travel & home: Oak Knoll Stables, Ontario

 

farm-1I was in North America over July and August on my yearly trip back home to Canada to see my parents and grandparents while making now feeble attempts at seeing old friends. Over the years, when I make these trips back, I find a way to leave the city and disappear for awhile, typically by visiting my parents’ cabin which they took us to as kids. As an adult I have grown to appreciate the greenery, fresh air and huge expanses of water that Canada has to offer and you can usually find me driving through open roads with a look of dumbstruck awe on my face.

One of the many special things about Canada is that it’s so vast in size and landscape that there are always little discoveries to make along the way, especially if you go further away from the city. Canada’s small towns stand out in my memory, like Tweed, ON, and its unusual fire hydrants, Port Hope, ON, and its dusty antique stores, or Sidney, BC, dubbed “book town” for its bookstores and the clever placement of benches in front of them. One such discovery on this trip was Oak Knoll Stables, a 150-year old 40-acre farm about an hour outside Toronto, bordering the Ganaraska Forest.

beauties

Owned and managed by Ken Morden and Caroline Thornton in Campbellcroft, Ont., Oak Knoll Stables is a large state-of-the-art training and breeding facility for horses. We decided  to stop in for dinner along the way back from our weekend trip to Montreal, which is about 5-hours from Toronto. Our friends from Dubai, who I also know from Toronto, have been close to Ken and Caroline for many years and regularly take breaks from the city by visiting Oak Knoll, so we felt like family from the moment we arrived. They were exceptional hosts and made us feel very comfortable by organizing a cozy dinner by candlelight on their terrace, with a canopy to protect us from the torrents of rain that had started that evening. It was rather delightful to hear the rain coming down around us, especially for those of us who have lived in the desert too long, though by the time we reached dessert we knew it was time to move inside.

Oak Knolls Stable

the morning after a rainy night

The next morning we got a better idea of how large and beautiful the property was. Really, there’s nothing like a Canadian countryside, especially if you’ve become accustomed to concrete jungles and the urban rat race. So for me, the wide stretches of grass, playful farm animals and towering trees off in the distance put me into a spell of childhood daydreams between the pages of Anne of Green Gables books. Meanwhile, Caroline said that Oak Knoll and its 40-acres is actually nothing in the grander scheme of things when it comes to acreage, though from where I stood the horses looked like they were having a…(drumroll) field day.

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Oak Knoll horses at rest

Previously, Caroline and Ken owned their own horses which they’d breed towards competition. Now, they board and care for privately-owned racing horses. It’s remarkable the relationship they have with these horses — each has a personality and backstory that Caroline and Ken have vivid memories of, and they know them inside out right down to the number of races their parents have won. Lineage really is important in the horse racing industry!

Caroline was kind enough to take us on an in-depth tour of Oak Knoll, which was pretty educational for me. Prior to this, I had no concept of how much dedication is required to run a stable, but Caroline grew up on a farm in the UK and it seems like second nature for her. They also breed horses here and we were shown around the area of the stable where the insemination is done, which of course made us giggle like little kids. Caroline has had her hand in every part of the business and answered weird questions my boyfriend and I threw at her without making us feel awkward. There’s a ton of organization that goes into the feeding of animals according to their diets, the insemination process and monitoring the growth of foals. I took a bunch of pics throughout the property so feel free to browse below. I also realized when driving away that Oak Knoll is only 15-minute from my parents’ cabin — definitely going to visit again, and hopefully do a little trek through the Ganaraska Forest, too.

QUICK FACTS
Did you know…
Breeding season is from spring through autumn for horses, though breeders coordinate the purebred foaling (birthing) schedule so that the mare gives birth at the beginning of each year and the foal can benefit from a full year of development before participating in races.
“What’s the going rate on your goods?”
Breeding is typically handled through artificial insemination, and rates on the ‘right’ horse’s semen can range from $2,000 (CDN) to $20,000 (CDN), depending on the racing history and lineage of the stud (male horse). ladies, try suggesting this to a man next time you think you’ve found a keeper – let me know how it goes.
Family ties
The connection between mares and foals is not a lifelong one. Caroline recounted how she had seen cases of mares and foals sold and split up shortly after birth and, when reunited years later, not even recognizing one another.

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