Lorna Motz remembers a time when the Northern Saddle Club consisted of just a handful of families who would get together and ride on trails in their backyard.
“We used to ride out in the old airport in Telkwa. My dad had property up here on Tatlow Road and we used that for a couple of years,” said Motz, whose parents Betty and Gordon Chapman helped found the club in the early ‘60s.
“They’d organize gymkhanas and everyone would know where it was and they’d show up and just participate. It’s kind of the same thing that people do now.”
Roughly eight families founded the club back in 1964, mostly from a passion for riding and a need to bring together equestrian enthusiasts.
The club has come a long way from riding in the back country to hosting major competitions drawing riders from all over the northwest as well as organizing the popular horse show during the annual fall fair.
This year, the club and its more than 100 members are celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Leah Germain, a director with the club, has been a member since she was six years old and said being involved with horses has become a family tradition.
“I basically feel like I grew up at the fairgrounds,” she said. “My sister Erin Rowsell has been a member since she was six and she’s been the treasurer for over 15 years and it was always my mom Brenda Drescher before that, it’s kind of a family club for us.”
As part of its anniversary, the club revamped the rings and added 16 new sets of stadium jumps at the club’s facilities located at the fairgrounds.
The club is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the facilities, which include the indoor riding arena, stables and riding rings.
The construction of the roughly $150,000-facility back in the 1990s was one of the club’s largest projects in its history, with most of the money coming from club fundraising efforts.
Its construction put Smithers on the map as a town with one of the best equestrian facilities in the northwest.
“It meant that we weren’t bound seasonally. We could actually ride throughout the winter if we could stand the cold . . . It really is an enviable facility,” said Jane Lloyd-Smith, who was president of the club through its construction.
The next closest equestrian facility is in Prince George, but is run by the town not a club.
Jill O’Neill, an equestrian coach who has been with the club since 1981, said it provides members an opportunity to get together with like-minded people.
“The club was the place where everyone met to ride,” said O’Neill.
“The club was the centre of the horse industry in the valley. They’ve evolved over the years from one little ring to quite a facility.”
One of the most recent challenges the club has faced is a decline in young riders interested in joining the club.
“One of our main focuses is to encourage the sport of equestrianism in the valley and over the last several years, we’ve noticed a decline of kids,” said Germain.
“There’s so many activities in this town and horses are a big commitment, but our goal is to encourage more kids to be involved with horses.”
Looking to the future, the club is hoping to upgrade its current facilities as well as extend the indoor arena and build a cover over the round pen to allow more people access during the winter months.
“The challenge is trying to maintain a cheap membership but provide top notch facilities. We’re getting to the point where our barns are going to need replacing and the footing is expensive for each ring,” added Germain.
For more information about the club, visit www.northernsaddleclub.com.