Six years ago, Gord Cardwell bought a property in Powassan with five horse stalls and a small arena so he could resume his passion for riding.
Today, Knowlton Ridge is a busy equestrian centre that offers lessons, boarding, summer camps and hosts a variety of Western and English shows in the spring, summer and fall.
“We just kept expanding,” said Cardwell.
The five stalls grew to close to 80, including a separate visitor and show barn that houses 38 horses. A mega dome, a smaller indoor arena, two outdoor show rings, 12 sand and grass paddocks with shelters and 137 acres of trails are now part of the facility. The original home is used as an education centre and a new home for Cardwell has been built on the property. There are currently about 90 horses at the centre with about 25 of them as boarders, and a staff of eight.
“We started out offering lessons but then there was more and more demand and then we became overwhelmed with demand for lessons and boarding,” he said.
Despite the rapid growth, Cardwell said it is important to ensure the operation remains “classy.”
The attention to detail includes a sound system in the barns, lots of natural light, high ceilings, roomy stalls, soft flooring which is easier on the legs, windows with guards in the stalls, and automatic waterers.
The paddocks have year-round water and they are constructed to ensure the wooden fence posts will not injure a horse. The dome and arena have spectator seating and the rings now have electronic timers and scoreboards for all jumper classes and Western speed classes. RV parking with electricity is also available for show participants.
“I have learned from past mistakes so this time I am doing everything necessary to make this a premium facility. I didn't want to take a back seat to any other barns in southern Ontario.”
The centre doesn't specialize in one aspect of riding, which is common in southern Ontario, but caters to all types of riding.“This is Northern Ontario so I had to diversify,” Cardwell said. “You find barns in the south that are strictly for dressage or Western and that works there. I was told I would fail but we haven't.”
Knowlton Ridge is also getting known among southern riders who Cardwell said often don't participate in shows “past Barrie.”
“The whole idea is to get them past Barrie,” he said. “We used to say we are south of North Bay and now we say we are north of Huntsville. People visiting our booth at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair now say they have heard of us and know where we are. We are getting noticed.”
He wants visitors and participants at the shows to leave with a good experience and realize “it's not such a long drive after all.”
Cardwell started riding while attending university and later went on to develop an approved Grade 13 equine studies program at a private school where he was teaching. He co-ordinated an equine-based adventure program for delinquent youth and along with two other couples, built the Parry Sound Equestrian Centre which was later sold.
Cardwell then concentrated on operating a number of real estate investment companies in Canada and the U.S. and stepped away from horses.
“I was away from riding for 25 years,” he said. “I had some health scares and decided I wanted to ride again. I was travelling to Bracebridge to take lessons again and one day I was riding on a field and I suddenly realized how much I missed it.”
He started riding and competing once more and began selling his businesses to devote more time to his new-found passion. In 2010, Knowlton Ridge Stables was established near Orangeville as a subsidiary and operates as a thoroughbred centre for breeding, training and racing at Woodbine and Fort Erie.
“It's exciting to watch your horse race and see your silk,” he said. “We have had some success too.”
A race horse's career ends at three to four years of age but a show horse can still compete at 20 years.
“One of my commitments is that I would always have a home for my racers so they can retire with dignity,” Cardwell said. “We will always move our racers here (Powassan) and we can turn them into show horses. It takes about half a year before they forget about the track but they can become beautiful and great show horses.”