Tucked away in the hills of Lafayette County, Oak Hill Stables Bed and Breakfast celebrates its 15th year of enriching youth through its summer equestrian riding program.
From pre-kindergarten to high school-aged students, Laura Peddle Sale has a lesson and a horse to challenge every student who comes to “horse camp.”
“The greatest accomplishment is watching all the children progress in their skills and having a good time,” Sale said. “Looking around at Oak Hill, sometimes I look at it, and it’s a pretty amazing place out here.”
Instead of a relaxing summer with no class, students who choose Oak Hill wake up early and saddle up for their daily lessons. Once everyone is tacked and warmed up, Sale works with them as a group to improve their balance, jumping ability and all-around horsemanship skills.
Whether students are new or returning, they sing the same praises for the camp.
Lake Weston, 21, has been riding at Oak Hill for the summer and is serving as a camp counselor.
“This is my first time at Camp Oak Hill, but it’s been a great experience,” Weston said. “I have really enjoyed being the camp counselor and getting to help the campers enjoy horses as much as I have.”
For Mary Francis Mangum, 14, summers spent with Sale and other riders have helped her push herself to become better.
“I have been riding at Oak Hill since I was 6 years old,” Mangum said. “I have been pushed to be my very best and farther. Maybe farther than I wanted to be, but I wouldn’t be the rider I am today if I hadn’t started riding here.”
Riders are not required to be highly experienced and can attend at a lower skill level as long as they are willing to push themselves to the next level. Each horse a student rides has its own personality and habits that students have to work with. Sale calls them their “challenge horses.”
“I have ridden a lot of challenge horses here and in other places,” Mangum said. “I wouldn’t be able to do that if I hadn’t been riding here as long as I have been.”
In 15 years, the horse camp has grown to include students from all over the world.
Students have attended Oak Hill horse camp from France, the Netherlands, Ireland, China, Japan and Scotland. Additionally, students from across the United States, particularly from the eastern states, have attended as well.
Sale’s eyes light up a brighter blue when she speaks of past students. The children she instructed now bring their own children to Oak Hill Stables.
“Now I have taught generations,” Sale said.
Sale is no stranger to teaching: she just completed her 28th year in a classroom. However, being a riding instructor was a preamble to her classroom experience and it inspired Oak Hill horse camp.
“I was a riding instructor before I was a teacher in the classroom,” Sale said. “We didn’t have anybody who was teaching riding in Oxford. I loved working with children, I loved working with horses, and I thought I could share this with a community that wanted to take riding (lessons).”
Sale became involved with horses from her father’s military background. He was enrolled in the Valley Forge Military Academy and first learned to jump and ride English-style in high school.
“When I was just 9 years old, he bought my sister and I a pony,” Sale said. “We went behind our house there and he had mowed a ring and he would give us riding lessons.”
Sale continued taking lessons from her father and began competing at horse shows.
“He was a pretty tough instructor,” Sale said.
Later she worked with various horse camps and student groups where she taught riding lessons that focused on English and jumping. In the early 1980s, Sale was the equestrian supervisor for a horse camp in Missouri that taught 250 students at capacity and taught five terms a summer.
Sale’s own camp has a maximum capacity of 12, which fits the size and quaintness of the stable grounds and bunkhouse built to house students. It was all part of her vision of what Oak Hill should mean to people back when the original 60-acre parcel was bought in 1976.
Sale and her family have added to the estate ever since.
“It made Oak Hill what it is today,” Sale said.
Past the iron gate entrance, a long black-top driveway recedes into the distance. The drive winds past acres of pasture and wooded trail-riding areas for horseback-riding enthusiasts.
Only five miles from the heart of Oxford and the Square, Oak Hill Stables remains an equestrian oasis.
“If the good Lord’s willing and I stay well and able, I’ll do it as long as I can,” Sale said. “I’ll probably do this long after I retire from school. I just love working with kids and teaching.”