Horses in Orange County

Orange County’s history with horses runs deep.  In fact, traces of ancestors to the modern horse have been found throughout the county, including Costeau Park in Laguna Hills.  These ancient horses lived over 40,000 years ago alongside Columbian Mammoths, giant sloths, and camels.   The last of these horse ancestors in North America died out about 12,000 years ago but by that time the modern genus Equus had migrated to parts of Europe and Asia, not finding themselves back in North America for thousands of years.

Fast forward to the 1500s with the beginning of the Spanish exploration when Conquistadors re-introduced horses to North America.  Fifteen horses were brought by the Cortez expedition and were imported by Spanish homesteaders in Mexico.  These horses were greatly valued but occasionally escaped.  Within 150 years, millions of wild horses were roaming the plains and being domesticated to be used throughout California for ranch work.

Santa Ana Train Depot – 1887. Photo Courtesy of Orange County Archives.

Long time Orange County residents recall a time when horses and cattle dotted the landscape where housing tracks now lay.  They remember seeing people galloping in the surf in Laguna beach and maybe even a time when horses outnumbered cars.

Horses are still a part of Orange County.  San Juan Capistrano has the highest horse per capita ratio in the County with over three thousand horses within the city.  Bridges Equestrian at Sycamore Trails Stables in Orange County is a fantastic place to enjoy horseback riding today.  We offer horseback riding lessons and camps to all ages and abilities of riders.  We hope to see you soon!