Sycamore Trails is Thankfully Saved from Bulldozer!

Longtime horse lovers preserve the horse lifestyle for many in Orange County

by Cheryl Erpelding

Last year, long-time equestrian enthusiast Denise Haunert-Marshall and her husband Tim Marshall grew concerned about the growing trend of Southern California horse properties disappearing. They wondered where their own horses that had been at the equestrian center at the Orange County fairgrounds for over 7 years would go if the equestrian center ceased operations. Fearing that a game of horse property musical chairs had begun in Southern California, Denise and Tim decided to find a horse property to ensure that their horses and barn-mates’ horses would have a place to be if the music stopped. They were on the hunt for a 30-50 stall facility to which they could move the horses in training with Denise’s trainer, Molly Brock of Inverness Ridge Stables. As events unfolded, however, the desire to secure a property for their private use morphed into a mission to save a 60 year old horse property in San Juan Capistrano.

Just after beginning their property search, Tim and Denise learned that Sycamore Trails Stables, an icon in the Southern California equestrian community, had just gone into escrow and was slated to become a church. Essentially this meant that 400+ horses, 10 or so trainers and their employees, as well as about 20 farm staff members would be displaced, and 20 acres of horse property would be no more. Unfortunately it was too late at that point for Denise and Tim to buy the property because Sycamore was in escrow with the church, but the fact that Sycamore would soon be gone kept nagging at the back of their minds as they searched for other options. If given the chance, they knew they would do what they could to save this horse property, which had been so lovingly built and maintained by the Hanson family for over 45 years. Ultimately, their patience and diligence paid off and luck smiled on them and the horse community when, on December 30, 2022, they were able to close on the property.

“As equestrian enthusiasts, my husband, Tim Marshall, and I are thrilled to be able to keep Sycamore Trails Stables exactly what we think it should be — a horse facility!” said Denise.

The facility has recently been renamed the San Juan Capistrano Equestrian Center, and while Tim and Denise will make some changes over the coming months and years, current operations are very similar to the way things have run for the last several years. During the escrow with the church, some horses relocated to other facilities and the horse population at Sycamore decreased, which was fortuitous in that Denise and Tim believe the optimal experience for horses, riders, trainers and horse owners can be achieved with about 375 horses on property. Denise is excited about taking over this incredible facility and moving her horses and her barn-mates’ horses to keep training with Molly at Inverness Ridge Stables’ new location at the San Juan Capistrano Equestrian Center. Watch for future updates as the equestrian center continues to evolve.

Real Estate Agent Marya Jefferson first alerted me to the news of Sycamore’s outcome. Marya, as a devoted equestrian, was grateful for the opportunity to represent Denise and Tim in their mission to save Sycamore Stables. She is also on a mission to bring awareness to the horse community of the impact of the continued loss of horse property in California to our readers.

Most of us know that facilities that board and train horses have been steadily declining, significantly impacting the livelihood of horse professionals in Southern California. The horse community needs to band together to help encourage investors and others to keep these essential pieces of land as horse property so that generations that come after us can experience the joy horses bring us. Thankfully Denise, Tim, and many others continue to preserve these facilities throughout Orange, San Diego, and Riverside County to meet the needs of the equestrian community.

One organization promoting the horse lifestyle in Orange County is the San Juan Capistrano Equestrian Coalition (SJCEC) – – which states on its website, “We serve to protect and promote the interests of those who value equine ownership and activities as important aspects of our quality of life.”

SJCEC encourages the horse community to become members. They state, “As our organization continues to grow, we look forward to diversifying our coalition so that we represent equestrians of all disciplines as well as non-riders that love horses. Together we are here to educate and preserve the equestrian lifestyle.”

“The SJCEC gladly welcomes volunteers from all trades and professions to help with the operation of our organization. We are in need of members with legal, graphic design, and accounting skills to work with our organization on a variety of projects. We would greatly appreciate you sharing your special talents with us.”

We that love horses understand how vital and impactful these amazing creatures are, and we need to share with others how horses can improve our lives. We must work together to find ways to keep these essential facilities as California’s population continues to grow and development squeezes out the land we need for our beloved horses. The solutions are likely, not easy, but the first step is sharing the topic with more people and helping others understand these creatures’ immense value for so many of us.

If you have an idea or thoughts on this important subject, please email, and we will be happy to share them with our audience.To learn more about the San Juan Capistrano Equestrian Center – visit them on the former url – .

As we went to press, Lisa Sabo, an eventing trainer at the Orange County Fairgrounds, said things were headed in a positive direction for the equestrian facilities. Watch for our report on the positive changes that are being made for the horses and horse businesses operating out of that property in our April issue.

Marya Jefferson

Outside of real estate, Marya’s greatest passion is horseback riding. She has been riding and competing since she was ten years old. Her love for horses evolved into a lifestyle, beginning as a custom saddles sales representative for eleven years. She cherishes the connections made during that time and continues to be a trusted resource for her fellow equestrian friends and clientele.

Combining her love of riding with real estate was easy, as equestrian properties require a keen eye for detail and an understanding of how they operate. She truly embodies the bond between humans and horses.

Marya is a great facilitator for your real estate transaction. She can be your trusted advisor on the current market conditions and trends and will gently guide you through the process of buying and selling real estate. Marya approaches every transaction with an expectation of success and fulfillment.

Marya states: “My goal is to help you find the ideal property for your lifestyle—whether it’s an equestrian home base or a weekend getaway location.”