Petaluma’s Circle Oak Ranch, Riding High on Equine Rehabilitation
With more than 26,000 horses in Sonoma County, Ron Malone strives to improve the equine industry one step at a time
By Rachel LaFranchi
Ron Malone was given his first horse when he was twelve and while his interest in horses never waned, it wasn’t until the early eighties when he was 35 that he started riding every day, revitalizing body and spirit in the most natural way. As a high-profile lawyer living in Piedmont, riding a horse wasn’t the most practical or convenient way to unwind after a contentious day in court.
But one day, exhausted after a six month long trial, Malone asked himself when in his life he had been the happiest. His answer came quickly: when he was riding horses.
In 1990, Ron Malone bought Circle Oak Ranch with his wife, Sara. By the late 90’s, Malone owned 19 horses – more than he needed, he admitted.
About 10 years ago, Malone’s promising yearling blew her stifle after getting her leg caught in the fence. After receiving stem cell treatments, the filly needed rest and rehabilitation, but there weren’t many options and of those few choices, none were local. With other horses of his own to care for, Malone purchased some rehab equipment and hired someone else to take care of his yearling.
During the process, Malone became fascinated with equine rehabilitation and, recognizing that there was an unmet need for the services in Sonoma County, he started offering his equipment and staff to outside horses.
Malone said that while Circle Oak Equine started as “an ordinary mom and pop rehab,” he soon realized that there was a need for a professional and veterinarian-supervised equine rehabilitation center in the county. “The vision that I had was to get together a small team of top notch sports medicine veterinarians and registered veterinary technicians where we could deliver leading edge diagnostics, treatment and professional rehab of sport horses, all under one roof,” Malone said.
Hidden behind new Petaluma suburbs that didn’t exist when they purchased the property, the Malones have created a peaceful oasis for recovering horses. Malone’s wife, Sara, is an avid gardener and has created a beautiful arboretum around their home with landscaping that extends to the barn area. In this serene environment, it’s no wonder that horses heal at Circle Oak.
Circle Oak is committed to high quality care, and with three onsite vets, horses are getting the best care possible. Dr. Carrie Schlachter, the medical director of Circle Oak Equine, heads the facility with partner doctors Jack Snyder and Sarah Puchalski. All three doctors have extensive backgrounds in equine sports medicine and work alongside rehab manager Kari Farley, RVT and sports medicine manager Nicole Numainville, RVT.
The majority of Circle Oak Equine’s business is the diagnosis and treatment of lameness. However, they treat anything that directly interferes with the horse’s ability to perform – even problems such as ulcers. While Malone believes that good diagnosis is the key to good treatment and recovery, the Circle Oak staff also does post-surgical and wound care. The Circle Oak staff treats equine patients just like a human doctor – everything is confidential.
At first glance, Circle Oak Equine seems like a standard horse facility, but a closer look finds much more specialized technology. In their main yard is a 70 foot free flow exerciser. It replaces the more common hot walker and encourages horses to move naturally. While the free flow exerciser allows for preprogrammed workouts, the Circle Oak staff prefers to adjust it manually and keep a close watch on the horses.
Behind the rehabilitation barn is Circle Oak Equine’s HydroHorse. The underwater treadmill holds 1,400 gallons of heated water. The HydroHorse provides the horses with a workout from the resistance of the water, but also causes the horses to become more buoyant, loosing up to 50-60% of their body weight depending on the height of the horse.
With a few exceptions, the HydroHorse is a favorite among horses at Circle Oak. Many take their first trip in by following Malone’s retired mare, “Kitty Cat”, down to the 12 foot treadmill and are quick to find it a rewarding and relaxing workout.
Circle Oak Equine also houses a salt water spa behind their large covered arena. Unlike the HydroHorse with heated water, the saltwater spa has water chilled and aerated to 35° F. Although the water is cold, horses still find this treatment to be a pleasant experience. The cold water reduces inflammation causing injuries to heal quicker as well as preventing injuries after exercising.
The near future holds a lot for Circle Oak Equine. By the end of May 2015, the skeleton of a building behind their covered arena will become a two story surgery center complete with a standing MRI machine, large treatment areas, intensive care and sling stalls, and surgical suite for the Circle Oak doctors. The second story will be home to staff offices as well as a large conference center for future educational events. “Circle Oak Equine will be the ultimate diagnostics, treatment and rehabilitation facility for the best performance horses in the world,” said Malone.
Aside from running the rehabilitation center, Malone has been the president of the Sonoma County Horse Council for the past four years and actively shows three cutting horses. This last spring, Malone and Rubys CD, also known as “Ruben,” won the 2014 Amateur Superstakes Championship for cutting horses in Fort Worth, Texas.
Like his business, Malone has many upcoming goals for the Sonoma County Horse Council. He said, “the Horse Council is a lot like the Farm Bureau. The Farm Bureau is an overarching representative of the entire ag industry and the Horse Council does the same thing for the equine sector. ” There are more than 35 horse clubs in Sonoma County that are breed and discipline specific, but the Horse Council doesn’t focus on one thing. “It represents and promotes the horse industry as a whole,” said Malone.
The Horse Council recently presented an economic impact study to county supervisors, giving them the data they need to keep things in perspective. The study showed the County’s estimated 26,000 horses leave a very large economic footprint in Sonoma County, generating, approximately $613 million of annual revenue for local businesses, supporting over 7,700 local jobs and providing over $11 million in Sonoma County tax revenue. Malone said that while our local horse industry is both diverse and dynamic, it is also fragile. Growing urbanization and increasing costs, taxes, and governmental regulations all present real challenges to the survival of the horse industry, Malone said.
Malone wants the Horse Council to be “more like the Farm Bureau, a very effective and professional organization that does a good job representing the entire ag industry, including horses.” The Sonoma County Horse Council recently elected a new board, and Malone said they know what they want to do. By working together in the future, Malone said “the Horse Council can learn a lot from the Farm Bureau while helping the Farm Bureau to reach more horse connections.”
With more than 26,000 horses in the county, Malone represents the industry well. He is knowledgeable and well informed with a sincere desire to improve the industry. With his leading equine rehabilitation center in Petaluma and his goals for the Sonoma County Horse Council, Malone has already taken great strides in making the Sonoma County equine industry better for horses and their owners.
Find more information about Circle Oak Equine at circleoakequine.com. For more information about the Sonoma County Horse Council visit www.sonomacountyhorsecouncil.org.