NORMAN — The horses that make their home in the sandy soil at the Thunderbird Stables on Norman’s east side seem to know their world is changing. Something is different these days.
Since the last ride earlier this month, no city folks are coming to ride them through the trails lined with Blackjack trees on the banks of Lake Thunderbird. They’re not wearing saddles and bridles.
“Oh yeah, they know something is different just because we’re treating them differently,” said stable owner Cindy Steveson.
The lives of the 20 horses, Steveson and her employees, not to mention thousands of customers, will be different now that the riding stable has closed for good. An auction to sell the horses, tack, fixtures and even the fiberglass horses and metal smoking cowboy on the porch will be held beginning at 10 a.m. July 27.
The last ride was July 14. Steveson did not renew her lease with the state. The phones have been ringing ever since.
“They say, ‘What are we going to do, what are we going to do,’ ” says Steveson. “I say, ‘What am I going to do. It’ll be emotional. It’s a way of life for me. It’s not a job. My way of life is going to change dramatically.”
She has owned the stable on the lake’s Highway 9 side for 28 years. Her sister and brother-in-law — Donna and Jack Holt — owned it before that. It was started by Leroy and Rosalie Krohmer when the lake opened in the mid 1960s. A few others owned the stables in between. Many of the buildings are still standing.
Krohmer sold it after the weather took a toll on them in the winter of 1969.
“We had six weeks of ice and we were feeding all those horses with no revenue coming in,” recalls Krohmer, a former Cleveland County Commissioner. “I sold it the next spring.”
Steveson, who lives on the grounds, has had her share of weather challenges. At 69, she thinks it’s time to hang it up and move to the city.
“We had a tornado in 2010, we had wildfires last year and this year, we’ve had monsoons,” she said. “The days have just gotten too long.”
The drought, too, was a headache. The low lake water gave the horses a western escape route from the 800 acres she leases.
She’ll miss the multiple generations of families that have ridden her horses, taken a hayride or got a birthday dunk there. Mostly, she admits, it’s the kids she’ll miss.
“They go out crying and they come back in with a big grin on their face,” she said. “At least most of them.”
OU fraternities and sororities are already calling to schedule fall hayrides. Many a foreign student or urban kid took their first horse ride at Thunderbird Stables.
In 1992, the stables started “The Black Hole,” a Halloween haunted house of sorts. It was a revenue bridge that helped pay the feed bills in the months when customers were scarce.
“That made my winter,” she said.
Besides the customers, Steveson said she will miss being able to ride a 4-wheeler to see a sunset or fireworks at nearby cities. She could watch wild turkeys, deer, raccoons, armadillos, birds and bobcats. Wildflowers, too.
“When I came out here that first spring I never knew there were so many wildflowers. Every color of the rainbow.”
Wildflowers will be rare where she’s going.
“I’m moving to town and I haven’t lived in town for a very long time. I’m looking forward to it in a lot of ways and then I realize I’m not going to be able to ...,” her voice trailing as she struggles to complete the sentence. “It’s hard. It’s all about memories at this point.”