheep and swine, it has not been included in county data along with important commodities.
However, now the economic importance of the horse industry has been studied by the American Horse Council, which hopes the information will be of help to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors and Department of Planning and Development, as well as the Farm Bureau, Board of Realtors, horse owners and others involved in the horse industry.
Presently, we have at least 50 different privately owned breeds of horses here, some of which are quite rare. They range from large Belgian, Percheron and Clydesdale draft horses to miniature horses.
Our breeds have come from countries including Iceland, Peru, Canada, Ireland, Germany, England and elsewhere. The Kentucky Horse Park — which advertises that it has the most different breeds — acknowledges that the Santa Ynez Valley exceeds their park because many of their breeds are on loan from other locations. Since ours are all privately owned, and in permanent residence here, this very likely makes us the top location in America.
Since 1925, the Santa Ynez Valley has been very active in the horse world. It was then that Dwight Murphy, on his Rancho San Fernando Rey, began a Palomino breeding program that formed the roots of what this registered breed is today.
When Murphy gave actor Leo Carrillo a beautiful stallion named Conquistador, this so impressed the Chrysler Automobile Corp. that they named the Conquistador car after him and gave Carrillo a golden Chrysler.
In the 1930s C.E. Perkins bought the 1925 Kentucky Derby winner, Flying Ebony, and stood him at stud at his Alisal Ranch. Various Kentucky Derby winners have lived in the Valley since then and many contenders were trained here by D. Wayne Lukas. Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo is now standing at stud at Magali Farms.
Horses also have a profound influence on local culture. In Santa Ynez, the famous Carriage Museum holds national symposiums, and its annual Vaquero Show that honors the early horsemen draws large crowds of out-of-town visitors.
At the main intersection of the town, the crosswalks are embedded with horseshoes that have been featured on television. The routes of the old horse-drawn stagecoaches are marked throughout the Valley.
We also have the Santa Ynez Valley Equestrian Center, which holds competitions for adults and children most every weekend. They have western horse and mule shows, roping, and all kinds of cow horse events. The team penning contests actually started in this Valley.
There are also hunter-jumper shows, gymkhanas and high school and junior rodeo competitions for children. A wealth of information comes from well known clinicians, and the carriage driving club has expert advice and training from John Crockett, a local carriage authority.
The three polo fields are used each year by world-class polo players from foreign countries. Local polo horse owner Joel Baker tells us that owners invest $500 to $600 each month for their care, and there are at least 140 polo ponies here. Show horses of various breeds have sold for as much as $100,000.
We also have hundreds of world champion horses and riders. Even foreign Olympians have been trained here. Although the economic crisis brought a drop in the prosperity of Thoroughbred racing, the remaining Santa Ynez Valley Thoroughbred racing farms are successful. Their Thoroughbreds have been sold internationally, and River Edge Farm had one that brought $9.7 million.
A famous, award-winning jockey, Jerry Lambert, trains here and not too long ago this Valley was considered the western branch of Kentucky Thoroughbred racing country.
Former President Ronald Reagan was one of our horsemen and a member of the men’s riding club the Rancheros Visitadores. The famous Rancheros bring approximately 1,000 riders from six different countries to the Valley for a week each May. Their ride to Mission Santa Ines draws hundreds of spectators.
Also among the Valley’s galaxy of stars is longtime resident Monty Roberts, a world-famous clinician who travels and teaches internationally. He is currently using horses to work with returning soldiers who suffer from PTSD.
He also works with the Thoroughbred race horses belonging to the Queen of England and has recently received a royal medal from her because of his expertise.
A number of noted local trainers also regularly produce champion riders and horses. Another resident, Greg Simon, has bred Quarterhorses that have attained seven world championships in just a few years, against thousands of contenders, during year-long competitions.
The Santa Ynez Valley has two women, Audrey Griffin and Sandy Collier, who have been inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. Another woman is an Olympic medalist in dressage and also a dressage judge on both national and international levels, Charlotte Bredahl Baker.
Actress Bo Derek, another local resident, has fought the national battle to ban the slaughter of horses in America, and Arthur Perry has had a national Morgan horse show dedicated to him.
There are riding clubs: The Sage Hens, the Fillies, Santa Barbara Trail Riders, Santa Ynez Valley Riders, Back Country Horsemen, and a hunt club. Children’s riding activities include Pony Club, junior and high school rodeo, and private equestrian schools. A therapeutic riding organization is very active in helping people with physical or mental disabilities. There are also yearly roundups on the cattle ranches.
It is evident that the Valley has an active horse business that employs thousands of people and greatly contributes to the financial well being of our county. Those people include ranch workers, ranch managers, feed distributors, hay growers, truckers, pasture seed distributors, horse fencing, horse housing, purveyors of straw and shavings for horse bedding, horse trailer sales, and a compost business that turns horse manure into rich mulch or fertilizer for planting.
In addition there are 24 equine veterinarians and three clinics. One of our clinics is so skilled that its client roster is international. Over 40 farriers have been documented, and multiple trainers that either give riding lessons or train horses in various disciplines. Dozens of exercise riders and Thoroughbred farms employ jockeys. There is even a horse taxi, a disposal service, and several feeding services. A local quarantine service holds horses that are en route to far-off lands.
The Valley has two large stores that sell a multitude of ranch and horse supplies, which includes horse equipment (tack) and ranch supplies. There are three saddle makers and another store that sells veterinary medications plus rodeo and farrier equipment, and there is a special horse blanket laundry. Horse ranches buy irrigation pipes, tractors and other farm machinery and are strong supporters of local hardware stores.
It is evident that horses stimulate the economy in a wide number of ways. In addition, equestrian visitors help support restaurants, motels, and clothing stores. Income also comes from stud fees and horse sales.
Horse owners range from the “backyard” variety to the large ranches with 600 or more horses in residence. Realtors tell us that horse properties have always been a hot item because horse zoning is alive and thriving. County zoning allows one adult horse per 20,000 square feet (one acre equals 43,560 square feet) on parcels up to 20 acres. Larger parcels allow increased numbers. In that way, zoning laws support one of the most important equestrian locations in America.