California Riding Magazine •September, 2013

Stagecoaches to Rush Hour
The I-5 corridor impacts horses in California.

by Holley Groshek, Equine Land Conservation Resource

Good planning works for horses and communities. Green spaces and open lands improve the value of homes in nearby communities.

Not so long ago, a drive along the US Interstate 5 (I-5) corridor boasted vistas of horses and riders moving cattle or sheep across the golden grass hills. Today horses remain an important though less visible part of the economy of the I-5 corridor.

California's land use stemmed from Spanish land grants. These land grants gave individuals control of sprawling ranchos, used primarily to raise cattle and sheep. Horses were an important part of life and work on the rancho.

These ranchos became part of the California identity. As the housing market grew, communities drew on the look and feel of the rancho. This style planned for horses in the landscape as part of the heritage and lifestyle of the region.

Today, California is home to world-renowned equestrians, top-notch horse communities, successful horse facilities and a wide of a range of horse enthusiasts. However, development pressures like the expansion of I-5 threaten the iconic role of the horse in the state's lifestyle and landscape.

By branding as a horse community, Norco offers residents a high quality lifestyle and creates an enduring draw for the community.

Horses Benefit California

Horses infuse more than $7 billion per year in the California economy and generate 54,200 full-time jobs and countless part-time and seasonal positions. California leads the nation in the amount of money and jobs generated by horses.

But the benefits do not end with dollars. The open spaces needed to care for and enjoy horses provide watershed protection and abate mudslides. Horse communities also serve as buffer zones and habitat for wildlife. In turn, these open landscapes generate higher property values for their neighbors.

For example, groups in Walnut Creek and Danville worked with local governments to establish the value of horse-friendly zoning and policies. Residents in these communities worked across agencies to create inter-connective trail systems. The buffer zones created by the trails increased the value of homes in surrounding, denser developments.

California's horse trails are facing higher usage
and more competing demands than ever.

Rising property values and increasing urbanization force a handful of horse facilities out of business every year. Planners must include horses in their long-term vision in order to ensure that this trickle of lost properties does not turn into an avalanche.

Horse Communities Work for California

Horse communities like Thousand Oaks, Diamond Bar, Yorba Linda, Orange Hills and Bridle Path maintained their equestrian flavor as surrounding communities gave way to dense development. Horse communities develop too but with a focus on keeping horses in the landscape. Horse trails blend with sidewalks and shopping centers.

One Orange County planner joked that horse people were "hard to get rid of" but horse trails saved the day during a wildfire. When fire broke out in the Orange Hills, horse trails acted as a firebreak and provided access to fire trucks.

From San Diego to Mariposa to Placerville, horse-centered communities are thriving. Their residents range from competitive show jumpers to casual trail riders but the benefits of the presence of the horse in California's landscape remains.

The I-5 corridor has a long heritage with horses.
Vistas like this were once common along the busy commuter route.

Horse communities range in costs and style. Communities like Coto de Caza boast mansions and high-end horse shows while places like Norco offer an affordable, casual equestrian lifestyle.

Norco's 14 square miles have more than 100 miles of horse trails. Everyone from the mayor to the residents of this Riverside County town is committed to protecting their horse history into their future.

Norco's plan is to provide "animal-keeping and equestrian lifestyle in a city." Norco planner Steve King comments, "Everything we do in Norco from downtown planning to residential planning is based around keeping horses."

Norco requires a minimum of a half-acre lots and building codes limit the amount of covered surface. While surrounding communities have large houses on small lots, Norco's vistas include open and green space.

Take Action!

The I-5 corridor is the main artery for California's horse industry. It is also a primary transit route for travelers and commuters. Expansion along the corridor will have an impact on countless horse facilities, ranches and hay fields.

Here is how you can make sure your planners are aware of horse related issues as I-5 corridor growth continues.

  • Keep an eye open: Regularly check for updates about projects in your area.
  • Be heard: Speak up about the impact of road expansion on horse facilities.
  • Know the facts: Remind decision makers of the value that horses bring to California's economy, history and lifestyle.
  • Be present: Attend public hearings and speak out for horse interests.

To learn more about advocating for horses in the expansion of the I-5 corridor, visit the Equestrian Land Conservation Resource at