Story By Susan Pederson, Photography by Linda Matteson-Reynolds, Greg Howard, SeaSide Studios and Rob Bau
To the untrained eye, it’s poetry in motion. Horses with names like Ziggy Stardust, Mr. Dress-up and Dejah-Vu fly over man-made jumps with the precision of well-trained gymnasts, their grace and beauty palpable as their riders lead them through this powerful ballet.
To the judges, and those who lives are steeped in the world of equestrian riding, the Annual Island Classic Horse Show (July 10-13 this year) is wrought with the pressure of competition at its most challenging. With the preparation demands of elite athletes, they compete in what has become one of the most well-respected equestrian events of the summer, right here in our community, at Arbutus Meadows Event and Equestrian Centre.
Arbutus Meadows is a 120-acre oasis, located on the Island Highway in Nanoose Bay. Events like The Classic, which attracts over 150 hunter and jumper competitors from Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland, as well as the highly-successful RCMP Musical Ride, helped to put the facility on the proverbial map.
However, it is clearly the heart and the stories infused within this family property that lend Arbutus Meadows its roots and soul. Ladle on a heaping of entrepreneurial vision from General Manager Rob Bau, and Arbutus Meadows becomes a year-round gathering place that marries functionality, adaptability and community in a seemingly effortless venue transformation between seasons.
A VENUE FIT FOR ROYALTY
First, there are the horse-related accruements, including the 60,000 sq. foot indoor show arena, grass fields, and sand rings. Horse digs include 19 pimped-up show barn stalls that feel worthy of royalty, as well as the working-horse accommodations, together accommodating over 125 horses at a time. And arrive they do, often after achieving glory in the fast lane.
“Many of the jumping horses are thoroughbreds that have been race horses,” explains Rob, whose father, Samuel, a retired pediatrician, purchased the property in the early ‘90s. Rob is not a rider himself (his background is in sports). His father’s adoration for horses skipped a generation and landed on Bau’s daughter Emily, who competes in events like the ones born in her backyard.
There are also dozens of trails to explore for those who favour a more sedate approach to riding, as well as a stocked fish pond. “It’s a great piece of property,” understates Rob. “There’s no facility like this on the Island.”
That is largely due to Rob’s vision. From the moment the Bau family acquired the property they have been developing it with the goal of hosting provincial and national-level competitions. Mission accomplished. But that was just the beginning. Now Rob is proud of his floor.
Fast-forward a few months after the Island Classic, and the indoor soccer field is teeming with young children, bumping, passing, and running until their lungs nearly burst. Arbutus Meadows is the official training facility for the Vancouver Island Whitecaps Academy for youth soccer prospects, as well as home to myriad soccer clubs that welcome the chance to take shelter from the rain during the winter months. A special removable 45,000 sq. foot artificial turf field system is set up from October to the end of March each year. But this isn’t just any artificial turf.
“World-class soccer players and teams have played on that very same turf,” says Rob. “B.C. Place was undergoing renovations, and the timing was perfect for us. We got a very high-grade field with many years left, for a fraction of the cost of a new field.”
Parents who have cheered on their beloved BC Lions might also recognize the seats, which were also part of the deal with B.C. Place. “The 2010 Olympics was the best thing that could have happened to us,” says Rob. We even bought one of the ticket booths, which we use.”
Everywhere you look, everywhere you step, history abounds. A stage coach barn, built in 1886 is part of the original property that Rob hopes will become a farmer’s market. Under the ambitious hands of the Bau family, there’s no doubt they will pull it off.
“I would like to renovate it and have it set up as a marketplace,” he says. He’d also like to revive the barn dance in the adjacent barn, which features an open space upper loft and reception area downstairs.
But Rob knows the old adage of “build it and they will come” doesn’t quite cut it on Vancouver Island. You have to offer people more, and that’s where his wife Samantha’s expertise comes in. A special events planner and caterer, Samantha can transform the facility into a venue fit for just about anything their happy clients can dream of, which will be good news once the barn conversion is complete.
“She really is an amazing host,” says Rob. “Hospitality is her gift. When we have an event here, she can put on the most amazing spread and make people feel really special.”
Indeed, the entire property brims with a lovely, peaceful and palpable energy one can feel the moment you step foot on it (even if Samantha hadn’t laid out a coffee tray nestled between two wicker chairs, overlooking the rolling green field, as if set for a queen on the day this writer arrived). Whether it’s horse-related shows, exhibitions, tournaments, trade shows, festivals, social gatherings or simply a visit to check out the property, it’s clear that the community is very fortunate to have Arbutus Meadows to call its own.
HOOVES AND CLEATS
Changing a 45,000 square foot floor from one that withstands the rigors of humans in cleats to a horse-friendly competition ring is not as easy as you might think.
“We have special stacking machinery for the turf to remove it,” says Rob. “For the horse footing we place down about 800 specialized mats on the concrete and then spread the footing, which is sand with a geo-textile additive that comes from California.”
Clearly, spreading a few dozen yards of dirt on the ground won’t cut it. The footing is a blend of quality synthetic felt and fibers known for its ability to add just the right amount of “spring and cushioning” for galloping hooves. The right footing can make all the difference, not only in final results, but in the reduction of repetitive injuries for those delicate legs. Makers of the product even claim it gives the horse more confidence.
It takes a couple of days to convert the building from one where soccer families exchange fist-bumps and high-fives, to one deemed suitable for a sport known for its refined sensibility.