Behind the scenes at Disneyland’s Circle D Ranch
25|11|09 17:08 Filed in: Disneyland
Behind the scenes at Disneyland’s Circle D Ranch
From the OCRegister
Way before Walt Disney bought the property that would become Disneyland, horses and other animals lived on a ranch north of the orange groves razed for the theme park.
In fact, Disney used to saddle up on the ranch’s horses to tour the property that he was considering buying. One day, he told a ranch employee that the check was ready.
Today, the land is still a working ranch — Circle D Corral houses horses, goats and other critters that are part of Disneyland’s attractions. And this time of year, Circle D staff care for animals that visit just for the holiday season — reindeer that come from the “North Pole.”
“It’s part of Disney’s history. Walt’s two favorite things were trains and horses,” said Maggie Gitchen, guest service manager who oversees Circle D.
The corral is actually considered Disneyland’s first attraction, starting in 1954 before the park opened, although the corral was not open to the public, Gitchen said. Back then, the ranch was more than 10 acres. Now, it’s less than five, sitting outside the park behind Mickey’s Toontown and Frontierland.
Disney invited a couple, Dolly and Owen Pope, to live at the ranch to raise the horses. He moved a 1920s bungalow that used to sit where the old Disneyland marquee stood along Harbor Boulevard to the corral property. The Popes are the only people who have ever lived there.
The bungalow remains today, used for offices, a break room, tours and occasionally, a sleeping area when a horse is really sick. An original metal barn and harness room, including a 1900s sewing machine that was retrofitted for repairs, also stayed.
Today, about 45 employees take care of about 50 permanent animals: horses, goats, donkeys, cockatoos, a sheep, a cow and a turkey . Two new turkeys — set to be pardoned by President Barack Obama for Thanksgiving — are scheduled to arrive tonight. Most of the aminals are for the petting zoo at Disneyland’s Big Thunder Ranch, which the corral staff oversees.
Over the years, other animals have joined the group: pot belly pigs, mules, bunnies, chickens, tigers, camels, elephants. Snakes, spiders and lizards came when Indiana Jones Adventure opened. Outside vendors and trainers cared for some of the trickier creatures, sometimes outside of the corral’s confines.
The horses’ main jobs are to draw the vehicles along Main Street U.S.A. and show up at weddings at the hotels. It can take two months or longer to teach horses how to deal with crowds and noise.
On a day last week, one horse, Sonny, was roped to a pole and stood for a while to learn patience. Other times, horses are taken into corrals with strollers, streamers, rolling trashcans, wheelchairs and balloons — giving them stimulus overload so they learn to be calm in the parks. All of the animals are used to the nightly fireworks noise.
Most animals are purchased from the outside, but the corral breeds goats. In the last round, 15 goats were born from five goats — more than the corral staff was expecting.
“As soon as these guys are born, we’re carrying them around,” Gitchen said.
North Pole visit
For the fifth year, Santa has brought eight reindeer-in-training from the North Pole to stay with him while he visits children at Disneyland. Disneyland officials won’t discuss any other details about the reindeer’s whereabouts the rest of the year beyond what they tell guests.
The eight reindeer, who don’t have names, collectively eat 32 pounds of grain daily. Although the corral staff oversees the reindeer, the animals — described as calm and easy-going — live full-time in a pen inside Disneyland’s Big Thunder Ranch, where visitors come to see Santa’s Reindeer Round-up. The reindeer often stick their hooves in the water, thinking they need to break the ice.
“They honestly seem to be happy. It’s like Club Med for some of them,” Gitchen said.
Many of the guests have never seen reindeer and wonder if they are real, said Mark Lilla, the primary lead at Big Thunder Ranch. Some think they should be bigger, but employees remind them that Santa has “tiny reindeer.”
The Martin family of Norco visited the reindeer last week and weren’t sure if the brown-and-white creatures were real. It wasn’t quite what Cailey Martin, 8, expected.
“They are different colors. I thought they’d be all brown,” Cailey said.
The reindeer have been a hit with guests: In their second year, about 20,000 guests came to visit them at Big Thunder on their first day, Gitchen said.
“It’s been a huge success and pretty special because many people have never seen a reindeer,” Gitchen said.
Circle D By The Numbers
2 Donkeys (Pancho and Pocahontas)
1 Cow (Maggie)
1 Sheep (George)
1 Turkey (Pecan)
2 New turkeys arriving Wednesday night (Courage and Carolina)
8 Reindeer for holiday season only
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