The San Juan Capistrano Equestrian Coalition an Inspiring Local Non-profit

The 501(c)3 non-profit San Juan Capistrano Equestrian Coalition (SJCEC) was started 15 years ago by a small group of equestrians that felt the equestrian heritage made San Juan unique and should be valued and celebrated. Many residents probably don’t know that San Juan is home to more than 1800 horses housed in more than 10 equestrian facilities. On weekends, the horse shows hosted at Blenheim Facility Management bring in as many as 2000 horses into the Mission Viejo Riding Park.

The weekend of September 22-23rd, the US Jumping Team pulled off a Team Gold Medal at the World Equestrian Games. What makes this so exciting for San Juan is that the Chef d’Equipe for Team USA is two-time Olympian Robert Ridland who is also the President of the Blenheim Facility Management, the operator of the Riding Park. 

It has been SJCEC’s mission to preserve and protect the local equestrian community. More than ten years ago, the SJCEC did an economic impact study with Cal State Long Beach. The results showed that non-residents who kept their horses in San Juan spent as much money in San Juan as the local equestrian residents. 

The other discovery was that the survey had set the values too low to truly quantify the impact of the horse show competitors. A new study was commissioned four years ago with the Dean of the School of Economics at Chapman University. Surveys were sent directly to the University and the results showed that equestrian community contributed over $50.1 million dollars back into the city. Those numbers validated what local merchants have known and there will be even higher return once the two new hotels are complete.

The SJCEC has been working with the city to ensure our best management practices for water quality are up-to-date and meet and maintain the high standards our stables have pursued throughout the years. We have engaged water quality engineers and environmental consultants to help the stables stay current with regulations.

Aside from these significant contributions to the community, the SJCEC also engages and gives back in unique ways. From fun barn dancing events to virtual trail maps, the Coalition is keeping things interesting in San Juan.

The first “Barn Dance” was born out of sharing this quiet but vibrant community with non–horse people. The Barn Dance was an instant hit with over 500 guests at the first event. In the past 15 years what is now known as Two Stepping Under the Stars has outgrown two previous locations. The Rancho Mission Viejo Riding Park at San Juan Capistrano now hosts over 5000 guests for this free event for the community. The evening under the oak trees and stars includes one of the largest outdoor dance floors, line dancing lessons, music from the Kelly Boyz, a saloon, silent auction, local vendors and a fun zone for kids and kids at heart.

The Equestrian Coalition has also hosted an annual Summer Lecture series for equestrians and their friends. This year the SJCEC introduced Horseman’s Happy Hours. A different popular watering hole is selected each month and equestrians can come and learn more about issues in the city or just enjoy an evening with fellow equestrians.

For nine years the SJCEC has partnered with the Regency Theater in San Juan for the Annual Kentucky Derby Hat Party as well. Guests come decked out in their finest Derby hats and can enter to win the Judge’s Vote or the People’s Choice Award. The Kentucky Derby is shown live on the movie screen followed by a movie chosen through a Facebook poll. This event is always on the first Saturday in May.

The Swallow’s Inn Foundation chose the SJCEC to partner with to bring back the Swallow’s Inn Chili Cook-off. A record crowd attended the day of music, chili tasting and dancing this year, a sure sign we will be back next year.

In 2009, the SJCEC funded and organized the Virtual Trail Project for the City of San Juan Capistrano, which won the prestigious APWA 2009 Project of the Year Award. This was an interactive trail map located on the city’s website to help trail users navigate our beautiful trails.  The SJCEC has underwritten the Large Animal Response Team (LART) as well as purchased the LART emergency trailer for the City. The SJCEC has used the popularity of the Barn Dance/Two Stepping to partner and raise fund for other local charities such as Special Camp for Special Kids, Breakthrough San Juan and the Fallen Firefighter’s Foundation. 

For more than 12 years, the Summer Lecture Series featured local and national experts to help educate the equestrian community. Workshops on first aid, micro-chips and hoof care have been very popular.

To learn more about the work of the San Juan Capistrano Equestrian Coalition, visit SanJuanEquestrian.org or sign up for their newsletter by emailing sjcec@cox.net. The cost of a lifetime membership is $50 for an individual or a family.