David Jeffery and Garry Pregler had a lot to live up to when they became just the second owners of the training and boarding facility begun as the Oakland Riding Academy back in 1935. Set in the quiet Oakland hills and surrounded by 14,000 acres of Redwood Regional Park, the three-acre, 60-horse stable has long been a hub for the Bay Area equestrian scene. They gave the place a new name, Redwood Ranch, to reflect the new ownership and did a few minor renovations. Otherwise, David and Garry's main goal was building a broader customer base for the full-service operation and continuing the property's proud legacy of providing riders of all abilities a beautiful place to learn horsemanship and enjoy horses.
They bought Redwood Ranch three years ago and are well underway with their goals. The program hosted 30 campers during David and Garry's first summer of ownership; last year it was 200. Thirty weekly lessons have become 150, accommodated by a string of 15 lesson horses, plus a rotating crew of for-sale horses.
English is Redwood Ranch's main riding style and the majority of their competitive clients are hunter/jumper folk, plus a few eventers. Accomplished trainer and competitor Julia Smith bases her Prestige Equestrian at Redwood Ranch and she spearheads the show-oriented end of the training program. Last year, her students attended six competitions and this year David expects that number will be closer to 12.
"I am blown away by how much our business has grown, especially in this economy," David notes. The stable's fun, relaxed and supportive environment has generated word of mouth that serves as its best marketing campaign. Along with children that enter the horse world through Redwood's holiday and summer camps, David is thrilled to report that many of their new customers are adults returning to the sport and those fulfilling long-held dreams to take it up. Whatever their experience level, Redwood's riders share a common bond of being drawn to the stable's calm and pleasant vibe.
Which is not to be mistaken for a lack of activity. During California Riding Magazine's mid-December interview, David was preparing for a sizable barn holiday party and a gift show, both at the Ranch on the same weekend. Lots of fun and excitement for students in the everyday pursuit of becoming safe and accomplished horsemen, David says. "We really have a great feel now with our barn and our clientele. People remark on how we get a lot accomplished with each student and on how we do it in a drama-free environment."
Julia Smith (formerly Pariser) brings a wealth of experience as Redwood Ranch's resident hunter/jumper trainer. A star on the jumper circuit as a junior and young amateur, she graduated cum laude from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with a degree in agribusiness. "She is a great trainer and rider and also helps us with many aspects of running the ranch," David says.
Being in training with Julia or taking lessons with her or Redwood's other capable instructors is not required of boarders, but David notes that most wind up getting involved in the educational program. "When they see what we offer, they generally get involved at some level."
Redwood Ranch has three arenas. The large, sand "hunt arena" is on land that's actually part of the Regional Park. Distractions are minimal because it is set away from the barn and it's a great place to do long gallops and other quiet, focused work. The indoor ring is perfect for rainy or really hot days and it features of mix rubber and sand footing, as does the additional outdoor ring. Best of all, the property has direct access to thousands of miles of trails through the beautiful Redwood Regional Park.
Wash racks with hot water and several spacious tack rooms are among the beautifully-maintained facility's amenities.
David and Garry are uniquely suited to run a thriving equestrian facility. David grew up in the Bay Area and rode throughout his junior years before joining the Marine Corp and attending college. His equestrian resume includes western, foxhunting and eventing. Prior to returning to the Bay Area three years ago, David spent 20-plus years in Illinois, where he established his first training business. He sold it when he and Garry had the opportunity to transition a family livestock operation into a top-notch training and competition facility geared for eventing. Their resume as event organizers is highlighted by hosting a USEA Event of the Year in 2006 and the USEA Area IV Championships, in which 286 horses took part.
Garry was raised in a farming lifestyle, but was not a "horse guy" per se when he and David met. He quickly became one when David bought him a Quarter Horse and introduced him to foxhunting. Armed with a degree in animal science and emergency training as a licensed paramedic, Garry teaches beginner lessons, runs the Redwood Ranch camps and, like David, handles the myriad tasks that come along with owning the facility.
Continuing to build its lesson clientele and building up its horse sales business are key Redwood Ranch goals for the future. The stable is thrilled to welcome Mills College students for P.E. classes beginning this spring. "They used to come here back when it was the Oakland Riding Academy, so now it's come full circle," David enthuses. The hope is that P.E. classes will eventually lead to an equestria
Having grown substantially despite a tough economy, Redwood Ranch seems assured of continuing and improving upon its proud legacy.
For more information on Redwood Ranch, visit www.redwoodranchstables.com or call 510-531-0262.