DEL MAR — Top-tier equestrian shows will return to the Del Mar Horsepark in July following nearly three years of inactivity at the iconic property, with various renovations underway by the park’s new operator.
Horse Shows in the Sun, or HITS, the equestrian events management company overseeing the horse park, will kick off the summer season on July 12 and hold a grand reopening ceremony on July 15, with eleven total shows planned through December.
After canceling the park’s summer 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 22nd District Agricultural Association stunned the equestrian community in January 2021 by officially discontinuing equestrian events due to concerns about the cost of state-required water maintenance.
HITS was selected in June 2022 to manage the property and oversee needed water infrastructure improvements to allow for its reopening.
Since then, the company has been fulfilling a series of improvements, including a new water drainage system, state-of-the-art footing in show arenas, larger stalls, new VIP seating, a new cafe and restaurant and updated restrooms.
“It’s truly one of the iconic properties in all of equestrian sport, and we’re really very pleased that we had the opportunity to take some of the tarnish off the old girl and really shine her off,” said Peter Englehart, CEO of Horse Shows in the Sun.
Del Mar Horsepark general manager Dale Harvey said many areas of the park were in major need of repair, leading to approximately $10 million in renovations so far. This included replacing nearly all the fencing and updating all the electricity onsite.
“It’s over 40 years old, then you add in the fact that it was essentially closed down for almost three years,” Harvey said. “It’s taken a huge effort and was way more intensive than we thought it was gonna be.”
Water infrastructure changes at the site have been critical to its ability to reopen and served as a requirement of HITS’s lease to operate the park. HITS has implemented around $8 million in stormwater quality improvements, including water quality basins, drainage diversions and bioretention and infiltration plans.
According to Harvey, the company has had to work alongside both an environmental consultant and the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board to ensure everything is up to par.
At this point, he said, construction is on track, and the park should be able to open as scheduled.
All eleven shows scheduled for 2023 will take place on the uncovered grass and sand arenas, while the covered arena will be used as a warmup area. During the second phase of repairs starting in November, HITS will begin enhancements to the covered arena to make it into a world-class stadium environment.
When horses begin returning to the park on July 10, they will enjoy larger stalls with rubberized floor mats and new doors, something Harvey said will greatly enhance the animals’ comfort and safety.
Harvey said he is excited to see the park reopening, as someone who was a shower and trainer at the property in years past.
“I used to be here as a trainer and I was showing here myself until it closed. Once I got into show production and management, I produced a lot of shows here. It was always dear to my heart that it would be reopened,” he said.
Harvey, CEO of West Palm Events, also had a somewhat roundabout journey to the role of the horse park general manager.
West Palms Events was originally selected to manage the park in early 2022 but backed out due to failed contract negotiations. After HITS was chosen as the new lessee months later, the company then contracted Harvey to serve as the manager of the horse park.
Del Mar Horsepark leaders are expecting the renovated site to bring an additional $50-$60 million into the region annually, and this season will offer a total prize purse of $1.3 million — the highest in the park’s four-decade history, according to Englehart.
“We’re gonna have a lot of people coming to Del Mar this summer,” said Englehart. “We’re really positioning it as a premium property in the equestrian world.”
Leaders of the organization Friends of the Del Mar Horsepark, which worked hard to keep the park from closing permanently, also expressed excitement about the reopening.
“Friends of Del Mar Horsepark congratulates HITS SHOWS LLC for stepping up to restore our community treasure,” co-founders Carla Echols-Hayes and Laura DeMarco said in a statement.
The grand reopening event will take place at 4 p.m. on June 15 and will include food, beverages, a dog agility performance and the Grand Prix jumping final, followed by live music. For more information and for a full schedule of shows, visit hitsdelmar.com.