Sunday, June 23, 2024

Royale Ranch CEO brings life back to historic south Ottawa equestrian centre | CBC News

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Emily Bertrand has been hooked on horseback riding since she was four years old. 

Growing up, it wasn’t always easy for Bertrand, but the company of horses was a source of comfort during her youth.

“I had a bit of a rough upbringing and we were very poor,” Bertrand said. “I like to think that horses helped me develop into who I am today.”

In 2007, Bertrand wanted to share the joy she found in horses with others. She opened the Royale Equestrian Centre in Barrhaven that year with her mother Dawn Patterson. 

It takes a lot of work to start up and run an equestrian centre, said Bertrand, who described low profit margins coupled with high expenses. 

Despite the hardship, Bertrand recently embarked on an expansion. She’s teamed up with her cousin Cody Czeitler and a new group of partners to open Royale Ranch in Blossom Park, about nine kilometres west of the original site.

“We knew that there was more to still offer Ottawa and it was sad to see such a vibrant, beautiful farm leave our community,” said Bertrand, founder and CEO of the Royale Equestrian Centre and Royale Ranch.

Flipping the farm

When Bertrand gained ownership of the Albion Road farm in 2020, she inherited a 24-hectare landscape in “complete disrepair.”

The farm was initially home to the Greenbelt Riding School, which operated from 1958 to 2019. By the time Bertrand surveyed the facility, it had sat vacant for about a year. 

The Greenbelt Riding School operated from 1958 to 2019. (Submitted by Emily Bertrand)

“The farm, unfortunately, ended up being quite dilapidated,” Bertrand said.

The riding centre’s arena had collapsed. There was flooding, damaged fencing, missing doors and dead rodents lurking in the barns. 

“When I look back to that first day — that first week — it was pretty overwhelming,” said Bertrand.

The Royale Ranch's main barn sits under construction, flanked by a ladder on its right.
Bertrand says the stalls in the farm’s main barn were flooded when she acquired the property in 2020. (Submitted by Emily Bertrand)

It took three years to transform the farm into what is now Royale Ranch.

The ranch offers Western riding lessons, an equestrian discipline that Bertrand said isn’t commonly taught at nearby riding schools.

“We find this area is very saturated with predominantly English and dressage and jumping barns,” she said. “So I wanted to be able to bring that into Ottawa to make it a little more accessible.”

While there is more work to be done, Bertrand said she occasionally finds herself surprised at how much has changed in the time the farm has been in her stewardship.

Khristine Lahaie stands beside a horse, petting his neck with her right hand and smiling.
Khristine Lahaie is head trainer and coach at Royale Ranch. (Maxim Saavedra-Ducharme/CBC)

Khristine Lahaie, the head trainer and coach at Royale Ranch, also marvels at the revamped premises. Over the past few years, she’s seen the site come to life. 

“Everything is set up for the horses’ safety and the riders,” Lahaie said. “It’s beautiful coming here.”

Blossom Park’s return to riding

Royale Ranch had its grand opening last June. More than 1,000 people showed up to celebrate its launch.

“The compliments and the outpouring of support has been absolutely incredible,” Bertrand said. 

“Horses helped me grow and brought me out of my shell, and we see that with all the kids and all the people that come through our farm.”

A horse in profile faces the camera. Khristine Lahaie, in frame from below her neck, sits atop the horse's saddle holding onto the reins.
Seeing the joy riders derive from the horses has made all the work it took to start up Royale Ranch worth it, says Bertrand. (Maxim Saavedra-Ducharme/CBC)

Lahaie has been riding horses since she was 12. Like Bertrand, she said horses helped her to gain confidence. And in the four years she’s been working at Royale Ranch, she’s gained a second family, too. 

“Every time you come here you feel like you’re coming home,” Lahaie said. 

It’s those kinds of testimonials that touch Bertrand the most. She said the farm’s visitors and neighbours have delighted in seeing horses roam the land again.

For Bertrand, their excitement is confirmation enough that she made the right decision by opening a new equestrian centre in Ottawa’s south end. 

“It just brings them so much happiness that it makes all the work and effort worth it,” she said.

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