OC Fair & Event Center Creates a 10-year Master Plan

Improvements Good for the Ag and Equine Communities

by Cheryl Erpelding

The equestrian facilities at the OC Fair & Event Center have changed management back to the OC Fair staff and are currently undergoing updates to the arenas and stabling areas. Additionally, the $229m 8-phase master plan includes an agriplex which will be an 89,000-square-foot space that can host horse shows, livestock, and other agricultural-type events, with portable stalls, a pavilion, and exhibit space. I spoke with Evy Young, who has been with the organization for 22 years and is currently the director of agriculture programs, said the OC Fair management recently took over running the equestrian space and is looking forward to giving the equestrians a well-run and well-maintained facility for the horse owners and the many trainers that run their businesses at the busy location which is home to 130 horses. Making sure the horses and the owners are safe and happy and everything is top-notch is Evy and her team’s priority. Upgrades to the website with a complete list of trainers are coming soon – www.OCfair.com. Also on the website is the strategic plan which discusses the coming improvements for the equestrian center – https://ocfair.com/public-information/oc-equestrian-center/

The agrIplex is planned for phase seven, which was reported last month by the Orange County Register: These phases are expected to take place in the next 10 years, with every phase being approved by the current OC Fair board.

The Orange County Register reported last month:

“The Centennial Farm would be expanded by knocking down and rebuilding the current Century Barn to include multi-use pens for pigs, cows, and other animals, along with a storage canopy and a quarantine area. The barn’s neighboring building will be demolished to build a 7,800-square-foot multipurpose education center equipped with an outdoor kitchen, event space, and a greenhouse. The third phase is estimated to cost about $14 million and be completed in 2027.”

“Phases four, five, and six would focus on the upgrades of the show building, Pacific Amphitheatre, and the Action Sports Arena. In phase seven, older barns, offices, and storage sheds would be demolished and replaced with the agriplex and livestock building.”

Event trainer and rider, Lisa Sabo, has been working out of the Orange County Fairgrounds since 2009 and has been very passionate about the location since she relocated from the former El Toro Stables. She operates several equestrian entities including Sabo Eventing, the Newport Mesa Pony Club Riding Center, and a non-profit program called Changing Strides to serve the horse lovers of Orange County.

Lisa has been a watchdog and a fierce advocate for the equestrian center at the OC Fairgrounds and started the OC Fairgrounds Preservation Society in 2009, of whom she is the current president. When she moved there, after a 30-day notice to leave El Toro Stables, she found herself immediately working to protect the equestrian lifestyle at the fairgrounds. She and others started it to fight against the faulty sale of the property. After a two-and-a-half-year-long battle, we sued the state and won our lawsuit to preserve the fairgrounds.

Lisa and her husband Brian Sabo are lifelong horse enthusiasts and active supporters of eventing and bringing new people into horses. According to Lisa, it is so important to offer riding school and Pony Club programs to get those without a lot of funds involved with horses. Once or twice a week with a horse can make a huge difference in a kid’s life. She is so passionate about connecting kids to horses, especially kids at risk, that she and hunter/jumper trainer Sarah Klifa created Changing Strides, a non-profit organization to help kids and adults connect with horses and learn how to ride and care for them. But more importantly, learn how being with a horse is good for their well-being. Sarah also has helped the elderly and those in hospice care with a couple of miniature horses she rescued and retrained for therapy work. She took her horses to healthcare facilities which would always bring smiles to everyone who saw them.

Lisa is excited about the new master and strategic plans and wants to make sure she and others keep educating the appointed fair board members and the public about the benefits of horses and the agricultural lifestyle that has been an important part of the Orange County heritage. She sees the potential of the new agriplex to be comparable to the Los Angeles Equestrian Center.

Sarah Klifa, owner of Cheval Training Stables, offering hunter/jumpers, equitation, and a busy riding school, is also glad to see the recent changes and improvements to the fairgrounds where she got her first start in horses at age 8. As a working student, she either walked or rode her bike to ride at the stables 26 years ago and reflected on how great it was to show at the Orange County Horse Show Association shows back in the 2000s. She hopes the OC Fair will make it possible to bring those horse shows back to the facility so that it can help make horse shows affordable for the majority of horse lovers, who ride on a limited budget. Improving the facility, and bringing in other disciplines to offer the community a wide variety of experiences with horses, is Sarah’s hope. Getting access to horses for those less fortunate is one of the many reasons she joined Lisa in forming Changing Strides. Horses are good for all of us, inside and out.

Gibran Stout who runs the OC Vaulting club shared her thoughts on the importance of public lands being used for equestrian facilities. As land and housing costs rise, the higher costs of keeping horses are pricing many current horse lovers and potential horse enthusiasts out of the market. Gibran echoes Lisa’s sentiments that those of us in the horse industry need to band together and collaborate and find solutions to help others discover horses and the amazing things they do for us humans.

Ashley Danielsen is the owner of All About Horses OC, focusing on jumpers, equitation, and hunters and she too has a busy riding school program. She has several home school learners and caters to the Girl Scouts, plus offers private horse events to help get new people exposed to everything horses. She is very pleased with the improvements and the new footing in the arenas. She too is focused on bringing in newcomers to the horse world and hopes the OC Fair continues to upgrade and expand the horse facilities on the property.

Do you have a solution to keep horses in front of the public, or ways to keep costs down? Please share your story ideas with cheryl@ridingmagazine.com.

About Lisa and Brian Sabo, excerpted from www.SaboEventing.com:

“Brian and Lisa Sabo are living a classic love story. They grew up on the same street and both had an interest in horses. Brian’s mother, Kitty Sabo, founded Woodland Hills Pony Club in 1965 alongside Hilda Gurney, who went on to be an internationally famous Olympic dressage rider, judge, and clinician. Hilda was an extremely influential mentor to both Lisa and Brian.

Not long after, Lisa began to train at the same barn as Brian and they both developed a passion for Eventing. Years later Brian ended up buying land in Paso Robles and Lisa conveniently moved off to San Luis Obispo because she was attending Cal Poly. In 1985, Lisa and Brian married and together they built an empire – Hurdledale Equestrian Center where they trained and rode until 2001. Lisa and Brian are both graduate “A” pony clubbers and Advanced level competitors. Brian has been recognized as the leading event rider in USEA Area VI in both 1969 and 1981. Lisa was a member of the Silver Medal Area VI Young Riders team in 1984 and has ridden a number of horses she trained through the Advanced level including riding at Rolex Kentucky on three different horses. Brian and Lisa have both been long-listed for the U.S. Olympic Team. Lisa has always specialized in starting young horses, working with difficult horses, and teaching young riders and adults.”

“Brian remained active through the advanced level on both coasts until 1984 when his coaching activities began to take precedence. Brian has served the horse community in many ways- USPC District Commissioner, USEA Area VI Chairman, President of the USEA, and coaches the Mexican Olympic Eventing Team. Lisa is still actively competing and coaching.”