Published August 2010
In car-centric Orange County, we don’t really think much about horses, except maybe as part of the county’s distant past, or to marvel at (or lament) the transformation of the epic Western landscapes of Irvine Ranch and Rancho Santa Margarita from rustic cattle operations into something, well, less rustic.
But in late April, during a planning meeting for this issue, we decided to build a story around the 10th annual Rancho Mission Viejo Rodeo, which takes place Aug. 28 and 29. Our editors started riffing on all the different ways locals still make their living on horseback, or in some way related to horses.
Someone mentioned the Sheriff’s Department’s mounted patrols, of course, and the jockeys, warm-up riders, stall muckers, and others at Los Alamitos Race Course. Those were the obvious ones. But then the meeting gained a weird momentum.
Has anybody noticed how many upscale Orange County housing developments bill themselves as equestrian communities, one editor asked. Aren’t there still a few real cowboys working in the hills beyond the suburb-iscape? What about that big equestrian center in Huntington Beach? Those jousting knights at Medieval Times in Buena Park? And the stagecoach drivers at Knott’s Berry Farm?
Ideas tumbled out. Isn’t there a working blacksmith in Orange? Are there really three Boot Barn stores in the county? A tack shop in Lake Forest? Wait, there’s an Orange County Polo Club? Aren’t the annual Portola Spring Ride and the Oaks Classic jumping competition among the county’s most prestigious social events?
We suddenly realized why even ersatz cowboys such as Gene Autry and John Wayne occupy prominent spots in the county’s civic pantheon. It’s because the divide between our past and our present isn’t nearly as wide as we had assumed.
True, the most rustic things in modern Irvine and Rancho Santa Margarita are garage doors you have to open yourself. But the closer you look, the more you realize horses are not just a vestigial part of Orange County culture. They’re very much a part of who we are now. So this month, it’s our pleasure to offer a guide to it all, starting on Page 88. Happy trails.
Martin J. Smith