Eagle: Horses won’t be booted | VailDaily.com

Eagle: Horses won’t be booted

Melanie Wong
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” The equestrian community isn’t going to lose its only winter riding facility, but they may have to share it with soccer players.

In a heated meeting complete with tearful pleas and angry outbursts, local riders, parents, and other rodeo supporters confronted county commissioners about plans to expand the use of the Eagle County Fairgrounds pavilion.

However, riders who train and compete in the winter rodeo series feared that might mean they will be booted from the building for the winter.

“My sister and I have been with horses my entire life,” said Kirsten Eckert, who competes in the youth rodeos. “We’ve practiced. We’ve worked hard. If it’s all taken away, what are we going to do?”

Numbers show the $4.5-million indoor arena is underused, and the Western Eagle County Metro Recreation District could use it for winter sports, such as indoor soccer, county and rec district officials said.

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Other uses could help the county pay for the facility, which is currently costly to maintain, power and heat, County Commissioner Sara Fisher said.

The idea to put down indoor turf for three months in the winter was also raised.

However, indoor sports events would edge the riders out of practice time and all six of the planned Little Britches Rodeo events might have to be canceled, said rodeo organizer Dan Eckert.

Some also worried the cancellation of the winter rodeos would hurt the growing youth riding programs.

Rodeo organizer Kelly Wamboldt said that the arena is regularly used, and that kids are learning how to rope and ride.

“The sign outside the building says it was built in the spirit of our western heritage, and I really believe it should stay and equestrian facility,” she said.

Kendra Parker, 17, said that she and her sister compete in the rodeo events. The pavilion is one of the best indoor arenas west of Denver and the only place to practice in the winter, she said.

“With this facility we can keep up with the kids in bigger communities and compete,” Parker said. “Without this, we start from zero in the spring,”

Horse riders and parents said the rodeo series bring money into the county when families come here for competitions. Better marketing and scheduling of the rodeo events could make the arena more profitable, Dan Eckert said.

The commissioners assured rodeo advocates that they wouldn’t be edged out. A dirt floor could accommodate both horses and soccer games, and having groups share the space for different sports is what they envisioned all along, commissioners said.

“This isn’t about losing the equestrian (facility),” Commissioner Arn Menconi said. “It’s not going to go away. We’re just looking at ways we can maximize some use during the winter.”

The ground would be rolled and packed down for soccer and tilled for horse events. Each process would take about a day, and soccer leagues and equestrians could switch out days or weeks to use the arena, said Eagle County facilities manager Tom Johnson.

The rec district currently runs its indoor sports programs at different schools. A dirt arena would rule out some other indoor sports, such as basketball or volleyball, but could still be used for exhibitions, paintball, laser tag or motocross events, said rec district director Steve Russell.

Commissioners said they were frustrated that angry equestrians didn’t understand that the county is simply trying to accommodate more residents in the multi-use building.

“We get hell over spending money on other programs such as on day care, workforce housing, young children, but we’re made out to be totally uncaring and disrespectful when it comes to a particular use that affects you personally,” Fisher said.

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2928 or mwong@vaildaily.com.

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