On a summer morning just five miles outside of Oxford, a small group of girls from all over the world sit atop horses as they await instruction on which jumps to take and how to adjust their form. The Mississippi summer is the hottest in more
than half a century, and any hopes of beating the heat have long since vanished. But not one face in the riding arena seems sullen. A combination of determination, fervor and tranquility exudes from the students. A similar expression can be seen on the face of their instructor as she strides around the course pointing, correcting and encouraging. Laura Peddle Sale (BAEd 80, MEd 88) is, for lack of a better word, home.
Sale’s home is nestled in the middle of 500 acres of rolling hills of pastures and forests. Visitors might feel the history of the area as they enter the double iron gates of Oak Hill Stables and make their way down the winding road to the picturesque Victorian house where Laura Sale and her husband, Owen Sale (PhD 88), reside.
But it’s much more than just a place to live. The Sales not only operate a summer riding camp on the farm but also run a bed and breakfast and host weddings, social functions and corporate events there. The house overlooks a wedding chapel, set between a pool and pastures where 100 horses roam freely. “We can sleep 62 people, so a lot of times people will put up their entire wedding party out here,” says Laura Sale, a teacher of gifted elementary school students by day. Sale purchased the first 120 acres of land in the mid ’70s with her first husband and built her house in 1994 with her second, but the most dramatic changes have happened in the past five years.
Some of those changes include a major renovation and expansion of the home and the addition of a swimming pool, pool house, chapel, log cabin, carriage house and bunkhouse. The bunkhouse was previously a stable, where the former horse stalls
were converted to bedrooms with sliding doors with the original resident horses’ names on them. The bunkhouse also boasts a dormitory-size bathroom and sleeps 30. “There were a lot of things that weren’t done right with the original house, and that was a good opportunity for [contractors] to renovate and add while we weren’t here,” Sale says. “They had to redo plumbing, electrical, exterior, everything.”
When those renovations began, Sale had stopped teaching to take care of her late husband, Charlie, who was undergoing cancer treatments in Jackson. The couple temporarily moved to Madison to be closer to the doctors, which gave the contractors free rein to work on the Oxford home.
“Charlie and I got married at a bed and breakfast in Virginia, and we thought having one would be fun and something different,” Sale says. “That first fall, we had a couple from Florida who wanted to get married, and they asked if they could have their wedding here.”
Sale admits she hadn’t even thought about the chapel at that time, but the pieces of the puzzle continued to come together. Sale’s youngest daughter was the first married in the chapel in spring 2008, and Sale herself married Owen that same year in the chapel. The couple got back together 25 years after first meeting in graduate school.
“Everything we’ve started doing was because somebody gave us the idea … saying there was a need for it,” Sale says. “That is how our catering business started last fall. I have a lot of drive, which you have to have to motivate yourself to want to do all these things.”
Though Sale undoubtedly enjoys hosting and entertaining at the bed and breakfast and for weddings and parties of all kinds, her true passion is teaching. Having taught elementary school for more than 23 years and given horse-riding lessons for almost 40, she says she knew long before she reached high school that she wanted to be a teacher. And in her typical fashion, Sale made those two forms of teaching complement each other.
Sale gave lessons and worked with Oxford City schools while she was going to Ole Miss part time and raising her two daughters. When her youngest daughter began first grade, Sale finished her degree and started to teach at Oxford Elementary. “A lot of the kids I taught came home from school with me,” she says. “We would do riding lessons after school, and their parents would pick them up after work.”
Back in her early years of teaching riding lessons, one of Sale’s students was Allison Estes (BA 84). Estes continued to ride at Sale’s until she graduated from Ole Miss and moved to New York, where she has lived ever since. With the experience and training she received from Sale, Estes got a job at Claremont Riding Academy in Manhattan where she taught for 18 years. Though it closed in 2007, Claremont was the oldest public working stable in the nation.
“To be living in NYC and working with horses was a dream job,” says Estes. “I didn’t have to sit at a desk or work in a store. I was riding horses around Central Park.”
While teaching at Claremont, Estes saw an opportunity to share some of her own cherished experiences at Oak Hill Stables with her students. After inviting Sale to a riding holiday in Ireland in 1999 and to France in 2000 with a group of her students, the two teachers decided to bring New York to Oxford.
“Laura had always said she wanted to run a riding camp,” Estes says. “I brought 10 of my best students down to stay for two to three weeks. We had a great time, so we continued it the next summer.”
Estes would travel to Oxford and Oak Hill with her students and teach in that camp, which is for girls from ages 7-19, allowing the students a learning opportunity they couldn’t get elsewhere in the country.
“Between her excellent facility and the horses she had, and my experience with the kids, they really had a great time,” Estes says. “There is no other camp in the nation where kids get that kind of opportunity to work with young horses.” Despite the closure of Claremont, Sale and Estes are working to build the number of students in Oak Hill’s summer riding camp back up as its longtime participants graduate from high school and move on.
“It’s a great program for kids,” Estes says. “They love it. Besides letting them train young horses, I wanted them to have what I was lucky enough to have—the freedom to gallop a horse bareback through the pasture in the summer rain.” Sale also ensures the kids learn more than riding and jumping horses during their visits to Mississippi as well, taking the girls on a field trip every weekend to places such as Rowan Oak. “The kids who stay four weeks or stay the whole summer get exposed to a lot more than just horses,” she says. “We ride three hours in the morning, then they have lunch. Afterward, they can swim if they want or watch a movie or write home. Then we have an early dinner, and they ride again after dinner.” Sale returned to teaching elementary school last year Owen Sale had been working with the university through a yearlong grant. The same month his grant ran out, the superintendent for Benton County School District offered Laura Sale a position, teaching gifted students in second through sixth grades.
“So we switched roles,” Sale says. “Owen is the innkeeper now, while I go to school. He answers the phone, shows people around and helps set up for parties.”
If the Sales’ lives were not busy enough, the spouses are now preparing their home for twins. A surrogate mom is carrying the babies, who have a due date in late January.
“We wanted two, so they would have each other,” she says. “Obviously we won’t have the stamina of younger parents, but I just hope they love horses more than soccer.” AR
For more information on Oak Hill Stables Bed and Breakfast, call 662-801-2084 or visit www.oakhillstablesbedandbreakfast.com