June 2017 - Rancho Cielo: UK Equestrian
Written by KIm F. Miller
Wednesday, 31 May 2017 19:31
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Hunter/jumper trainer Graeme Dixon fulfills a dream in renovated Rancho Santa Fe facility.

by Kim F. Miller • photos by Erpelding Photography

San Diego hunter/jumper trainer Graeme Dixon is known as a positive, upbeat guy. The intensity dial on those traits is cranked to 11 since buying his own property to continue with his UK Equestrian training business and the boarding and training facility he now owns and operates.

“This is a dream come true for me,” Graeme explains. Like most equestrian professionals, he knows all too well the fear and realities of having a property sold out from underneath their training endeavor.  Instead, he’ll be continuing a business and a lifestyle “until they wheel me out of here” he laughs. And he’s far from the only beneficiary.

Graeme’s newly refurbished and renamed facility in Rancho Santa Fe, Rancho Cielo, offers all levels of the sport, including entry points through the UK Equestrian Riding School and summer and holiday camps.

Trainers now calling Rancho Cielo home include Emily Esau with her A-circuit hunter/jumper program. (Emily’s late father, Chuck Esau, based his business at the same property several years ago.) Jenifer Duron operates a pony-oriented outfit that focuses on San Diego’s thriving regional show scene. Graeme’s own UK Equestrian rounds out the hunter/jumper offerings, with everything from San Diego County competition to beginning riding and horsey social events. Angela Paltram offers dressage training.

Graeme is open to inquiries from additional trainers “if it’s the right fit,” he explains. “My goal is to support the trainers’ businesses. There’s room for all of us.” Rancho Cielo also offers a board and care option for individuals who would like to board and ride there without being enrolled in a trainer’s program.

The 11-acre facility on prime hilltop property used to be known as Rancho East, but people familiar with that facility might not recognize it after all of the improvements Graeme has made – some of them with his own hands even though he was injured in a riding accident last year. Coupled with the winter rains, that set the renovations on a slower time-table than he would have liked.

The revamped amenities include a regulation size dressage court, two jumper fields, a jumper arena and sand turn-outs. Horses have many stabling choices: large corrals, stalls in sizes ranging from 24’ by 24’ to 24’ by 48’. There’s easy access to Rancho Santa Fe’s extensive network of trails and the hilltop location receives nice ocean breezes, keeping even the hottest days cool and pleasant. A full-time caretaker lives on the property.

Best of all is a “warm, welcoming environment,” starting with Graeme’s natural demeanor and extending through every aspect of the property’s management. He grew up in England and learned his horsemanship through Pony Club and a British Horse Society education. Throughout his youth, horses were a sanctuary and he is committed to making them available to all, especially as the equestrian lifestyle has been greatly diminished because of development.

Dreaming Big

Graeme is a dreamer. Seven years ago, he left the corporate world to pursue his passion for horses as a profession. He started with two ponies and grew to operate a thriving training and lesson program. He’s also a good businessman, evidenced by the fact that it was hard-earned proceeds from these past seven years that enabled him to buy Rancho Cielo. That’s along with a loan from the Small Business Administration, one of many sources of support for which he is beyond grateful. “That was one of the many relationships that helped me get this done,” he notes. “You can do anything if you just work with people who support you. Don’t let anybody talk you out of it!”

Good horsemanship and good business sense don’t always go hand in hand. “I love my spreadsheets and my numbers,” Graeme acknowledges. His ownership of another equestrian property in San Marcos puts economies of scale on his side when it comes to big-ticket stable items like shavings and hay. “It’s really wonderful to combine two passions,” he says.

Graeme used to work for AIG, the global insurance company that has generously sponsored the HITS $1 Million jumping class. Attending that big Grand Prix at Thermal at his former employer’s invitation, Graeme updated an old boss on his equestrian accomplishments. “I told him, “some days it even feels like work.’ He looked at me and asked, ‘Only some days?’”

It’s been a whirlwind since buying Rancho Cielo last September. Graeme hopes to have an open house soon and plans for horse-themed social events for the general public are part of his long-range agenda. Meantime, there’s a new crop of summer campers arriving this month to start their own lives with horses and Graeme couldn’t be happier. “If there’s anybody that gets excited about scooping horse manure or the sound of horses hooves walking on gravel, that’s me!”

At Rancho Cielo, that true passion for horses is infectious and Graeme is grateful for the chance to share it on his own terms, at his own place, for the benefit of many. 

For riding, boarding and training opportunities at Rancho Cielo, visit www.TheUKEquestrian.com.