April 2018 - Sandhu Stables
Written by by Kim F. Miller
Tuesday, 27 March 2018 19:51

training

Revived Bay Area stable sets spirits soaring.

by Kim F. Miller

Aman Sandhu enjoyed horses and riding as a boarding school student in his native India. He left them behind when his family immigrated to the United States during his teens. In May of last year, a long-held dream of returning horses to his life came full circle in the purchase of 30 acres in the East Bay Area. Simultaneously, Aman revived a boarding and training facility that had been dormant for 15 years and at risk of development in the residential sprawl that’s overtaken much of Contra Costa County’s Tassajara Valley.

Aman Sandhu

Philosophical observations shape Aman’s telling of his path back to horses, but his success with Sandhu Stables won’t be left to fate. On arriving for a visit, we found him working amongst the stable’s 20 recently built turn-outs. The facility has capacity for 45 horses and includes a large covered ring, an outdoor arena and a half-mile race track cut into the hillside overlooking the otherwise flat acreage. Aman maintains it all with the help of just one regular employee. Clothed in Sandhu Stables-embroidered work shirt and baseball cap, he’s often mistaken for a stable hand instead of stable owner. A humble and hard working guy, he has no problem with that.

Pride of ownership and joy in the return to a life with horses and other animals are evident in Aman’s approach to stable management. So is the goal of making the equestrian lifestyle a little easier to get into than it was for him.

Throughout his teenage and young adult life in the States, horses were not in the mix. None of the three generations of his family that now live together shared his equestrian interests. Their focus was education and work. After high school in nearby Concord, Aman tried college but determined it was not for him and accepted the fact that “I’ll have to work harder because I don’t have a college education.” It was not a well-received decision within the family at the time. Jack-In-The-Box provided a first job during Aman’s teenage years and he progressed to working at an automotive shop, then buying a gas station. He moved on to owning and managing other small businesses, including the liquor store he currently owns near the stable, and real estate.

Throughout those years of establishing himself as a small business owner and starting, with his wife, a family that now includes 6 and 8 year old daughters, Aman took baby steps into the Northern California horse world. First it was following a for-sale Arabian on Craig’s List. He laughs at the memory of logging on daily to follow the horse’s status before mustering the nerve to make an inquiry. None of his family members knew of his thought to return to horses, and he agreed it seemed “crazy” at the time.

When the Arabian’s price dropped into an irresistible range, he grabbed a cousin and went to look at the horse. His equine savvy was limited to his elementary school experience and his cousin knew nothing. Having ridden in english saddles in his youth, Aman didn’t know how to work the cinch on the western saddle the Arabian’s owner had available for a test ride. A less-than-thoughtful response to that was the first of several instances to come in which Aman sensed the blinders and borders that exist between horse enthusiasts regarding breed and discipline preferences.

In the months and years that followed his purchase of that Arabian, Aman persisted through and gently attempted to contradict prejudices that presented challenges to finding training and care for his horse. Not having any connections himself, Aman took his first horse to a recommended Quarter Horse trainer who poo-poo-ed the Arabian’s intelligence before even sitting on him. Aman now owns Andalusians and has heard the stereotype that the breed can’t do well in dressage because “judges don’t like them.”

Photo: Google Earth

He’s fed up with that kind of thinking. “I think that kind of mentality is very wrong.”  As an immigrant, Aman says he and his family felt welcomed coming to the Bay Area and he aspires to foster a similar spirit of open-mindedness in the equestrian world.

Along with continuing to make improvements to the long-neglected property, Aman has his eye on bringing India’s equestrian pride to Sandhu Stables in the form of Marwari horses. Like Arabians, this is a desert breed known for endurance, intelligence and versatility. There are very few of them outside of their native India and Aman hopes that negotiations to purchase two mares and a stallion will soon be finalized. Now that he owns the farm-like property with the rural appeal of his native Punjab, in Northern India, “the one thing I still find myself missing is our horses.” Breeding Marwaris would be a pride-driven endeavor. “When people think of India, they think of poverty and bad things. The Marwari horses are a very positive Indian thing.” As Andalusians are to people of Iberian descent and the Quarter Horse and Mustang are to Americans, the Marwari are horses Indians are rightfully proud of.

Stable Rehab

Located on Old School Road at an address navigation systems pin as either Livermore, Pleasanton or Danville, Sandhu Stables was originally built in the 1970s as a Thoroughbred training and rehab facility. Hence, the half-mile track and remnants of a therapeutic swimming pool. It was next owned by an Arabian breeder, then occupied by a western trainer. For the last 15 years, it sat empty under the ownership of a tech executive.

The track is a unique feature with obvious benefits even for those who have no intention of racing. Heidi Knipe-Lyons of Euro-Quest Center For Dressage recently settled her business to Sandhu Stables and considers the track a big draw. “I really like to get my horses out of the arena and it’s great for conditioning.” Ample access to outdoor time for her horses and making a priority of footing are other attributes that drew her to Sandhu Stables.

Arabians preparing for the upcoming Northern California racing circuit are new residents at the facility.

Heidi Knipe-Lyons of Euro-Quest Center for Dressage.

Aman’s ambitions for the facility align with those of a serious hobbyist. He’s thinking of reducing the current 45-horse capacity by enlarging several stalls to mare motel size, and a footing upgrade to the outdoor ring tops the work list. Cross-country obstacles on the racetrack’s infield are also on the docket. Aman is grateful to equestrian real estate specialists Jerry Vaughn and Amanda Thompson for helping him purchase Sandhu Stables, and for going the extra mile of helping him fill it with borders.

Ironically, now that Aman owns the stable, he rarely has time to ride. His older daughter Jasmine is an avid equestrian and they enjoy trail riding together when time allows. Younger daughter Gurnoor enjoys the horse scene, too, but too soon to predict how far she’ll take it.

Aman figures the facility needs another several months of his full time on upgrades, but once it gets into regular maintenance mode he hopes to get back in the saddle. Show jumping and the equestrian sport of “tent pegging” comprised Amen’s boarding school riding experience. Unfamiliar in America, tent pegging is an ancient, fast-paced equestrian sport with cavalry origins. It’s played at polo speeds with the riders attempting to dislodge a tent peg on the ground as they race past. Aman wants to bring the sport of tent pegging to California and would like to potentially start a program at Sandhu Stables. He also looks forward to jumping, endurance riding and dabbling in dressage.

Meantime, a place for 45 horses is secured in the beautiful valley at the base of Mt. Diablo. “Set your spirit soaring” is Sandhu Stables’ motto and it has certainly done that for its owner and for others for whom it also serves as a conduit for a life with horses.