Iconic metal mustangs and their artist are evicted

Artist Ricardo Breceda, whose metal horses have become landmarks at the Vail Lake Resort on Highway 79, must relocate after the land was sold.
(David Brooks / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Over the past several years, artist Ricardo Breceda’s metal mustangs have become a familiar sight for travelers on State Route 79 between Temecula and San Diego County’s northern border.

The mustangs appear to be running along the hilltops or preparing to leap over the roadway just east of the main entrance to the Vail Lake RV Resort.

But the mustangs will soon be moving on, along with the big metal stagecoach at the resort’s entrance. And Breceda must find a new home for his studio — and his creations.


Best-known for his hundreds of metal sculptures that dot the Borrego Springs desert floor, Breceda put the horses on the hill when he moved his studio and sculpture garden from Perris to the resort about four years ago at the invitation of the owner.

But last summer the resort fell into bankruptcy, and the property was purchased by the Rancho California Water District for $50 million in a complicated court transaction. The district has said the purchase of the 8,000-acre resort was made primarily to protect the lake’s watershed. It continues to operate the resort.

Under the terms of the agreement with the former owner, Breceda was allowed to operate a studio near the entrance of the resort, and to use a large metal building, free of charge. The resort owner offered the deal in hopes that Breceda’s work would attract customers to the resort, making it not just a camping and fishing getaway, but an artistic one as well.

But the water district has no interest in continuing the arrangement and has evicted Breceda. All of his pieces must be sold or moved by mid-November.

“I’ve asked them many times. Why? They told me they needed the building,” said Breceda, 53. “I’ve got a lot of stuff. I told them all the good we can do together. Since I’ve been here, a lot of people now know about Vail Resort.”

Breceda asked if he could purchase a piece of nearby land from the district but was told no.


“I’ve invested $30,000 in this building, I’ve invested a lot of money to be here,” he said. “If I’d known this could happen, I never would have come.”

Meggan Valencia, a spokeswoman for the water district, said that after the purchase an inspection was done of the entire property.

“There was a code violation on the building, and the county said he needs to be out of there,” she said. “That building wasn’t designated to do what he’s doing in there.”

She said the district did try to figure out a way for Breceda to stay, but, because the district is a public agency, if it allowed him to sell his art, it would be required to open the property to other vendors.

Originally, Breceda was ordered to be off the property by next month, but the district has agreed to push the deadline to mid-November while he looks for another location.

“We’ve really tried to work with him,” Valencia said.

As word has spread that Breceda will be leaving, he said he’s gotten into arguments with people who insist he must leave the mustangs on the hill.


“An 80-year-old woman came by last week. She was so angry,” he said.

The woman told Breceda the mustangs belong to the people now.

“She said I should donate them to the people but I said, ‘Ma’am, they’re kicking me out for no reason. Why would I donate that to them? I can’t give them those pieces. I can’t. It’s ... principle.’ ”

Robyn McClintock, who lives in nearby Anza, recently stopped by Breceda’s studio.

“I’m one of those persons who drives down here every day and looks for the horses,” McClintock told a reporter there.

“People love them. Look at this stuff,” she said, pointing to the hundreds of pieces of metal art spread around the studio, including life-size bighorn sheep, horses, dinosaurs and even flying pigs.

“I think his talent is way beyond his recognition. These things should be in a museum,” she said.

Breceda hopes he has found a new home for his work — a 20-acre property a few miles away in the town of Aguanga — that two women have offered to sell him. The women, who also own a landmark restaurant in town, said they don’t want the region to lose Breceda or his art.

“I think it will be a big asset to Aguanga,” said Darlene Brown, 84, who owns the property with Patricia Beall, 91.


The land is just north of the highway and is used now only for a sign for the Stagecoach Inn, the restaurant the women have owned for four decades.

“It just seemed to fall into place when he talked to us,” Brown said. “He seems like a really good person, and it seems to be a really good idea.”

“They are beautiful, kind and very wise ladies who care for the community,” Breceda said.

Breceda said the location is perfect, but the land is vacant and he will need to come up with enough additional money to close escrow and build a studio.

“I have a lot of work to do, “ he said. “If people and friends help me out, we’re going to make a beautiful place.”

Breceda said he will try to sell as many art pieces as he can from the Vail Lake studio. Those he can’t sell will be trucked to the new location and stored until a studio is constructed.


Twitter: @jharryjones

J. Harry Jones writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.