At the far reaches of the university’s property, and in an area wrapped by trees and open trails, West Campus has found a few problems similar to those of the main campus – threat of redevelopment, overcrowding by students and… horse thieves?
“We’ve had people in the past come in and steal the horses,” said Lauren Riley, Horse Boarders Association secretary. “Typically it’s not any member [of the stables], but people from the community. One person took a horse off the site and rode it into Isla Vista. This person claimed he had experience [but] he got bucked off and [the horse] came running back.”
Past Francisco Torres, behind Isla Vista Elementary School and near Ellwood Forest lies UCSB’s West Campus Stables, a horse cooperative that offers students, staff and community members a place to board their horses.
Surrounded by towering eucalyptus trees, the stables are adjacent to a wetland environment that doubles as a nesting site for a variety of birds including Cliff Swallows, Great Horned Owls and Red-shouldered Hawks.
On the site stands Campbell Barn, part of the historic Campbell Estate and the oldest building at UCSB. It is currently undergoing restoration after sustaining damages from a 1978 earthquake.
“As far as the red barn, we’re not allowed to go into it,” said Riley, a third-year biology major. “We’re trying to get it to be preserved.”
West Campus is an idyllic place for stables, but until recently its future was threatened. According to Riley, the stables had been under siege by the university for years because of fears that the horses contribute to beach erosion. Plans developed to have the structures razed and replaced with housing for faculty.
But members of Horse Boarders Association lobbied the university to spare the property, ultimately resorting to a petition drive. The association is a nonprofit campus club that runs the stables.
“I know that before I came, several years ago, West Campus-owned land has been shrinking within the past 30 years,” Riley said. “I don’t think the university is trying to kick us out, there’s just constant negotiation. The Joint Proposal for the Ellwood-Devereux Coast called for the removal of the West Campus stables and a petition was started to save the student cooperative stables.”
Marc Fisher, associate vice chancellor for campus design and facilities, said that while erosion was a concern, the California Coastal Commission – a body that determines the environmental impact on all coastal development – has approved the stables, albeit with an exception that if the structures are remodeled, they must be moved away from a nearby stream.
“The concern is the horses on the beach,” Fisher said. “While the staff had some reservations … a number of people from Coastal Commission [were] supportive [of keeping the stables].”
Other concerns about the property continue to linger – much like the smell upset neighbors say emanates from the stables.
“I think we’ve always had some trouble … keeping everyone happy in the community,” Riley said. “We do have some problems [and] it’s hard to work with the community and university.”
There is some community confusion about the resources the stables offer, HBA Chairperson Megan McQueeny said. The stables do not offer lessons, or rent out horses, they only board horses for those who already own them. This can be a very important factor to those who like horseback riding, and are considering a college.
“The reason I came to UCSB was because of the stables,” said McQueeny, a fourth-year environmental studies major. “There are holiday parties. It’s a good place to hang out with friends.”
The stables are not entirely closed to those without a mount. Some people take care of a horse in exchange for the privilege of riding.
Leslie Gutierrez-Jones, a lecturer in the English Dept. at UCSB, is one such person. She said she enjoys the laid-back atmosphere of the stables.
“I’ve been very impressed at how relaxed and friendly [the stables are],” Jones said. “It works better here. People introduce themselves.”
McQueeny and Riley said they take part in community chores in order to maintain the cheap boarding the stables offer.
“There’s feeding schedules, community chores like maintaining the area by sweeping up, cleaning and a couple times a quarter there’s a work day for fencing and repairs,” McQueeny said.
Despite saving their buildings and working out mini squabbles with neighbors, Riley said horse owners are restricted in other ways. For instance, they no longer have the liberty to ride on the beach due to the endangered Western Snowy Plovers, which nest on the beach and are particularly susceptible to disturbances.
“Activities on the beach are potential threats for the Snowy Plovers. The activity disturbs their nesting sites and increases their stress level,” Riley said. “We’re definitely supportive of protecting them and working with the Coastal Commission to preserve the birds.”