A HISTORY OF EQUESTRIAN EXCELLENCE
Oakwood Riding School is fondly regarded by the hundreds of people who have been involved with the organisation over many decades.
Originally Miss Kay Irving and her sisters operated the Waverley Riding School on Huntingdale Road, Jordanville. Their vision and passion was to create a teaching institution and 'fellowship' for all horse lovers.
The riding school was the primary training establishment for Equestrians in Australia for many years and the standard of tuition and horsemanship was second to none.
Horses and riders from the Waverley Riding School.
Photo credit: Hoofs and Horns 1947
On Friday, 9th February 2007, the ‘new’ Oakwood Riding School at “The Meadows” was officially opened by its Patron, Olympic rider, Heath Ryan. In declaring Oakwood open, Heath commented “through all the hard times, Oakwood is still here which can only be due to the foresight, dedication, hard work, and passion of many.”
With the retirement of Miss Kay Irving, the closure of the riding school was imminent. After Miss K's retirement, her dedicated clients held three public meetings which led to the formation of a non-profit organisation committed to establishing a new riding school to provide instruction in all aspects of horsemanship. A most important objective was to create the opportunity for those who did not own a horse, to learn to ride.
Enough money was raised to purchase many of the Waverley School horses, plus saddlery and equipment, and in December 1957 a new committee voted to purchase an 80 acre dairy property on the corner of Pound Road and Cranbourne Road, Narre Warren. It was named “Oakwood Riding School” in honour of the Irving sisters.
The riding school progressed very well and by 1959, one of the first indoor riding arenas in Australia had been constructed on the property along with loose boxes, a residence and live-in accommodation. In these early days of Australian Dressage, most competitions were conducted in a 20×40 (meter) size arena and the original Oakwood indoor adopted this standard.
Over the next 40 years, many improvements were undertaken to keep up with the requirements of Oakwood’s clientele and the riding school became a centre for outstanding riding instruction with people like Anton Nissan and Malcolm Barnes moulding Oakwood’s direction and influencing the skills and knowledge of the many people who were part of the ‘Oakwood family’.
In the period around the mid 1970s and under Malcolm Barnes’ direction, Oakwood Riding School made an enormous contribution to the equestrian industry by formalising the education of many young people who trained at this ‘live-in’ riding academy as working pupils. These youngsters (and some not so young) took advantage of the chance to throw themselves into a career with horses and lived in the dormitory and each day they would ride, ride and ride, plus learn horse husbandry, horse care and the management of a professional European style training barn. This was well before the NCAS system that now helps people get into the industry. Many at Oakwood, during this period experienced and witnessed the contribution that Malcolm Barnes made to the budding interest in equestrian sports – in particular the Olympic disciplines. He also prepared horses and riders for the show ring. Furthermore, he implemented many innovations and established effective riding rules, creating respect for people and horses which in turn created an ideal learning environment.
To this end (and to this day), Oakwood was very structured around lunging lessons. In fact, then as now, new riding pupils were not able to book a lesson without first undertaking a lunging course at which time their skills are assessed. Only when they were considered capable of riding and influencing a horse correctly, were they able to book for private riding lessons.
As times changed and more competitions were held in a 20×60 meter arena, Oakwood extended the indoor arena to meet this requirement and a sand outdoor arena was added to Oakwood’s facilities.
In 2003, a combination of the insurance crisis, severe drought and rising feed costs bought the Riding School to its knees and the doors of Oakwood were closed for the first time in almost 50 years. However, the spirit of camaraderie that drove the group who attended the meetings back in 1957 still flourished, and a large number of friends of the riding school converged on the Beaconsfield Hotel to consider the ongoing viability of Oakwood. This group pledged that if it was deemed appropriate, they would devise a plan to see the riding school re-opened and continued. This would only be possible through the implementation of careful management and sustainable strategies.
A new committee was formed by these supporters and a great deal of work undertaken to see the school re-open. But it was clear that the 36 acres of land that remained from the original 80 acres was not enough to make a riding school viable – and the now aging improvements needed considerable money invested to bring Oakwood up to the commercial standards of today. The decision was made to sell the Cranbourne Road, Narre Warren site and re-locate to a larger property. The sale proceeds would provide the capital to purchase a larger land holding, upon which a new facility could be purpose built.
In 2005, “The Meadows”, a 100 acre dairy property in Clyde North was purchased. In just 11 short months, Oakwood re-opened for business, with its huge building incorporating a 70×35 metre indoor arena, equally sized outdoor arena, fifteen stables, tack rooms, feed room, wash bays and an impressive club room.
In 2011, Oakwood faced another crisis caused by the re-zoning of land in Clyde North and the subsequent plans by VicRoads to extend Thompsons Road through the middle of the property, effectively cutting the property in two. As a result of an intense campaign by the Committee, Council Members of the City of Casey and friends of the School, tonnes of correspondence were forwarded to the relevant Governmental bodies condemning the plans. In 2012, the Minister for Roads, Mr Terry Mulder advised that the current plans would be excluded and further plans redefined to cause as little impact as possible to Oakwood and its land.
In 2013, it can now boast a cross country course, additional agistee shedding and paddocks; and a new 20×60 metre outdoor arena, complete with rubberised surface.
Recently a second roof over the adjacent outdoor arena was installed – effectively doubling its under cover riding surfaces.
To this day, thanks to a dedicated Committee of Management headed by Michael Bragge and a committed staff, Oakwood Riding School is still able to teach riding and horsemanship, supply you with a hard hat and put you on a quiet, well-educated school horse.
As one Committee Members stated “All you need to be a successful rider is dedication, passion and lessons at Oakwood Riding School”.
Adapted, with thanks, from an article written by Bernie Saunders, http://www.cyberhorse.com.au