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Owners of Timber River Station optimistic about growth following inaugural year

Four families partnered up a little more than one year ago to assume ownership and operations of the former Raecer Ranch Riding Arena east of Sundre
Hailey Sanregret has been boarding her horses Mouse and Birdy at Timber River Station since the facility re-opened a little more than one year ago after coming under the new ownership of a multi-family partnership that decided to take over the previous owners who operated the former Raecer Ranch Riding Arena. Submitted photo

MOUNTAIN VIEW COUNTY – There’s a saying about how a fledgling business’s success hinges largely on the operation’s first three to five years.

But if Timber River Station’s inaugural year is any indication, the arena and horse boarding facility that has branched out to introduce a number of other services sought out by the equine community is well positioned for the future.

“The growth that we’ve experienced in just a year’s time is incredibly encouraging,” said Sandra Nielsen, part owner.

Formerly known as the Raecer Ranch Riding Arena east of Sundre on Highway 27 and north on Rge. Rd. 43, the facility came under new ownership a little more than one year ago and was subsequently rebranded as Timber River Station, said Nielsen.

She recently told the Albertan by email in response to questions that in the Spring of 2021, several of the people who now make up a portion of the ownership team were at the former riding arena watching their children take part in the Bergen and Sundre 4H Multi-clubs’ annual show and sale exhibition.

“Here we stood in this beautiful, impressive and enormous arena that many people didn’t even know existed,” she said, adding the facility’s potential wasn’t being met to its fullest.

“It was being under-utilized,” she said, adding that upon learning the property was up for sale, one of the 4H parents suggested to another that they should buy it. 

“And so our story begins,” she added.

Four families – including small to large business owners, agricultural producers, service providers, community volunteers as well as advocates – partnered to acquire the facility in October 2021, she said.

“In our preliminary discussions, we determined that there was unmet need for a large equine facility and event centre,” she said. “The suggestion of providing a space for our community groups and becoming a destination for larger multi-day events, is what formed the vision of Timber River Station.”

They recently celebrated their inaugural anniversary with a family-friendly barn dance in late October, and Nielsen described the first year as “an exciting journey.”

Throughout the span of those first 12 months, the new ownership established a network of relationships with nearby youth groups, school programs, as well as the agriculture, ranching and equine communities, she said.

Shortly after taking possession of the arena, she said the four-family partnership “quickly came to understand that we would need to diversify in our offerings from just a boarding facility in order to build a cashflow-positive business.” 

Additionally, the owners recognize the importance of investing in enhancing the facility’s aesthetic appeal “and will continue cosmetic and structural improvements to better suit a larger variety of equine disciplines,” she said. 

To date, she said feedback from clients of all backgrounds “has been very positive.”

Beyond the indoor and outdoor riding arenas, boarding stables, an event loft with bar, a commercial kitchen, an AirBnB rental home, as well as an off-grid riverfront seasonal rental cabin, Timber River Station also features a network of trails throughout 100 acres of pasture land spotted with forest plus roughly one kilometre of meandering river frontage, she said.

But that doesn’t even cover the whole list, as additional services that are available include an on-site farrier, drop-in riding, obstacle play days, gymkhana events, facility rentals, riding lessons, vaulting lessons, periodic dance lessons, and social gatherings such as music jams, potlucks and craft making nights.

“We believe it is the quality of care from our onsite manager, indoor and outdoor arenas, riding trails and various activities that largely retain our clients and have inquiries almost daily,” she said.

“Riding lessons are a big component as well,” she said, adding that classes – varying from beginners to advanced dressage and roping – are provided six days a week by five different instructors.

As the owners endeavour to continue improving the facility, Nielsen said there has been increased interest in rentals for clinics, fundraisers, barrel racing jackpots, farrier competitions, to name a few, she said.

“Our facilities have been the perfect venue for our past years’ renters, as they have made further commitments with Timber River Station,” she said. “We are excited for continued growth in this area and it aligns with our long term vision of becoming a full-fledged event centre and tourism destination.”

As of the time she responded, Nielsen said Timber River Station’s most sought-out service remained stabling.

“Horse boarding is the highest in demand, with a wait list,” she said.

“We are currently at capacity with 40 head of horses at our facility. On top of that, we have 20 day-use stalls around our outdoor arena for haul-in events,” she said, later adding they might look at expanding their horse pens this coming spring.

But as they’ve only been operating for a little more than a year, she could not with certainty answer if the owners had experienced increased interest or demand for their services, especially coming out of public health measures.

“I’m not sure we’ve been in business long enough to fully appreciate the increased demands for any of our specific services,” she said. “Over more time, we expect to see where the trends are.” 

Although operating the business under a private partnership among the four families, the owners are deeply rooted in giving back to their community, she said, adding they for example provide space at reduced rates for youth organizations as well as benefit events.

Of course operating any business – never mind one with a large facility like an indoor riding arena that’s heated by natural gas and “uses a lot of fuel to take the edge off of the cold” – comes with expenses.

“It is extremely costly to run,” she said, adding they “are selective in turning it on.”

“In the coldest months of last winter, our monthly heating bills were approaching $2,000,” she said, adding that heating is thankfully not always needed during the shoulder seasons “and not at all in summer.” The cost of heating is included for arena rentals and for events that Timber River puts on. However, other users – from lessons to drop-in riding – have access to a coin-operated timed heater to offset the facility’s heating costs, she said.

“As we continue to upgrade our facility, we are working on ways we can be more ecologically responsible,” she said. “We have an enormous amount of roof space to capture solar energy and accessible free-flowing springs.”

Quality feed also represents a major operational expense.

“Last winter, it was extremely difficult to source hay, let alone the quality we look for in feeding horses,” she said, adding round bales in some cases were going for almost $200.

“Even this year, prices are higher than normal. Due to these exaggerated costs, many boarding facilities – including ours – have had to instate a hay surcharge on top of regular boarding fees,” she said.

However, the owners have taken measures to avoid further passing such surcharges along to their customers.

“Immediately following harvest this year, Timber River secured hay for the next year at a rate that has allowed us to reduce our hay surcharge with the commitment of not making any increases.”

Other main expenses include staffing, equipment maintenance as well as ongoing upgrades. In addition to the many hours put in by the ownership team as well as some casual labourers, there is also one full-time employee who manages the onsite operations.

Simon Ducatel

About the Author: Simon Ducatel

Simon Ducatel joined Mountain View Publishing in 2015 after working for the Vulcan Advocate since 2007, and graduated among the top of his class from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology's journalism program in 2006.
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