OC Fair Board approves new vision for the fairground’s equestrian center

Last week (Jan. 25), OC Fair Board voted to implement a new vision for the fairground’s equestrian center that focuses on providing free and low-cost educational and recreational programming to serve a wider public audience.

Some of the public programming elements discussed by the board include:

–Hands-on equine experiences for tour groups.

–Equine and agricultural exhibits.

–Accredited equine-assisted therapeutic activities.

–Small regional horse shows open to the public.

–Riding instruction by hired or contracted trainer(s).

–Emergency large animal evacuation.

–Partnership with city and county mounted law enforcement units.

–Boarding of privately owned horses can be offered after programs and schedules are established.

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Courtesy of OC Fair & Event Center

A new operating model for the OC fairgrounds equestrian center would provide hands-on experiences with horses as well as exhibitions and events to educate and entertain the general public

At their December 2023 meeting, after hearing hours of public comment, the board voted to cancel the process of producing a request for proposal (RFP) to identify an independent operator for the equestrian center which is used by private trainers and boarders of privately owned horses. The board instead instructed the staff to recommend a new operating model for the equestrian center which would provide hands-on experiences with horses as well as exhibitions and events to educate and entertain the general public.

“The board is very excited to introduce the vision for a reimagined equine center,” said Board Chair Nick Kovacevich. “It’s an opportunity for OC Fair & Event Center (OCFEC) to expand our agriculture-related education and recreation programs to the public, allowing all in the community to interact with and learn about horses.”

The staff will be engaging with community resources including equine experts, education resources, nonprofits, equestrian show promoters, and city and county partners who will act as advisors to execute the board’s vision.

The next steps include working in partnership with these resources to develop programming, create an execution plan, recommend an operating budget and develop a timeline for rollout. Staff will update the board and the public monthly.

The OCFEC Equestrian Center sits on the northeast corner of the fairgrounds and consists of about 7.5 acres currently used mostly by private businesses and boarders. OCFEC staff assumed direct management and operations at the equestrian center in January 2023 and spent the year evaluating the property and its finances. The equine center was previously managed by an outside contractor.

After reporting a projected annual loss of more than $1 million, the board began the process to find a new operator to take over the full operation and costs of the equestrian center. The board opted to cancel the RFP process last month and instead requested the staff to provide recommendations for a new vision and operating model, focusing on greater public benefit.

Using a similar model to Centennial Farm and Heroes Hall at OCFEC, tours, exhibits, educational programs and horse shows at the equestrian center will be aimed at providing access to equine experiences and expanding visitors’ knowledge of the importance of horses.

The equestrian center will continue to partner with the County of Orange to provide a site for large-animal evacuation in the event of emergencies.

This new vision changes the business model of the equestrian center, moving away from renting to private businesses and horse owners. The board emphasized that this new operating model could include boarding of privately owned horses only after public programs and schedules are established.

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