Chico Equestrian Association was formed in 1990 to preserve and maintain the history and presence of horses in Bidwell Park. It is the second riding group to be formed in the North Valley. The first riding club was known as Chico Riding Club or CRC. Chico Equestrian Association or CEA picked up were CRC left off so it is important to tell a little about CRC. CRC was formed in 1942 and first constructed an arena located on Vallombrosa Avenue near the walnut grove, in Bidwell Park. In the words of Marge Haynes, one of the last surviving members of CRC, “members then spent week ends in the mountains cutting and hauling poles, and everyone physically able participated in digging post holes and setting posts”. According to Marge “the club was instrumental in providing all types of horse activities; shows, trail rides, rodeos, horseback square dancing, etc.”. CRD sold the Vallombrosa arena in the 60’s. In June 1969 an agreement was reached between City of Chico Park Playground Commission and CRC for an arena in Bidwell Park at the site of the current arena off Wildwood Avenue at the entrance to upper park. A master plan for the arena and the surrounding area was submitted to the city. By October of that year the master plan was approved. Materials were obtained locally and again with the labor of club members the arena was built. In 1977 due to differences between the City Park and Playground Commission, CRC decided to remove the Bidwell Park arena and all improvements to the site from the park. An agreement was made with Butte College and the CRC arena was moved to the Butte College campus.
During the 1980’s Chico, like many other small towns in California, experienced increased growth and population. Pavement and cars were increasing around the park. Local citizens and horsemen heard talk of prohibiting equestrians in the park. That is when, as mentioned above, CEA was formed to preserve the presence of horses in Bidwell Park. The park’s land was originally known as “Rancho del Arroyo” and legend has it, Annie Bidwell always intended for horses to be a part of the park. Whether she envisioned modern society and the need to protect horses in the park remains to be seen. What is known besides Annie’s wishes is the history of the park having been a large “ranch” where horses graced the landscape and were a intricate part of early society.
CEA became and still is an important asset to the city. Since CEA ’s arena is on land leased by the city the arena is available for use by the local public. CEA sponsors and hosts many charitable activities held at the arena. Handi-Riders, a local therapeutic riding group serving the needs of mentally and physically challenged, uses the arena for occasional events as well as the Chico Police Mounted Patrol. The Chico Police Mounted Patrol uses the arena routinely for practice as well as sponsoring mounted patrol educational seminars attended by participants throughout the state. CEA hosts equine educational events, trail rides, shows, training clinics, play days, soccer on horses ,etc. The group recently upgraded the picnic facilities near the arena with a cement patio for the picnic benches.
Chico Equestrian Association is dedicated to keeping Annie’s wish, thus keeping horses a part of the present day and future of Bidwell Park.