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Old Town meets Horsetown

Temecula combines horses, wineries, modern living

By Audrey Pavia for the Horsetrader - April 17th, 2014 - Special Section

TEMECULA — Rolling hills, vineyards and a romantic history. Add all this to a thriving horse community and you have the inland valley city of Temecula. Located in Riverside County just north of the San Diego County border, Temecula is situated in the beautiful Temecula Valley. With Mt. San Jacinto towering on the horizon and dry air flowing in from the desert, Temecula is not only picturesque but perfect in climate as well.

Old West
When the Spanish Franciscan father Juan Norberto de Santiago first came to the Temecula Valley in 1797, he discovered the Temecula Indians, a band of Luise-os Indians, living in the hills. The tribe took its name from the Luise-o Indian word “Temecunga,” which means “place of the sun.” The Spanish misspelled the word as “Temecula,” and the Indians and their resident valley was so named.

Father Santiago was the first European to see the valley, which he discovered on an expedition from Mission San Juan Capistrano while seeking a site for a new mission. In the early 1800s, the Pala Mission was eventually built in the Valley.

In 1845, the Mexican government granted the Temecula Valley to a rancher named Felix Valdez. Called Rancho Temecula, the land grant consisted of 26,608 acres.

This was the time of the Wild West, and Temecula was right in the heart of it. One of the many stories surrounding Temecula during this period is of a great massacre that took place in January 1847. The ordeal began when a group of Temecula Indians captured 11 Mexican soldiers who were fighting in the Mexican-American War and executed them at Warner Springs.

The Mexican army retaliated and pursued the Indians, who tried to escape by hiding in a canyon as they hoped to ambush the soldiers. The Cahuilla Indians, who lived nearby and were at odds with the Temecula Indians, aided the Mexican army and ultimately trapped and killed the Temeculans. The bodies were buried near Highway 79, where the burial mound can still be seen today.

In the 1850s, California achieved statehood, and stagecoaches started running through Temecula, bringing settlers to the area. The Butterfield Overland stagecoach had a stop in Temecula, in the area that is now Old Town.

When the 1900s arrived, Temecula became known as a shipping point for cattle and grain. Cowboys drove cattle from backcountry ranches into Temecula, where the cattle was placed on trains and shipped to market.

Cattle remained king in Temecula all the way into the 1960s. The Vail Ranch, which held over 87,500 acres, was the center of Temecula’s economy. Temecula stayed a cow town during this period, and many of its residents remained ranchers, cowboys and Indians.

In the late 1960s and ’70s, land developers discovered Temecula and began building homes in the area. At the same time, the eastern part of the Valley retained its value as an agricultural area and became home to avocado grows and vineyards.

When Interstate 15 was built in the 1980s, home values in the Valley began to skyrocket. Since then, Temecula has steadily grown into an upscale suburb and commercial area, famous for its picturesque wineries. However, despite this major change in the Valley’s landscape, horses are still a big part of this beautiful city.

Facilties Galore
Although cows and cowboys were the predominant theme of Temecula for many decades, all disciplines of riding are now visible in the town’s strong equine community. Small breeding operations, upscale boarding facilities and even a world-class equestrian center can all be found here.

The unique collection of top trainers here reads like a Who’s Who list: Bob Avila, Susie Hutchison, Brenda Brown, Tanya Jenkins, Rob Wallen, Donnie Bricker, Dana Hoklana, Hawley Bennett and Tim Smith to name a few.

“You have the best of the western world, you have the best of the hunter-jumper world, you have the best of the saddle horses and the eventers,” says Hutchison, an American Grandprix Association Rider of the Year whose barn is based at Casner Ranch on De Portola Road in the heart of an area designated Valle de los Caballos. “There”s a sense of community, too, and that’s what’s so much fun. There is such a variety of events and clinics – I love learning from everybody.”

Trainer Sheryl Lynde, who specializes in colt starting and foundation training, finds the local population of trainers unique and inspiring.

“The level of trainers here is something that we all draw from – from one another,” she says. “There is no competition. We’re all here and will help each other out. It’s a great spirit and a great community.”

Temecula”s equestrian community spirit was evident April 12 at the venerable Green Acres Ranch, home to trainers Roy Rich and his sister, Katherine Rich Elzig. Sparked by their mother, Margaret Rich, Green Acres and the Rancho California Arabian Horse Association hosted the second annual all-breed, all-discipline “Horses Head to Hoof” celebration. Participants included several local trainers, including Rich-Elzig, Wallen and Lynde, as well as dozens of vendors who set up and engaged with the 4,000 or so who attended the event free of admission.

Margaret Rich said the good turn-out, about 50 percent more than 2013, helps introduce Temecula’s non-equestrians to horses in general and their local ranches in particular.

“The growth in attendance shows that there are a lot of people in this town who, first, love horses and, second, want an outdoor experience that’s free,” she says. “We have horsepeople and non-horsepeople here, and many are young. They want to touch the horses and see what’s going on.”

Another part of an “old country” feel here stems from Old Town Temecula, where historic buildings from the 1800’s still stand. Stores, restaurants and wineries are part of the attraction of Old Town Temecula, which draws visitors from all around Southern California.

SoCal Equestrians
One of the biggest attractions for equestrians in Temecula is Galway Downs. The 240-acre, world class equestrian facility, founded in 1968, hosts a variety of events all year long, including premier West Coast eventing competitions like the Galway Downs International Three-Day CCI3* Event Oct. 30-Nov. 2. The facility, with a track and amenities built a generation ago as the centerpiece of a plan to lure horseracing farms to the area, has seen dramatic improvements over the last decade, as management steers it toward its potential as an events center.

“The revived grounds are an enormous asset to the area’s equestrian population and to all of its citizens,” says Robert Kellerhouse, general manager of the facility. “Temecula, because of its location between Los Angeles and San Diego, is under tremendous development pressure. But the area where we are located, Valle de los Caballos, has long been home to horses.”

Not far from Galway Downs lies the serene Roloff Ranch, a full-service facility owned by Don and Bonnie Roloff. Thirty-two years ago, Roloff Ranch began rehabilitating horses off Galway Downs. Today, its world-class reputation attracts international clientele for its rehabilitation as well as breaking and training, mare and foal care, retirement, as well as boarding and training.

Why have they remained here 32 years?

“Because we have never found another place as nice,” says Bonnie. “Temecula is very unique place, and we feel lucky to be a part of it.”

Temecula realtor and horsewoman Beth Good has resided in the Valley nine years, and she enjoys the area”s unique experiences – like horse camping at Galway Downs.

“We woke up to morning gallops on the race track, then turned our chairs and watched the hunter show starting up,” she says. “Then we climbed in the saddle about nine o’clock and rode on a trail ride through the vineyards and came back to Galway for a great lunch. It was a blast.”

Is there any other horse area like this one, such a blend of climate, space, proximity, best-in-class trainers and trail-riding?

“I don”t think so,” says Margaret Rich. “It is a unique area. That’s what we need to protect, that we can have this area that is centered around Galway. One day, Galway will be a huge events center — that was the original plan 40-some years ago.”

“This was all horse ranches,” she adds, gesturing space beyond her busy Green Acres. “Forty-acre minimums. Everyone had access to the track. You could raise your horses at home, go over there and exercise them and do whatever you needed to do, and bring them back home again.”

As land-use goes, a degree of protection followed the Riverside County Board of Supervisors’ adoption of the Temecula Valley Wine Country Plan on March 11. The plan placed an equestrian district on the map, but it didn’t include trails, a big deficiency as far as many equestrians are concerned.

The Rancho California Horsemen’s Association is driving to acquire 2,000 signatures to demonstrate support in the ongoing effort with the County.

“Horses can”t live just anywhere,” says Juanita Koth. “That”s why so many equestrians have chosen to live, work and raise our families in beautiful, rural Temecula for decades.”

Koth’s Temecula”s Trails campaign is online (Http://Change.org), under the search text “Temecula Trails”. She says the growing number of signatures will be presented at relevant Riverside County Parks and Trails meetings.

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