Westana: All in, in Alberta

Bob and Pam Cramers have developed Westana Equine Training and Rehab Centre into a world-class facility for thoroughbred racehorses and other breeds.

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Twenty years after starting their farm as something of a retirement project, Bob and Pam Cramers and their dedicated staff have developed Westana Equine Training and Rehab Centre into a world-class class facility that touts itself as the first.

Bob Cramers admittedly has mixed emotions about racing leaving Northlands Park for the new Century Mile track scheduled to open in 2019. After all, the man behind Westana Equine Training and Rehab Centre worked at Northlands as a teenager in the late 1960s and his father was the supervisor of the barn area.

“I have over 50 years of history at Northlands, so leaving there is difficult. Having said this, the Century Group, particularly (GM) Paul Ryneveld, has been very positive and accommodating of some of our needs and new programs we are trying to bring forth,” said Cramers, who apart from owning Westana in Redwater, AB, also is one of the founders of the Alberta Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association (ATOBA) and is a Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society (CTHS) director.

It’s all part of a banner couple of years for Cramers and Westana, a world-class facility which touts itself as the first centre in western Canada to feature training and rehab services for thoroughbred racehorses and other breeds all in one location.

Westana, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year with a large expansion and improvement of its facilities, began in 1998 as something of a retirement project for Cramers and his wife, Pam.

“We were trying to figure out what we wanted to do upon our retirement and the answer was — to be around horses,” Bob said. “Thoroughbreds are extremely smart and sensitive to their environment… For Pam and I and our staff, we all enjoy working with these majestic animals. The breed has brought together people from all walks of life who share the excitement and joy that comes from winning a race.

“Our vision was to get up in the morning, enjoy a coffee while watching our horses train on our own track. We haven’t quite got to the retirement portion of our life, yet, but we are working on it.

Bob also owns Westana Equipment Leasing, Inc., one of the largest privately funded leasing companies in Alberta.

He said the original farm was located in Sherwood Park, AB and was only 20 acres with 10 stalls, an arena and a few turnout pens.

“At this point, we had a few racehorses which we wintered and also did lay ups for a few friends,” Bob said.

“In 2004, we decided that we would start a breeding operation. We set up near Lexington, KY with 10 broodmares. Originally, the plan was to expand the breeding operation to Alberta and be able to train and condition young horses. In 2006, we made a decision to build a facility near Redwater, Alberta.”

A year later, after struggling to find facilities that specialized in rehabilitation in the Edmonton area — and after getting referrals from veterinarians for lay ups for horses that had surgery — the Cramers decided to build their own rehab centre.

“We purchased equine treadmills, a salt water spa and massage table and hired our existing manager, Christine Cake, and assistant manager, Jessica Hutton,” Bob said. “They are extremely proficient at working with special needs horses and continue to meet or go beyond most of our clients’ expectations. Like any other business, you are only as successful as the people you have involved.”

This year, Westana added two quarter sections of land, an 80’ x 200’ indoor arena, a 10-horse quarantine barn, 12 stalls for yearlings and turnout pens.

The equine facility features over 150 acres of pasture, 55 individual paddocks with shelter and automated waterers and a custom round pen.

The training facility has an enclosed, computerized Equicizer, a 5/8 mile track with safety rail, a heated arena and access to a wet or dry treadmill.

The rehab centre features a salt water therapeutic equine spa, Electronic Relax Message wash bays and farrier services.

The farm’s veterinary clinic can perform x-rays, ultrasounds and minor surgeries and features customized rehab programs, general veterinarian health assessments and a foaling stall with cameras and electronic monitoring for pregnant mares.

The Birth of Westana Ranches

Despite a lifetime in the game, Bob said the family’s interest and investment in thoroughbreds picked up in the 1990s when Pam’s uncle asked they if they could help form a syndicate to buy a racehorse.

“The horse ended up having a number of issues and wasn’t very talented,” Bob admitted, “so the syndicate dissolved and my wife and I found a forever home for this horse. At this point we decided to create our own racing stable.”

Thus, Westana Ranches Inc. was born.

“The original breeding program created a number of stakes winners and one graded stakes mare by the name of Montana Native,” Bob said.

Montana Native, a daughter of Yes It’s True out of Special American bred by Westana Ranches, earned more than $420,000 (U.S.) racing between 2012 and 2015. Montana Native won the Broom Dance Stakes at Saratoga and the Remington Park Oaks in 2013 and was fifth in the Grade 1 Alabama Stakes at Saratoga that same year. In 2014, Montana Native won the Winter Melody Stakes at Delaware Park, was second in the Obeah Stakes (Grade 3) at Delaware Park and second in the Molly Pitcher Stakes (Grade 2) at Monmouth Park. In 2015, she returned to Delaware Park and was third in the Obeah Stakes.

“Montana Native’s success was beyond our expectation,” Bob said.

In 2014 at the CTHS Alberta Yearling Sale, Westana purchased two talented horses — Golden Odie (Stephanotis—Golden Made), a gelding that earned more than $55,000 and Cause for Concern (Cause To Believe—Kaluki), a gelding that earned more than $20,000 on the track in 2017.

Through some 17 years of racing, Westana has won 26 races and earned over $368,310 (U.S.) — over a quarter of that coming in 2017 alone when Westana posted a record of 7-2-6 in 27 starts with earnings just shy of $100,000 (U.S.).

“Last year we teamed up with trainer Tim Rycroft,” Bob said. “First and foremost, Tim is a family man, but is also a true horseman and has had the same crew for years, particularly Gonzalo (Gonzo) Anderson. Gonzo worked for us one winter years ago and knows how fussy we are. Tim had awareness of our stable and found a way to convince Pam to hand over her babies. As it turns out, the combination of our care and attention and Tim’s ability created the best year Westana has had.”

Last year, Westana also led all buyers at the CTHS Alberta Yearling Sale, spending $137,000 to purchase seven yearlings.

“The majority of the horses we purchased last year are showing real promise and we are focused on making sure they are prepared to run on the new Century Mile track,” Bob said prior to this year’s Alberta sale scheduled for Sept. 17. “We have viewed the 2018 catalogue and it is obvious that the breeders in Alberta have stepped up their game. We will definitely be active at the Alberta Sale, but we will also be looking at other jurisdictions to help increase the local horse population.”

Westana also breeds its own mares.

“We have at least a dozen mares that we are considering breeding now that there is certainty within our local racing industry,” he said.

ATOBA, CTHS and More

Bob said establishing ATOBA was about, “focusing on communicating to the investors of the industry and being a positive voice. We are working hard at informing our members of what is and isn’t working in other jurisdictions. We are pleased to be working with the other horsemen’s associations and facility operators in finding new ways of promoting the sport. Our membership continues to grow and through our surveying of the members’ concerns and recommendations, we will continue to be of service to the industry.”

He said becoming a director of the CTHS came after watching CTHS president Adrian Munro and director Brian Alexander lobby the provincial government to renew the contract for the slots program.

“These two individuals volunteered a massive amount of time and energy into assisting the industry at a time where there was a lot of uncertainty. Throughout this period, they maintained a positive outlook and enjoyed watching their horses compete. It was because of their dedication that I thought I should at least try to help rather than sit on the sideline and be a critic.”

With Century Mile soon to join Century Downs as new racetracks in the province, Cramers is bullish on the future of racing in Alberta after many difficult years since Stampede Park closed to horse racing.

“Alberta is not the only horse racing jurisdiction to experience upheaval over the last 10 years. We can all learn from the past, but I believe in this new facility, the Alberta stakeholders and the local horsemen’s associations and their ability to come together to create the best thoroughbred racing in western Canada,” Bob said.

Even though he has a deep soft spot in his heart for Northlands Park, a half century after he first started working at the track Bob Cramers said the ultimate goal for Westana — beyond continuing to care for thoroughbreds and work with local retirement associations — is to one day raise its own foal that goes on win the marquee race at Century Mile.

“It would be a dream come true,” he said.