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Horse sculptures spread awareness for wild mustangs while bringing artistic flair to the streets of San Juan

1)Local painter Art Guevara works on his horse across from the San Juan Capistrano Library. Photo: Allison Jarrell
1) Local painter Art Guevara works on his horse across from the San Juan Capistrano Library. Photo: Allison Jarrell

By Allison Jarrell

Brightly colored horses, speckled with symbolism and saturated in story, have arrived one by one in San Juan Capistrano. You may have seen the patriotic stallion standing guard at Mission Grill over the last few months, or perhaps you noticed the regal Native American-themed steed at American Horse Products.

It may not be evident at first, but each horse has (at least) two stories to tell—the first delves into the growing need to protect horses living in the wild. The second, and perhaps the closest to home, is the move to revitalize the local economy by energizing the streets with equestrian-themed art.

Dana Point resident Dana Yarger—well-known in the area for the parade of decorated elephant statues he brought to Dana Point two years ago—said his choice to bring mustang sculptures to San Juan is a nod to the town’s storied past. Yarger is fascinated by the historical anecdotes of the wild mustangs that once roamed the hills of San Juan Capistrano, so he views the addition of his colorful equine statues as a vibrant reminder of that past.

Along with project lead Tom Scott, president of the Camino Real Playhouse, and Jim Carter, co-owner of America Horse Products, Yarger has enlisted about 10 artists so far to join the “Wild Horses in San Juan Capistrano” movement. Participating artists include San Juan Capistrano painter Art Guevara and world-renowned street artist Chor Boogie, who recently began painting his horse at the Camino Real Playhouse. Celebrities involved with the project include actors William Devane and Sam Elliott and actress Katharine Ross.

Guevara’s horse features the story of Zorro as well as San Juan symbols like swallows and ladybugs. Photo: Allison Jarrell
Guevara’s horse features the story of Zorro as well as San Juan symbols like swallows and ladybugs. Photo: Allison Jarrell

Organizers are optimistic that the painting, display and eventual auction of these works of art will stimulate the arts and culture scene in San Juan and bring more visitors into town. The group’s goal is to gain momentum with public exhibitions and outreach, and ultimately, each emblazoned mustang will be sold at a gala event, with the proceeds benefitting the Return to Freedom Foundation and other participating local nonprofits. According to their bio, the Return to Freedom Wild Horse Sanctuary “currently provides a safe haven to more than 400 wild horses and burros.”

Art Guevara has been working on his horse quite publicly—you’ve likely seen him painting in the library courtyard or on Los Rios Street. Guevara starts up a conversation instantly—whether it’s about the swallows and ladybugs he’s painting, or the history of Zorro’s affiliation with San Juan (which his horse is themed after).

Recently, Guevara visited the City Council to share the news about the wild horses movement. He hopes the project revives a once-thriving art community in San Juan Capistrano.

“We should embrace art; we should embrace culture,” Guevara said. “It brings good people to fill up the restaurants and the businesses. Everyone is happy.”

For more information on supporting and participating in the wild horses movement, contact Tom Scott at 949.842.1321 or Jim Carter at 949.248.5300. You can also follow Return to Freedom, American Wild Horse Sanctuary on Facebook at

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comments (2)

  • So, DANA POINT resident, Dana Yarger made a “choice to bring mustang sculptures to SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO”? First of all, let’s call it what it is – a fundraiser, period. Dana Yarger set out to fundraise for the elephants and now he’s doing it for Return to Freedom, Wild Horse Sanctuary. This project is entirely SELF-SERVING for ALL involved and while there’s nothing wrong with fundraising, there sure is something wrong with trying to disguise it under the term “historical”! This life-long SJC resident would like to see the documents and proof that mention “wild mustangs roaming the hills of San Juan” because for me, it all sounds like a bunch of horse poop.

  • This is another example of explotation of the artist. No mention of artist compensation, so I imagine there is none. I imagine Dana Yarger is not working for free and who pays the office rent?

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