California Riding Magazine • September, 2009

The Gallop:
Sonoma Horse Park takes shape.

by Kim F. Miller

A full-fledged competition venue was a gleam in Howard Herman’s eye back in 1997, when he and his family purchased the Riverside Equestrian Center in Sonoma County’s Petaluma. In the 12 years since, the boarding and training facility has become the largest in Northern California, with a capacity for 200 horses.

Along the way it has established a reputation for doing things in a first class manner. But the show side of the enterprise mostly sat on the back burner until earlier this year. That’s when former hunter/jumper star Ashley Herman came home from 10 years in New York City to take the reins on the project now known as the Sonoma Horse Park. By early 2010, eight of an eventual nine rings will be ready for competition, five for showing and four for warm-ups. Ashley says the project is fully on target to become a welcomed venue for all levels of equestrian action in a lovely environment, just as Howard Herman had envisioned.
Since the Hermans bought the 70-acre Riverside Equestrian Center, they have nearly doubled its capacity. Forty of those acres were undeveloped and not needed for the boarding facility and they become the expansive space for the Horse Park, which is permitted to handle 2,000 horses for shows.

Ashley Herman debuted the facility this year with a series of one-day, unrated hunter/jumper shows, the last of which takes place Oct. 4. “We’ve had an amazing response from people,” she reports. “Even from barns that don’t typically go to one-day shows.” She is currently working on rated events for next year, either by obtaining dates and staging the shows in-house or by bringing in outside managers.

The Hermans’ background is very strong in the hunter/jumper discipline. Ashley was a top competitor throughout the 90s, as was her sister Meredith Herman, who now runs her own Burgundy Farms at Riverside Equestrian Center. Meredith followed her many junior successes by working for Gerhard Etter’s top sales barn in Switzerland for two years, a nice base for the Grand Prix riding and international sales side of her training business today.

Ashley Herman first plans to target the hunter/jumper market for shows. She’s also talking to dressage organizers and is open to event managers from other disciplines. With a 350’ x 216’ Grand Prix field as its centerpiece, the Sonoma Horse Park is ideally suited for high-end jumping competition. Drawing on her own equestrian experience and her work as a special events manager for Goldman Sachs, Ashley envisions shows that are equally appealing to participants, spectators, sponsors and vendors. The Oaks Blenheim tournaments in Southern California are her model and she’s convinced that the Sonoma setting is ideal for attracting the horse world’s best.

When the Herman girls were competing in the 1990s, Ashley recalls trekking south 25 weekends a year in order to qualify for various medal finals and year-end awards. These days, the Northern California scene is more developed with lots of new activity in Sacramento and Woodside. Yet Sonoma holds its own cache, starting with the weather. “We’re right on the Petaluma River, and 75-80 degrees is our average summer weather in the day,” Ashley notes. Wineries have long been a main appeal of the Sonoma Valley, and today locally produced cheeses and olive oil, fine dining and other gourmet goodies, and golf augment that. She foresees engaging the interests of all these entities to help make the Horse Park a success. And it’s close to San Francisco and surrounding communities, points out Ashley, who lives in the Golden Gate city herself. “I think we are doing something this area really needs.”

For show schedules and more information, visit www.sonomahorsepark.com.