Handicapped Children's Riding Program Clears All Its Hurdles

In the fall of 1990, the outlook was bleak for an equestrian program for handicapped children and 250 horse owners at Rancho del Rio Stables.

They all faced eviction because of a complicated land swap designed to clear the way for Anaheim's proposed indoor sports arena.

"We were kind of crushed," said Frosty Kaiser, executive director of the American Riding Club for the Handicapped, when she learned in October, 1990, that the Rancho del Rio Stables' land west of the Orange Freeway, between Ball Road and Katella Avenue, would be sold as part of the arena deal.

"We have so many horses and kids to try to locate, it kind of threw us into a panic. . . . We have to have wheelchair access and places to put our wheelchair ramps."

"Land is at a premium in Orange County, especially for stables," Kaiser said at the time. "Most of the stables in Orange County are slowly being lost to construction or housing. We are really in a dilemma on what to do and where to go."

Fast-forward 26 months.

Today, Kaiser's program remains at Rancho del Rio Stables. In fact, so does the 4-H equestrian program that also faced eviction. And so do most of the 250 privately owned horses that are boarded there.

Indeed, the feared eviction never came to pass. However, the stables, which are located just north of where the arena is being constructed on Douglass Road, were moved slightly to the west, and their 9 acres were reduced to about 6 1/2 acres.

"Everything really turned out great once we got cooking," said Richard Tozer, a retired Anaheim firefighter who owned the stables for about 20 years.

In 1983 Tozer had given a private developer an option to buy his property for $1.5 million. The developer, Sanderson J. Ray Development Co., waited five years but exercised the option in order to combine the land with another parcel, then resell them to the city.

The city intended to use the land to relocate the Phoenix Club, a German social club whose existing building had to be removed to make room for the new sports arena.

The city also intended to use a portion of the stables' land for overflow arena parking but found that Southern California Edison Co. would not permit parking beneath the power lines that traversed the parcel, Tozer said.

When the parking restrictions came to light, city officials and Tozer worked out another deal.

"The city bought me out completely," Tozer said. "They own the ground, and I lease it from the city."

Moreover, city relocation benefits financed new facilities, including a barn for the stables. On the balance of the land, construction is under way for a new meeting facility for the Phoenix Club.

"It amounted to about $650,000 to redo everything," Tozer said of the revamped stables. "I pay no property tax, I just pay rent and use tax to the city every month. I also pay water and lights.

"It turned out to be a good deal for everybody."

About 200 of the original 250 horses are still boarded at the smaller stables, a reduction accommodated by attrition, Tozer said.

"We basically got our same clientele," he said. "We have the crippled children's program going strong."

The riding program for handicapped children is operated by Kaiser, therapists, secretaries, teachers and other adult volunteers. They have served about 100 children and have been recognized as the Orange County Special Olympics' equestrian program.

Another youth program at the stables, the Orange Villa Buckaroos 4-H Club, has grown from seven children to 16 since the renovation.

Mailei Bennett, the project leader, said "basically, I would not have had a 4-H horse project" if the eviction had taken place.

"Facilities in Orange County are few and far between," Bennett said. "When they first said we were going to be evicted, most of the places had a three- to four-month wait. The only places that didn't were out in Norco.

"We're happy to stay."

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