2020 threw a wrench in the exciting plans of almost every horse show in the United States with its various unexpected challenges, and Galway Downs in Temecula, California, was no exception. Despite the obstacles created by COVID-19, the team behind Galway Downs put forth their best efforts and achieved incredible results. Thanks to Ken Smith, owner of Galway Downs, Robert Kellerhouse, general manager of Galway Downs, and Ali and Francie Nilforushan of Nilforushan Equisport Events, Galway Downs is on track to exceed expectations for 2021. Kellerhouse credits his fantastic partnership with Nilforushan Equisport Events and Ken Smith for the significant capital improvements that have led to the transformation of Galway Downs.
Facility owner, Ken Smith, leads with the vision that Galway Downs facilitates the celebration of life. Since he purchased the property in 2010, Ken Smith’s goal was to create a multipurpose facility. He was determined to elevate and update the facility every year to support the grandeur of the events held on the grounds. Whether it is competing at horse shows, hosting a wedding, or having competitive junior soccer teams practice on their fields, Smith is thrilled that Galway is evolving into more of a multipurpose venue.
Kellerhouse, a life long equestrian who was raised in the sport of eventing, worked with his mom, Anne Kellerhouse, to put San Diego county on the map in the eventing world in the 1980s. They ran their first events at Pio Pico in Southeast San Diego County before moving to the Del Mar Horsepark (formerly Del Mar Showpark) in 1986. In 1998, Robert and his mom brought their events to Galway Downs, a 240-acre equestrian facility that was primarily a thoroughbred training facility, complete with a training track.
Nearly four years ago, the Nilforushan’s became involved and have been the driving force of the evolution of the Equestrian facilities ever since. Their commitment to excellence is demonstrated by the constant venue improvements and their dedication to bettering their horse shows each year. This has led to an exciting new beginning for all horse shows at Galway Downs.
The Dream Team
From the beginning, the Kellerhouse family worked to make their event ideal for competitors and spectators alike. From securing top judges, to hiring leading cross-country and jumping course designers, and finding meaningful sponsors, the event was set up for significant growth early on. Bert Wood joined the Kellerhouse eventing team in 1996 and, over the years, has built hundreds of jumps and horse show structures adding to the prestige of the facility.
Fast forward 23-years, and Kellerhouse’s enthusiasm has reached new heights. With the addition of the Nilforushan Equisport Events team, Kellerhouse’s excitement and outlook for the property continues to grow. The Nilforushan’s have made a significant investment into Galway Downs to bring about the many capital improvements on the Equestrian side of the facility. This includes building several new arenas with the sports finest footing by Footing Solutions, adding permanent structures for shade and entertaining, as well as seating for spectators. With their support, the small local venue that Francie grew up showing at, has transformed into a boutique and highly-sought after facility. Thanks to the life that Nilforushan Equisport Events has breathed back into Galway Downs, it is now home to top hunter/jumper, eventing, dressage, and breed shows.
As a former event manger and promoter, Nilforushan has used his unique background to create the ultimate horse show experience that combines great food, a wonderful venue, superior stabling, friendly and helpful show management, and extraordinary entertainment. In 2021, Nilforushan Equisport Events hosted eight-time Grammy winner Ziggy Marley and Saturday Night Live comedian, Kevin Nealon, on stage for their exhibitors.
“Without Nilforushan Equisport Events and their investments into their shows as well as the venue, the facility’s support base was fading fast,” said Kellerhouse. “The equestrian venue was aging and the footing was subpar before the Nilforushan’s stepped in. Over these past four years, we have seen the equestrian attributes bloom. Galway Downs truly has multiple arenas with world-class footing, beautiful landscaping and fencing, top-quality stables, and viewing areas including our new pavilion that all help create the best atmosphere for horse shows.” Fortunately, Bert Wood is now working with the entire Galway team and serves as chief builder for the myriad of upgrades, including that stunning new VIP pavilion for the Grand Prix arena.
The Nilforushan’s and Kellerhouse share the common goal of extending the positive experience beyond just the competitor to include family, friends, and all members of the show team. They hope to continue to provide improvements so visitors can look forward to returning to the ever-changing and improving facility for years to come. Both managers stress their crucial roles as gracious hosts, to offer unbelievable hospitality, and to provide an unforgettable experience. Their mission is for all to get the most out of their time at Galway, whether exhibitors are winning their classes or bringing home solid competition mileage. Regardless of the different reasons that riders come together at Galway – watching, grooming, spectating, judging, or competing, and beyond – everyone should be having a great time.
Improvements Upon Improvements
Galway Downs has come a long way since the Smith, Kellerhouse, and Nilforushan involvement began. The covered Pavilion, upgraded audio systems, new arenas and grandstands, just scratch at the surface of some of the newer features that spectators and competitors alike can enjoy. International event rider, Clayton Fredricks, has just put the finishing touches on a brand-new cross-country course to be debuted in November, as well as supported the addition of the exclusive WOODHOUSE™ stables. The recent addition of rubber mats to stalls and walkways ensure a safer and more comfortable experience for horses and riders of all disciplines.
Outside of competition improvements, Smith has directed his energies into landscaping and improved lodging at the Galway Downs facility. Kellerhouse says “Ken Smith loves Galway and has been the most influential owner in the property’s transformation over the years.” Alongside a wedding venue, Smith has added various housing options across the property, including Ranch Houses, Airstreams, and RV spaces. New this year, Smith, Kellerhouse, and the Nilforushan’s have added tiny homes known as Pony Houses that will also be available for Galway Downs visitors that would like to stay on site.
Kellerhouse reflects, “As someone who has been in Southern California for many years, it’s been inspiring to be part of the evolution of a unique venue that stands on its own feet with the activities it hosts. Creating that was no small task and the work that went on for years is thankfully taking root. The weddings, sports fields, and equestrian events now all contribute to the beautiful venue’s success.”
More To Come
Though Galway Downs may be known for its three day events, hunter/jumper shows, and race horses, the management team is excited to begin hosting Dressage competitions. “Galway Downs and Robert Kellerhouse have been a lifesaver for our Dressage community in Southern California,” said California-based Dressage rider Ellie Hardesty. “Considering the COVID-19 restrictions and lack of facilities, the CDS San Diego Dressage Chapter is grateful for the support we’ve received from Galway Downs. We were able to provide top-quality shows for our riders to qualify for the USEF National Dressage Championships. Top notch footing and stabling is a must in our sport, and Galway is exceeding that requirement.”
Overall, the teamwork behind Galway Downs is what Kellerhouse believes will propel it to the top of the horse show world. “At Galway, we are dedicated to working as a team to knit it all together in a way that the entire equestrian community including spectators, owners, and sponsors alike can appreciate,” Kellerhouse said. “Money alone doesn’t make that happen; it doesn’t fully capture the atmosphere that has been developed through the synergy of the entire Galway Family.”
Besides serving as one of California’s top horse show facilities, Galway Downs is home to 225 horses and 14 expert sport horse and racing trainers.
Ellie Hardesty states: “Galway Downs and Robert Kellerhouse have been a lifesaver for our Dressage community in Southern California. Especially with dealing with Covid restrictions and lack of facilities, the CDS San Diego Dressage Chapter is grateful for the support we’ve received from Galway Downs. We were able to provide Top-quality shows for our riders to qualify for the USEF National Dressage Championships. Especially with Del Mar Horsepark having an unknown re-opening date, Galway Downs has provided exceptional facilities for our community. Top notch footing and stabling is a must in our sport, and Galway exceeding that requirement. We look forward to continue working with Galway Downs and Robert Kellerhouse as they are in the forefront of creating one of the best facilities on the West Coast.” The Temecula chapter has also raved about the stunning improvements that Nilfuroshan Equisports Events has installed at Galway and they are thrilled to hold their growing shows at the world class equestrian facility.