The scenic El Capitan Ranch equestrian facility is closing its doors to the public, citing hard economic times. The 201-acre El Capitan Ranch — located approximately 10 miles north of Goleta along Highway 101 — has provided the community with horse boarding, riding lessons, bike trails and a venue for weddings and concerts for years. The ranch was recently sold to a private landowner, however, meaning the popular equestrian center will be closing.
Despite its pristine façade, Christine Nicholson, the general manager of El Capitan, said the facility has suffered from the economic crisis.
“The economy has caused everything to go up — vets, [horse]shoes,” Nicholson said. “[Owning horses is a] very expensive thing. People aren’t [competing] as much; they’re not doing as much with their horses. It’s affecting trainers.”
According to Nicholson, new owner Lyndon Lea will be using the facility for his polo horses, but the ranch will continue to offer jobs. Although Nicholson is saddened by the close of El Capitan, she wishes the best for Lea and his horses.
“We hope that it will grow to be bigger and better in another way,” she said.
Amapola Ranch — which is located on San Marcos Road in Santa Barbara and serves as the home of the UCSB Equestrian Team — was boarding a number of horses at the ranch that have since been forced to move.
Still, Rebecca Atwater, coach of the Equestrian Team at UCSB and head trainer of Santa Barbara stables at Amapola Ranch, said she was grateful that the community still cares enough about horses to keep the animals alive and prospering and the land undeveloped.
“All ranch owner land value has gone up so much and owners are feeling the pressure to subdivide,” Atwater said. “Over the years in Santa Barbara, I have noticed the ranches being turned into homes. I’m happy that El Capitan will [continue to] be a ranch. Protecting open land is a great asset so that horse lovers will have the opportunity to ride.”
El Capitan Ranch functioned as a popular tourist spot and its closing has left some community members speculating about the condition of the tourism industry in Santa Barbara.
However, according to Shannon Brooks from Santa Barbara Tourism Conference and Visitors Bureau, El Capitan Ranch is not representative of the success of other tourist attractions. Brooks is confident that tourism rates in Santa Barbara are actually growing.
“People’s travel and spending patterns have changed during the economic downturn,” Brooks said. “On the most basic level, leisure travelers are taking fewer and shorter trips. … Many are traveling to destinations closer to home, which is actually a positive for Santa Barbara, because we are a popular destination for Southern Californians.”
Despite El Capitan’s closing, Brooks said Santa Barbara County has a lot to offer for tourists and residents alike.
“Be a tourist in your own backyard and take advantage of everything Santa Barbara has to offer.”