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Ramona – San Diego County Jewel

Residents, equestrian groups help preserve equine-friendly atmosphere, small-town feel

By Audrey Pavia, for the Horsetrader - May 15th, 2014 - Feature Article

RAMONA — Eastern San Diego County is a treasure trove of natural beauty. Oak trees, rolling hills and clear, blue skies greet those who venture from the coast into the foothills of the Laguna Mountains. For horse people, one of the great jewels of the hilly country of San Diego County is picturesque Ramona.

Ramona started as a Spanish land grant belonging to Jose Joaquin Ortega. In 1870, gold was found in the nearby town of Julian, prompting creation of a stage line from San Diego to the town. On their way to San Diego, after nine hours on the stage, the wagons rolled through what would some day become Ramona.

The tiny town that grew from the San Diego-Julian stage line was first named Nuevo. Laid out as a town site in 1870, the area was developed on 3,200 acres of land by the Santa Maria Land and Water Co. The company piped in water from outside the region, and the tiny town site began to grow.

By the 1920s, Ramona had acquired its current name and became home to some of the largest turkey ranches in the world. Known over the next few decades as the Turkey Capital of the World, Ramona was the birthplace of a turkey that made it all the way to White House as a gift to President Harry Truman, in 1947.

Over the ensuing decades, Ramona expanded and now has a population of nearly 40,000. Fortunately for horse lovers, a good number of Ramona residents own equines and have worked hard to keep the city horse-friendly.

Avid Trail Riders

Today in Ramona, it’s all about the horses. Equines of all shapes, sizes and colors can be seen grazing on the hillsides of this small town, lounging in paddocks and carrying riders over the well-maintained trails.

Credit for the constant presence of horses in this city, which is less than an hour from downtown San Diego, goes to the well-organized horse owners who have banded together to protect their equestrian way of life.

“One of the things that sets us apart is that Ramona is the hub of San Diego County,” says Ramona real estate professional Sharon Quisenberry, who moved to the area 40 years ago from Rancho Santa Fe when her husband, Clark, became manager of the former thoroughbred breeding and training facility, Golden Eagle Farm.

“We are an hour or less from the airport and downtown San Diego, we’re anywhere from 30-45 minutes from Julian or the desert, and Del Mar is about 45 minutes away. We really are in the center.”

Quisenberry has seen four decades of change in this community, which remains an unincorporated, 84,000-acre piece of San Diego County situated east of Poway and north of Lakeside. The changes extend beyond population growth, which is now almost five times the 8,000 residents she remembers from early 1980. The variety of horses and disciplines has grown, too. Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses and Arabians were predominant then, but today the spectrum runs from the top-tier three-day eventing horses at the 65-acre Copper Meadow facility to some of the world’s best working cow horses in training with Nicolas Barthelemy at Creek Hollow Ranch — which also hosts dressage trainer Sheri Heiar. The 34th Annual Ramona Rodeo is popular, too, and will fill the Fred Grand Arena here May 15-18.

One of the groups representing horse people in Ramona is the Ramona Equine Industry Network (R.E.I.N.). Formed to protect the interests of horse owners and equine-oriented businesses in the town, R.E.I.N. has a stated goal of encouraging the preservation of the rural character and country lifestyle of Ramona as it undergoes population growth. The group also collaborates with local organizations to promote the economic and community value of developing an interconnected trail system throughout Ramona. Ultimately, R.E.I.N. strives to demonstrate the viability and strength of the town’s equestrian community.

An organization devoted specifically to protecting the trails in Ramona is the Ramona Trails Association. Formed in 1984, the group works to retain access to and maintain existing non-motorized, multi-use trails in the area, as well as actively encouraging new trail development on both public and private lands.

Trail riding is important to Ramona horse owners, who make the most of their bucolic countryside. Staging areas in regional parks near the community are well utilized by trail riders in Ramona. Cuyamaca State Park, a short trailer ride from the town, is a favorite with trail riders and easily accessible to Ramona horse people. The park features mountain and meadow trails on its 26,000 acres of woodland forest. More than 100 miles of trails are available to riders.

Three-Day Eventing

Trail riding is only one of the equine activities enjoyed by horse lovers in Ramona. At the privately-owned Copper Meadows, eventers enjoy a rare opportunity to practice and compete at their sport.

“Our most notable feature is our cross-country course,” says Carolyn Hoffos, owner of Copper Meadows. “We have all the levels Advanced through Beginner Novice, and the course is USEA and USEF recognized and approved.”

The facility hosts recognized competitions annually in summer and fall, as well as unrecognized shows throughout the year. Copper Meadows is also headquarters for the local Pony Club, which, in exchange for riding at the facility twice a month, works the shows as jump judges, scribes and gate stewards.

Happy Residents

Horse people who live in Ramona gush about their lifestyle in this horse-happy town. With residents living on anywhere from 1/4 acre of horse property to hundreds of acres, Ramona is home to just about every form of equine fanatic known to mankind.

Horse owner Thomas Levin grew up in Ramona and remembers when it was a small agricultural area.

“I grew up on a 160-acre ranch here in the late 1960s,” he says. “Television didn’t come in very well, and we were so far from neighbors or friends, the only thing that would get us closer was horses. So I was riding horses before I could ride a bicycle.”

Levin still lives in Ramona, this time in an area called Barona Mesa, on a large ranch, with his wife and three horses.

“I love the diversity in the properties here, the diversity in the people and the active involvement of all those that own horses,” he says. “Ramona has become a mecca for horse people. We have numerous Thoroughbred ranches as well as every type or other specialty horse breed. If you’re looking for a trainer of a specific type of discipline or training, look no further than Ramona.”

Levin notes that with all the attractions for horsepeople in Ramona, it’s the land and the people that truly make it special.

“You just can’t find this mix of people anywhere else,” he says. “Throw in beautiful landscape and a lot of horses, and you’ve got a great place to live.”

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