Echo of Ranch Era in Horse’s Escape

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This was updated as of Friday, April,21.

Horse owner Sharon Dugan reclaimed Crystal this week after the horse’s escape, forcing police to halt traffic on Easter weekend for a most unusual reason.
Horse owner Sharon Dugan reclaimed Crystal this week after the horse’s escape, forcing police to halt traffic on Easter weekend for a most unusual reason. Photo by Andrea Adelson.

A runaway horse that galloped for a mile towards town and forced the temporary closure of Laguna Canyon Road resumed its normal routine rolling in hay and wandering around its home property on Monday.

The white horse with a bright blue blanket was corralled at the rear of industrial buildings about 5:39 p.m. Sunday, April 16, with the help of two civilians, Sgt. James Cota said.

“She caused quite a bit of pandemonium,” said the horse’s owner, Sharon Dugan, of Laguna Beach, who was reunited with the wayward Arabian mare named Crystal at the private stables in Laguna Woods Village where police had transported the animal by trailer.

Dugan discovered her pet horse’s escape from the top of her property on Stan Oaks Drive and initially set out to search for her on foot, she said in an interview Monday. After returning for a car to canvass a wider area without any success, she called police to report the runaway.

 

The animal control officer who assisted with the one-animal round-up told the owner that the horse calmed down when she saw her own reflection in a window.

“I’m just glad she wasn’t hurt and no one else was hurt,” said Dugan, a former professional horse trainer who obtained Crystal from the equine rescue La Mirada Horse Adoption for $500 in 2015. “She does get wild and tried to trample me,” said Dugan, who grooms Crystal with a brush rather than a towel, which frightens the horse.

When rescuers took possession of the horse, she had been left abandoned for two months in a field in Riverside County. They figured the horse was kept for breeding as she isn’t broken to ride.

“I agreed to take her in to socialize her,” said Dugan, among 37 people who answered an adoption ad for the horse. She walks the 8-year-old mare in the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park from the Big Bend trailhead at an early hour in order to avoid encounters with buses. Their brakes make a hiss that startles the horse.

More than a century ago, ranchers on horseback rounded up their cattle and farmers planted walnut groves on the same parkland, formerly part of a Spanish land grant. The last cattle round-up on the Irvine Ranch was in 2002.

Today, the spot is popular among horse owners in the county, who trailer their horses in for riding, said park Ranger Barbara Norton. Police initially queried a park supervisor about the runaway horse, asking if any visitors reported a horse on the loose.

Dugan works in data base administration and since 1998 has lived in the former family home of Tony Dyke, a noted builder-architect involved in building the downtown post office and what is now the Lumberyard restaurant, she said.

Sharon Dugan with her horse, which escaped Sunday and ran into traffic. Photo by andrea Adelson.
Sharon Dugan with her horse, which escaped Sunday and ran into traffic. Photo by andrea Adelson.

There are at least four other horse owners in the vicinity, she said.

“I hadn’t had a horse for a long time and felt like I could rescue one,” said Dugan, who hopes to eventually train the horse to accept a rider and make use of the English tack she’s used with other mounts.

For now, Dugan’s erected a new barrier across the escape route, which she says the horse hadn’t shown an interest in prior to this week. Crystal jumped a retaining wall that borders open space on the acre-sized property shaded by towering oaks. She trotted downhill on a neighboring street to the canyon road.

More like a family dog expected to remain in a special area, the horse wanders at will around the gated property and returns to roll in a hay-filled stall that occupies half of a covered carport. Its gate is generally unlocked.

Retrieving the runaway will not completely end the saga of Crystal’s escape.

“I only regret I didn’t run fast enough to catch her,” said Dugan, who expects to receive a bill for hauling the horse to the Laguna Woods stable in addition to a fine for allowing the horse to run in traffic.

Requests for temporary boarding at the Laguna Woods stable generally only occur during emergencies such as the fire in Santiago Canyon, where residents and their animals were evacuated, said stable supervisor Lisa Toomer.

And an animal services officer that inspected Dugan’s horse permit intends to return to inspect her stable. “They were really happy I wasn’t a horse rustler,” she said.

 

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