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San Juan’s historic equestrian culture is balanced with luxury living at The Oaks Farms

An aerial view of The Oaks Farms taken from the balcony of a model home. The property is split between 32 residential homes and a world-class equestrian center. Photo: Allison Jarrell
An aerial view of The Oaks Farms taken from the balcony of a model home. The property is split between 32 residential homes and a world-class equestrian center. Photo: Allison Jarrell

Story and Photos by Allison Jarrell

Walking the San Juan property that once belonged to Joan Irvine Smith—granddaughter of California’s fabled pioneer James Irvine—is both a trip back in time and a look at the future. On one side, the 20-acre parcel along the San Juan Creek is speckled with century-old oak trees, vine-covered stables and hanging lanterns to light each path. On the other, 32 luxury homes—unveiled earlier this month—line a loop road and overlook the world-class equestrian center, the creek and the hills beyond.

Joan Irvine Smith sold her property, which included The Oaks—a world-renowned equestrian center—three years ago to homebuilder Bill Davidson and his team, Davidson Communities, based in San Diego. Up until that point, she maintained the top notch riding facility, which often played host to national events and legendary horses and riders.

Over the course of two years of renovations and upgrading, Davidson said his emphasis was on preservation—disturbing as little as possible and reusing materials. To carry out that focus, Davidson Executive Vice President Tim O’Grady supervised what’s been described as a “painstaking relocation operation”—16 trees, including 12 coastal live oaks and four California sycamores, were boxed, given time to recover, lifted by crane and replanted throughout the property. O’Grady also established an on-site nursery to nurture oak seedlings, ornamental shrubs and succulent varieties to be located throughout the property.

In keeping with the theme of preservation, and in an effort to celebrate the center’s past, Davidson’s team reused original materials from old barns, fences, railing and stalls, repurposing them into new structures and elements throughout the equestrian and residential components of the property. Other evidence of the company’s upcycling can be seen in curbs and walls, where rock from across the property was integrated.

In its totality, The Oaks features two riding rings—a new hunter ring and an adaptation of the original derby field, a lunging ring, 10 turnouts, two tack rooms and a laundry room. Davidson also created a 2,250-square-foot “social barn” where families can enjoy watching their loved ones ride. On the residential side, the 32 homes being built will include three different models that Davidson designed with the help of longtime equestrians and community members–a forum he said has resulted in a unique San Juan aesthetic.

Davidson was also responsible for a 1,000-foot extension of the adjacent San Juan Creek Trail, located between the property and the creek. The multi-use trail now runs from the hills of San Juan Capistrano to the beach in Dana Point, with a paved path for bicyclists along the north side and a dirt path along the south side of the trail for equestrian riders.

The Oaks Farms is located at the intersection of Avenida Siega and Calle Arroyo. Those interested in more information on the equestrian center and homes can call 949.391.0920 or visit

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