Old West meets new luxury

Published 8:21 pm Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Doug Martinez, barn manager and Western instructor at Concord Ridge Equestrian Center, is silhouetted in the entryway of the indoor arena. Martinez has more than 30 years of experience in horse training. Photo by Katie Rohman

“Everyone said, ‘if you build it, we will come.’”
Ron Schults made good on his promise, and so did the area horse community, when he opened the Concord Ridge Equestrian Center outside St. Joseph earlier this year.
The owner of the 40-acre facility said it is his answer to an unmet demand.
“There are people known to drive two hours to a proper boarding stable,” Schults said. “This keeps money in southwest Michigan.”
Concord, however, is much more than a boarding stable. Billed as the biggest such facility in the Midwest, Concord boasts two outdoor show areas; two round training pens; pasture boarding; a tack room; upstairs lounge with two balconies, a bunkroom, apartment, full bath, bar and kitchen; a conference room; a VIP section on one side of the indoor arena; and 44 stalls from 12-by-10 feet to 12-by-15 feet and 24 stalls with private turnouts. It offers lessons, boarding and training. It has four renowned trainers with an impressive list of credentials in the equestrian world.
The center, valued at $6 million, doesn’t stop there. It is incorporating housing on both sides of M-139 in Royalton Township — 13 “equestrian lots” are available on the Concord side of the highway, allowing horse owners to be literally in a horse community. Schults plans to further develop the other side of the highway into a commercial and residential hub.

‘A state-of-the-art facility’
Schults, remarkably, has little experience riding horses.
“My daughter got into horses when she was 4 — six years ago,” Schults said.

Youth can be seen at Concord Ridge participating in camps, lessons and clinics. It also offers internships. Photo by Katie Rohman

During this experience, he learned that local horse owners and riders were looking for something different.
Other boarders had the “same vision for a large, modern facility that serves the parent,” Schults said. “…A state-of-the-art facility.”
Schults wears many hats, and equestrian center owner is another venture added to his resume.
An engineer by trade, Schults is the owner of St. Joseph-based Edgewater Resources, which deals in international marina and waterfront consulting and real estate brokerage and development.
After his wife, Dr. Lory Schults, was killed in a car accident in 2004, he helped establish Lory’s Place, a family service center in St. Joseph for grieving families.
He served as chairman of the St. Joe Kickers indoor soccer facility expansion project. He owns and operates the Elks building in St. Joseph.
“I’m really focused on things primarily with my kids,” Schults explained.
Concord has created 20 to 30 jobs, including interns, trainers, veterinarians and other professionals.
“You have so many things it impacts,” he said.
And that impact is important to Schults, who believes the equestrian industry is a selling point for Michigan tourism.
“There’s a million boats in Michigan and 8 million people,” he said. “This is just a wonderful place to hang out. Unfortunately, the industrial era is over. The state needs to focus on our natural resources.
“To me, this is all part of the transition,” Schults explained. “We are part of this entire ‘Pure Michigan’ era. What are we going to be when we grow up?”

‘We’re completely complementary to the fair’
About 2,000 people attended the Concord open house July 30, a testament to the area’s curiosity about the sprawling facility along M-139.
Contrary to common perception, the vast majority of boarders and students at Concord live within close driving distance. In fact, local youth trained at the facility for the Berrien County Youth Fair in Berrien Springs in August.
The fairgrounds — where hundreds of horses congregate each year for fair events — is also the future home of the Expo Arena, another large equestrian facility. The difference between the Expo and Concord is that the latter is a long-term boarding facility, whereas the Expo will host national equestrian events.
“We’re completely complementary to the fair,” Schults said. “We are a specialty, boutique, private facility. This is extended stay. Our boarders are here year-round.
“With their project, more of these places are going to need to be built,” Schults said.
And what Concord has to offer is what the Expo’s users are looking for: professional trainers, upscale boarding and various educational opportunities.
One of Concord’s employees — barn manager and head Western instructor Doug Martinez — is a “nationally recognized cowboy,” Schults said.
Another, Melissa Ashcraft, is a fourth level dressage instructor, has 12 years of professional instructor and trainer experience and five years experience traveling worldwide with The World Famous Lipizzaner Stallion Show.
And Schults adds that the residential equestrian lots will allow horse owners to “escape horse jail” if they need to leave.
“It’s not like dropping your dog off at the vet for two weeks,” he said of horse ownership.
“You don’t need to own a horse,” he pointed out about Concord. “You can lease a horse. You can just take lessons.”
There are many possible expansion projects on Concord’s horizon, such as an equine hospital and a tack shop.
“The whole key is having the right people here,” Schults said. “And you have to have the right people to train people.”

Concord Ridge Equestrian Center is located at 5200 South M-139, St. Joseph. It can be reached at (269) 591-1833 or visit www.concordhorses.com; it is also on Facebook.

Concord Ridge Equestrian Center by numbers

39 acres
2 outdoor arenas
3 round pens
1-mile riding trail
9 2- to 3-acre pastures
1 indoor round pen
70 tack lockers
44 stalls from 12-by-10 feet to 12-by-15 feet
24 stalls with private turnouts
12 horses on-site for lessons
4 renowned trainers in the equestrian world