By Beverly Drapalik
WILMINGTON — The casual observer driving past Roberts Arena might have noticed small cottages appearing on the property within the last few months. These tiny houses, small as they seem from the outside, are made for big living.
They are only a small part of the many improvements the arena has recently made for the comfort and pleasure of people who love horses.
Roberts Arena is a nationally recognized first-class equestrian facility, according to its website. It includes the largest indoor equine arena in the United States, and has 135,000 square feet of riding space.
Leonard Barnett, manager, and Dawn Martin, assistant manager, have overseen many changes since they came on board this year.
Martin said, “I showed horses at Roberts years ago, and now I can enjoy working here.”
One visit inside the buildings proves that changes are extensive. LED lighting and new premium footing have made sure that shows are bright, with no distracting shadows.
Most equine owners interviewed at a recent show talked about the sheer size of the facility. They were very impressed with the new R + L Arena, which is 625 feet by 130 feet.
Martin said, “This new space allows hunter/jumper shows, increasing the number of shows Roberts can host. Next year, 48 shows are scheduled — yes, that is one a week, January through November.”
Lamar Arena has also been expanded to 245 feet by 110 feet. R + L, Lamar and Bradley arenas provide more than 100,000 square feet of heated riding space. In addition, two outdoor arenas and make-up arenas conclude the riding areas.
More shows mean more space for horses. Now, horses stay in 700 stalls, with plans to expand to 1,000 stalls. There are 15 wash racks, with plans to expand that number soon. Fans, new lights and new footing ensure the comfort of the horses; however, people can be assured of their own creature comforts, too.
A new “state-of-the-art sound system,” and the capability of communication to all buildings ensure that schedules for shows are on time and no one misses important information.
Because presentation is everything, a new Aveda nail and pedicure spa has been built.
The café has been renovated, but Mary’s cole slaw is probably forever on the menu. The café serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and catering is available. The facility also includes a separate banquet hall, a great location for rehearsal dinners, reunions and local organizations’ events.
Equine owners can continue the business of their full-time jobs at a new business center, a quiet, out-of-the-way room equipped with office equipment and places for personal computers. Adults can conduct business while children play at the soon-to-be inside playground.
Many adults manage a full-time career and a full-time passion for horses. Recently, Louise Fraser, college administrator at Case Western Reserve University, was found sitting in her carriage in R + L Arena, awaiting her time to show 16-year-old High Fashion Magic. She was a true picture of time past, with her dress and carriage of past centuries.
Her father, Bob West, keeps the 1869 carriage (which was used by five generations of one family before Mary bought it) in good working order.
Fraser is a member of the Western Reserve Carriage Association and on the board of the Ohio Morgan Horse Association. Yet, when asked what she does when she’s not showing horses, she quickly says, “I rear a family.”
Martin said owners and their horses who fly in for the shows should enjoy the convenience of the cottages. Each one sleeps six to eight people, with space for Mom and Dad on the first floor and the children upstairs. Each house is equipped with a full-size refrigerator, a dorm-size fridge, kitchen area, full bath, night stands, table and chairs, and that sorely needed washer-dryer unit.
Two of the cottages are handicap accessible. There are two TVs, one on each floor. The porches will have rockers, and some locations have a direct view of the newly installed outside playground. Plans are to increase the cottages by 50 in the future, so people won’t have a problem with reservations.
Another people-pleaser, overwhelmingly, is the ability to walk from one end of Roberts Arena to the other, without going outside. Most people on hand at a recent event said they were grateful for the tunnels. One of the nice features of the tunnel to the Bradley Arena is the “entrance” a horse and rider can make when going into the ring.
Horse lovers benefit from the expanded, improved facility, but the community benefits as well, “through facility staffing, local restaurants and increased hotel bookings,” according to the arena’s website.
Beverly lives in Wilmington with her husband, Jeff. They also live with a dog, a cat, a parrot, chickens and bees.