Oakland’s City Stables to Ride Again
A new concessionaire plans to rebuild the long-running equestrian legacy of the historic stables on Oakland’s Skyline Drive.
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Photo by Chris Duffey
A determined group of East Bay Equestrians hopes to restore Oakland’s historic City Stables back to the active boarding and training facility it once was.
Melanie Diamond of Diamond Equine Services plans to reopen the long-shuttered facility on Skyline Boulevard this spring, starting with a horse boarding operation but eventually expanding to lessons, training, and programs for Oakland youths as well as therapeutic services for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and people with disabilities such as autism. Diamond also plans to go green, renovating the stables as a sustainable facility.
“I know what a difference horses have made in my life, and I want to share that with others,” said Diamond, who started riding at age 4 in the hills of Southern California. “Some kids don’t respond to anything. They’re angry teenagers, or they’ve been abused. But you put them on a horse, and you can see the joy come through. I’m thrilled to be able to offer this in Oakland.”
The city-owned stables have been closed since 2004, when the previous concessionaires left, due in part to insurance problems and complaints from neighbors. The city tried for years to find a new operator for the 7.2-acre facility but had little luck. Few people applied, and none had the financial wherewithal, experience, or commitment to serving Oakland’s youths, said City Councilwoman Desley Brooks, who represents that area of the hills.
She is hopeful that Diamond can revive the long-dormant facility, which in its heyday was a hub of equestrian life in the East Bay and a place where thousands of local kids learned to ride and fall in love with horses.
“City Stables is a wonderful asset,” Brooks said. “I’m especially excited about the therapy aspect. The therapy that can be done with horses and children is really phenomenal. I’m excited to see this moving forward.”
Diamond was selected as the latest concessionaire in November 2012 and has been working out an agreement with the city over time. The facility is in need of substantial renovation, since it has been subject to vandalism, rodents, squatters, and general neglect for more than a decade. Diamond is working with her team to raise funds to assist with the repairs and renewal of the facility.
Part of the facility—16 pipe-rail paddocks—are ready to go, and Diamond plans to open for boarding this spring. By this summer or fall, she wants to team up with local 4-H groups and pony clubs to establish programs for kids to mentor other youngsters. She also will offer classes and field trips to underserved kids, showing them how to groom a horse, how to tack up, and how to ride.
“We want to teach these children about community and responsibility and its importance in their lives. We are renewing an equestrian legacy here and look forward to providing a valuable resource for our diverse community to enjoy for generations to come,” Diamond said.
None of this will be new terrain for Diamond, who is director of the Metropolitan Horsemen’s Association and a therapist with years of experience pairing horses with children with autism, veterans, and others who may suffer from emotional disorders.
“Being around horses is a way to learn unconditional love, empathy, patience,” she said. “And to work with an animal that weighs 1,200 pounds, you have to be in the moment in order to be safe. That’s a valuable lesson.”
Horses have roamed the City Stables site for more than 200 years. The Peralta family— whose Spanish-era rancho stretched from Albany to San Leandro—built its stables there, most likely because of the lush grasslands and numerous creeks that pocket the hills.
Stables have occupied the site more or less continuously since then. The Dunn family ran the facility, which includes a 1925 hacienda, two arenas, a barn, and a long row of stalls, from 1973 to the mid-1990s, and Kathy Dunn has fond memories of the place.
“It’s such a peaceful spot,” said Dunn, who now runs Vista Madera Feed and Tack in the Laurel District. “Spending your day with horses, and sharing that love with the citizens of Oakland—what could be better than that? It was really surprising the impact on kids from just a half day with the horses. … The kids respond so dramatically; it’s something they remember their entire lives. It’s just an incredibly rewarding thing to be a part of.”
Dunn’s family sold the stables to the city in 1993, and she’s been involved with efforts to reopen them. Twelve years was too long for such an important facility to sit dormant, she said.
“This is such a unique opportunity for Oakland. There’ll never be another property like this,” she said. “When it’s up and running, I envision it’ll be like Fairyland or Lake Merritt–an incredible asset for the city.”