Inspiring Equine Community Support for REACH at Budget Meeting
Thursday, 07 April 2011 11:58

Equine Industry Shows Up For ReachIt all started as a text message.  "Fwd: Meeting on wednesday night at 7pm at reach in clinton, some town people want to close it down, please come out in support." As the announcer for the Ontario High School Rodeo Association Rodeo at the The Regional Equine & Agricultural Centre of Huron Inc. on the April 1-3 Weekend, I paraphrased that message into a quick announcement to the handful of High School kids still in the building to receive their event awards on Sunday afternoon.  From has been a whirlwind.

As stated in my earlier blog posting, we had heard lots of stories and opinions.  Wonderful Facility, Tons of Bookings, Millions of Dollars Invested, Unfinished Business, Closed Books, Repurposing.  The more research we did, the more interesting the story became, and the more support we were able to drum up from the Equine Community.

The initial "Rally" was actually the Municipality of Central Huron's working annual budgetary meeting.  Attendance Records for such a meeting were broke (*unofficially) as the auditorium filled with representatives of several horse associations from across Ontario and Canada.

The tone was set by the Reeve as the stage was set, and the "rumours" from all sides slowly began to be addressed as the meeting unfolded.

To summarize the entire meeting and how well over 100 horse community representatives wound up attending with a select few passionately speaking at that meeting could be done in one word...Communication.

The town rate-payers don't entirely understand the benefit, and don't know how the facility is being run financially.  The facility needs support from the municipality as approximately 83% has come from the municipality to date, and they're needing more as per the overall 5-year plan and long term growth strategy.  The council is in the middle.  They've invested in this plan project as Economic Development with funds from various sources (Donations, Provincial Surplus, PUC Loans, Racetrack/Slots, etc), and they're accountable for the past expenditures and those moving forward.

Everyone who spoke agreed to the quality of the facility and its need.

REACH Supporters congregate before appearing before council Reach Supporters pre-rally

Almost a majority of the horse groups that spoke mentioned the need for a "Barn" or "Stalls" to make it even more viable to even more groups.  At this point, it's a stumbling block it seems as the cost to continue running is in the 600,000 (2011) to 1,100,000  (2013) range (approximate projections at this point...loose from notes).  The numbers presented as part of the "keep it running" plan (including building outdoor pens) do not include barn/stalls.

And that's when things turned.  A rate payer then talked about no need for stalls, as they cost too much.  Their taxes may increase for these "unneeded stalls" (after the meeting, she said something about another 2 million for this barn?)  The rate payer and one of the councillors then asked for everyone in attendance "you's people", ie. out of municipality, to start cutting cheques and handing them over.

The benefit for the community was then touched on, about the revenue that the out of municipality people bring in to the community when attending REACH.   Big money from the College Students on a weekly basis.  The example of "farmer math" of the High School Rodeo the weekend passed contributing over $50,000 Directly and In-Directly to Central Huron (to the cat-calls of nay-sayer rate payer), then backed up with the Ontario Ministry of Tourism's Tourism Regional Economic Impact Model saying the number was closer to $68,000.  To the benefit of the local community (Huron County) of being in the top-10 counties for Horse Population in Ontario at 12,890 in 2006 (a 57% Increase since 2001 - per the 2009 Economic Impact of the Horse Industry) now with an amazing, affordable alternative to building their own arena in their backyard.  To the benefits of non-horse related events at the centre, and so forth.  Thanks were offered numerous times to Council for their building of the facility and support thus far.

The REACH Supporters file up the hill to appear before council REACH Supporters venture to council chambers - moved to accommodate supporters to REACH

Two councillors talked about the need for $125,000 to get roads paved in the country, and they needed to find that money from somewhere...

And finally, it all came together.  The "Communication" word began floating more.  Council needs to sit down with the REACH Huron Board, (as per their plan from the beginning) and work with them on fiscal responsibility (spending).  Council and REACH need to get the community involved in the facility, and show more transparency.  Educate to the community the strengths of bringing in the Out-of-towners, and the positives in embracing this facility.  Show how it's an investment of municipal money for the present and the future.

As an outsider with the privilege to speak for 4 minutes, and the opportunity to listen for hours, it was obvious that words like Economic Development, Impact Models and the strength of the facility were not new to Council, but they were for the community.  It is still in it's viable infancy, but they will grow together.  At a suggestion of another rate payer, the town will put the "REACH Plan" on their website, and the community can learn and work with their elected officials to craft in a way it will work for all.

The local message was delivered, heard and even acted on by the posting of the plan commitment.

However, the biggest message and loudest voice was that of the Equine Community.  Crammed into the auditorium were the representatives from all over the Province, with even National Association representation.  Those that had used the facility and those that plan to, came to show their support of the Facility.  Their message was important and it was needed.  If anything, it should give Council the message that the building won't be sitting empty, and it is worth investing in more (stalls...maybe?), and continuing to operate.  Even after the session closed late on Wednesday evening, the REACH facility was in operation for a weekly practice session of Steer Wrestling and Team Roping continuing through at almost 10pm at night.

This morning, I received a note to share from Richard Harding, Executive Director and CEO of REACH Huron:

"...a big Thank You to everyone who showed their support for REACH Huron last evening.  Many of you gave us your written thoughts and for that we are grateful.  For what must have been the 200 + that travelled to take part, some who were hours on the road each way, I cannot express enough how appreciative we are.  As we all saw last evening the work is far from done but this type of solidarity and rallying to the aid of a single organization is unheard of in many sectors.  I take my hat off to the horse industry you truly are a family and are definitely a permanent part of our community.


Richard Harding
Executive Director & CEO
REACH Huron"

I second Mr. Harding's sentiments.  It was spectacular to showcase our Industry's passion.  And all of our efforts definitely were of value.  We helped identify the need for communication all around, and we communicated our support in volumes.

Thank you to those that helped with this initiative by forwarding, writing and even attending.  And thanks to Central Huron for building the facility and letting us be a part of its legacy.

REACH Supporters appear before Central Huron Council REACH Supporters appearing before Central Huron Council


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