After the Santa Barbara Mission opened in 1820, great ranchos covering thousands of acres created an agricultural age in California and determined the early character of its population. Horses, horsemanship, cattle and crops were central to this period and by the start of the twentieth century Santa Barbara celebrated their appreciation of the horse by sponsoring the
First Palm Garden Horse Showin 1919 which eventually became known as
The Santa Barbara National Horse and Flower Show. Growing from these roots, in 1924,
The Old Spanish Days Fiesta Rodeo and Stock Horse Show(originally known as the
Wild, Wild West Rodeo) was organized. Both shows were held for many years at Pershing Park on Castillo Street near the beach until 1958 when the Earl Warren Showgrounds opened.
As participation in both shows grew and they became known nationally, the Showgrounds gained a reputation as one of the best and most modern horse show venues in the country. Over time the role of the facility expanded and various types of entertainment, competition, trade, training and public service events were hosted annually. In addition the use of the facility as a first responder staging center, law enforcement training site and temporary livestock shelter in times of evacuation have become vital to Santa Barbara.
Administration of Earl Warren is by the 19th District Agricultural Association (one of 54 DAAs in California), whose stated mission is to be a
financially self-supporting entity that maintains a first-class equine venue, and provides facilities for community access for events and meetings.
As the only facility between Santa Maria and Ventura capable of handling large-scale events with easy highway access, local tourist amenities, multi-use capabilities and nearly ideal year round weather, the Showgrounds is a key part of welcoming the world to enjoy, compete and learn in one of the jewels of the U.S. West Coast.
California state policies provide only limited financial support for the Showgrounds which, combined with many years of deferred maintenance, has resulted in a need for serious repairs and renovation. The 19th DAA Board is developing a Master Plan and intends to rollout a complete facilities renovation over time but the first priority is to complete the work necessary to return Earl Warren to prime condition as a high-revenue horse show facility and save a long-standing Santa Barbara icon and its traditions.
The Showgrounds has existed, relatively unchanged, for so long that many people may now take it for granted. While its existence and ideal location are generally appreciated, it appears that few fully understand its purpose, public function and impact on the cultural and economic vitality of the area. The Earl Warren Showgrounds Foundation, a California nonprofit established in 1996, supports the 19th DAA and their equestrian goals. Our primary focus is on raising public awareness for this unique venue while securing financial support for facility improvements to meet contemporary needs and maintain the highest standards of safety, functionality and aesthetics.
Note: The Earl Warren Showgrounds Foundation is not affiliated with the Santa Barbara Showgrounds Foundation.