Located in Irvine Regional Park, Horseshoe Loop Trail doesn’t actually look like a horseshoe (unless you’re very abstract) I believe it is more in reference to its location and some of its more common trail goers (horses!).
Horseshoe Loop has several branches at the beginning but all stay within a similar area. Santiago Creek Trail and Roadrunner Loop will both take you to the North/West side entrances to the trail, which essentially starts at the Santiago Creek bed next to the North/West end of Peacock Hill Equestrian Center and MWD Rd. (road that leads to the Outdoor Education Center) depending on where you start. The trail will take you across the creek bed to the North/East side of the park, along the bottom of the hills next to the Outdoor Education Center and will lead the rider uphill to a nice wide flat area that overlooks the park (facing South) and then around and back down the hill to the East eventually dumping onto Peter’s Canyon Rd. The road is paved so be aware if you’re horse is wearing shoes.
The road will bring the rider back to a number of smaller branches of different trails including branches of Santiago Creek Trail that also make its way across the creek bed farther East of the beginning of Horseshoe Loop. If you follow Peter’s Canyon Rd. to the East and then to the South of the park, as it curves, you will find that Horseshoe Loop picks up again along the road. The trail then leads the rider back up a new set of hills, this time to the South of the park (make sure you follow the correct trail to the left, it looks like a service road at first). This part of the trail stays fairly moderate, and is typically quite wide to allow bikers and hikers to get by comfortably, or to pull over to the side if necessary. This set of hills will give you an overhead view of the East side of the park, and the manmade lake that houses the paddle boats in the middle, though Puma Ridge Trail will get you even higher.
The trail follows the set of hills West, bring the rider back down, where it leads back towards the Railroad and Peacock Hill Equestrian Center. At this point you will be routed around the pony ride, so make sure your horse is ok with seeing ponies and other horses out and about, and watch for families who like to watch the ponies from the fences. This is the busiest section of the trail with the most items likely to distract or spook an unsure horse. The trail will cross the railroad track by a waterwheel (which tends to freak out the most horses) and then cross the street to the backside of Peacock Hill Equestrian Center. Make sure you are following this route when on horseback, many hikers take the route along the front side of the stable, but HORSES ARE NOT ALLOWED TO BE ON THE MAIN ROAD (you will get scolded by park rangers and potentially ruin things for other riders). You have to stick to the trails as much as you can, Peter’s Canyon Road is an exception because it’s primarily a maintenance road, not used by guests.
For those new to the park, Peacock Hill Equestrian Center is not just a fancy name for the stable, there are in fact peacocks that room this area of the park, inside and outside of the stable, especially along this section of the trail, so be aware if your horse has never seen one. The trail will curve around the stable, and lead back to Horseshoe Loop at the point it meets with Santiago Creek Trail.
Horseshoe Loop is the longest trail in the park at about 3¾ miles, but don’t be intimidated, it is horse friendly as far as length and difficulty is concerned. Paths are wide for most of the trail, except when traveling on the North side by the Outdoor Education Center. When on the North side, be aware of cactus that can sometimes come into the trail a bit, and be aware that the sage bushes do get tall, so you may brush against those as you travel through. As mentioned in my post on Irvine Regional Park, this section is also sandy in some parts, so be aware if your horse likes to roll.
Why Horseshoe Trail is a Favorite (At least the North Side)
Despite the narrowness, sandy areas, and crowding by plants/cactus, the North side of the trail that runs along the bottom of the hills is one of my favorite parts of Horseshoe Loop and the park in general. It is usually very quiet, unless the park is insanely busy, and there are a TON of flowers in the Spring, so it is particularly beautiful and the sage makes it smell amazing.
The top of the hills on the North side of the park is not only one of my favorite places to lope my horse if she’s feeling energetic (because it forms a convenient figure 8 shape and hikers/bikers are easily spotted) but is my favorite place to take pictures of horses. The noise and sights of Peacock Equestrian Center below really helps keep horses distracted and still (with ears forward) and if you are confident enough, you can step away from them to take some horse only portraits (see pictures below). The top of the hill on Horseshoe Loop also has a covered picnic area with a tie rail for riders and horses to rest comfortably. I rode out there a few years ago for a solar eclipse, it was pretty cool.
Overall, Horseshoe Loop is a great way to get acquainted with Irvine Regional Park, as it exposes you to a little bit of everything and is very hard to get lost on.