By Tim Kalinowski
Southeast Alberta could use more recreation opportunities, more tourist attractions and more facilities dedicated to serving the community, says Dunmore Equestrian Society president Blair Reid, and he is banking on the idea that many in the rural community surrounding Medicine Hat feel the same way.
By submitting a grant application to the Alberta government, Reid’s organization recently kicked off its drive in earnest to create the first indoor riding arena of its type in southeast Alberta at the current site of its Dunmore Equestrian Centre. As part of that application process, the Equestrian Society hired a consultant to conduct a survey of surrounding residents to gauge their appetite for the new indoor facility.
“We just finished that survey on Jan. 31,” confirms Reid. “It went out to 10,000 residents in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan. We have a consulting firm doing this work for us, and we haven’t got the final results back yet. When we get this process done, we will go back to Cypress County and explain our results, and see moving forward what size of building we should build.”
“In our view, it is definitely a viable facility which is required,” states Reid. “We just have to prove it with surveys and consultation with various organizations. It is very positive feedback from what we have got back so far.”
The Dunmore Equestrian Society constructed its first outdoor arena in 2015, and Reid says judging by the number of events and uptake the centre has had so far, the organization is ready to take this next significant step forward if they can get the funding to do it.
“We are hoping this will be a 365 day a year facility, and we can host bigger events,” he confirms. “We want to be part of a triangle where you have Claresholm in the west and Ponoka in north, and we want to be in south eastern Alberta here at this end of the triangle for hosting big clinics and such.”
Reid says the unpredictable weather of the region remains the biggest impediment to the Equestrian Centre’s future growth.
“In the summertime when we have events it is all climate-driven,” says Reid. “If we get a rainstorm or windstorm or something we can’t have our therapeutic riding course for special needs kids. Or we can’t have wagon rides for our seniors programs. We have a lot of programs where we get seniors out of the seniors’ homes, and we entertain them for the day. If we get the sun and it is hot it is conducive to problems for the elderly. And in the winter, absolutely, you need indoor facilities. It holds us back from doing just about anything in the wintertime.”
With about 15,000 residents in Cypress County and other local communities, many of whom are involved in the cattle or farming business, and over 60,000 residents in the City of Medicine Hat, which currently has no indoor riding facility, Reid feels the region is missing out on opportunities to engage with and fully enjoy the ranching and riding lifestyle which so defines the local identity.
“People are starting to slow down and enjoy the lifestyle part of ranching again, and there is a big push to use horses again for things like brandings and such,” he says. “It’s trying to keep the culture alive; that is basically what we are doing. Recreation and the farming community has to be front and centre in everything we do because we want kids to be able to stay on the ranches and farms for a long time to come.”
Outside of this celebration of local identity, an indoor riding facility would also provide major event opportunities such as kennel shows, major horse shows and clinics, first rate gymkhanas and year-round show riding, team-roping and barrel riding tournaments, says Reid. He is also enthusiastic about the potential to create more therapeutic riding programs, horse riding lessons and youth equestrian engagement opportunities. Community support and engagement will be key to all these plans unfolding, he says.
“We just received an anonymous $100,000 donation (at the end of January),” explains Reid, by way of example. “That just shows you the level of interest in this facility that is out there. The public is really starting to step up and want to get involved, and the provincial government is just waiting for us to show them there is an interest—and then there is matching funding available.”