On Aug. 31, when all of Los Padres National Forest was closed due to fire danger, an unintended danger arose: unsafe passage for horses and their riders in Toro Canyon. This is a first – all the highland trails are closed in the park and adjacent areas, including Romero, Franklin, Coldsprings and others in the Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria Valley.
Now, horses are being ridden on lowland trails maintained by the Montecito Trail Foundation, which extend from Montecito to Carpinteria.
Horse groom Anne Scott, who caretakes for eight horses in the Carpinteria Valley, said that besides the closures, there’s also road construction blocking trails, so she and others have taken to using the Toro Canyon trailhead which is just below Highway 192 on a blind curve.
To get to the trailhead, Scott said they have to traverse roughly 150 yards on Highway 192. “The trail to nowhere, we call it,” Scott said. “It connects us from the polo grounds to Toro Canyon. It’s a major thorough fare.”
But getting across Hwy 192 is dangerous for people and horses, said Scott. Portions of the highway have no shoulder leading most people to ride their horses against traffic. Additionally, visibility is low on the narrow mountain curves.
“It’s a completely blind curve and people drive around it at up to 60 to 70 mph consistently,” Scott said. “People drive so fast down the road and they are not responding to the hand gestures we give to slow down – or yelling.”
There are laws in place to protect horses and their riders, such as drivers must slow down or completely stop when they see a horse. But not all drivers take head.
“It’s very dangerous because horses are flight animals,” Scott said. “So, I have taken to riding in the center of the lane, so people see us. I wear really bright clothing. Neon pink. Orange. People just don’t understand that horses are a flight animal and going past us at 40 mph or higher puts us at extreme danger.”
“You’ve got horses with steel shoes on asphalt. Horses that when they get spooked buck, rear, spin, bolt. You have 1,200 pounds of fearful animal below you when these vehicles go by you at such a high speed.”
Scott said that riders are careful and won’t cross the road if they see or hear a vehicle but that cars can come down the road at fast speeds, and they don’t always have enough warning.
This week, Scott began contacting local officials requesting that a crosswalk be installed. Scott was inspired by the crosswalk on Sheffield Drive that Santa Barbara horsewoman Carol Bennett advocated for and that was ultimately installed to protect horses and their riders.