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Saddle Club rides off into the sunset

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Maybe if a youth program had encouraged younger riders.

Maybe if the price of membership had been bumped up.

The last few members of the Lambton County Saddle Club will never know what could have saved it. All they know is the property taxes are owing and the only way to pay them is to sell the land.

They say they tried everything to maintain the 51-year-old club, a place that touched the lives of thousands of horse enthusiasts over the years.

But nothing worked, and on Aug. 23 the Lambton County Saddle Club will go on the auction block.

Proceeds from the sale of the eight-acre property on Telfer Sideroad, which includes a clubhouse, horse arena and former corral and warm-up pen, will reimburse club shareholders and pay off the taxes.

Anything left over will be given to the Midwest Horsemen’s Society and the SARI Institute for Therapeutic Riding near London.

“It’s just a shame,” says Bob Johnson, who has been a member 35 years.  “This was a good place to be at one time,” he said, standing inside what’s left of the clubhouse, since it was abandoned two years ago.

An old chalkboard with prices of chili and other snacks hangs on the wall, covered in cobwebs. In a corner, a collection of large trophies from dozens of horse shows and competitions gathers dust.

“We were on the verge of expanding here in 1985 and even had the blue prints drawn up,” Johnson said. “But it fell apart and the club just didn’t keep up with the times. People want modern facilities with stalls now.”

“We all fought to hang on,” says president Wendy Lemoine. “It just didn’t work.

“A bunch of us even threw our own money in to keep it going,” she said.

Quarter horse shows and the Trillium show, an English competition with jumping, were cancelled about 10 years ago because horse owners were heading to Ilderton and the Toronto area for shows.

“Those were our money makers,” said Lemoine. “So was bingo, and we all know what happened to that.”

The club made one final attempt to host a show in 2012 but not enough people attended.

“We used to have nine successful shows a year. In the end, we couldn’t have one,” said Lemoine.

The Lambton County Saddle Club started in 1962 when a group of local horse owners pooled their money and bought property near the Sarnia Chris Hadfield Airport.

Wendy’s husband, George Lemoine, remembers rodeos that attracted 3,500 spectators to the new grounds.

There’s still a good number of horse owners in Sarnia-Lambton, said Johnson. But most have their own training facilities and don’t want to volunteer time at the club.

“You could just see it drop off year after year,” he said. “The horse industry is still huge in Ontario, but the whole family doesn’t show anymore like they used to.”

Shackleton Auctions will auction off the Lambton County Saddle Club, at 6172 Telfer Sideroad, Saturday, Aug. 23 starting at 11 a.m.

 – Cathy Dobson

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