May 1, 2016 4:05 pm
Updated: May 1, 2016 9:34 pm

Whitemud Equine Centre breaks ground on new arena

WATCH ABOVE: A replacement facility for the riding arena at the Whitemud Equine Centre is officially under construction. Sarah Kraus reports.

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EDMONTON- The Whitemud Equine Centre kicked off construction on its arena replacement project with an official ground breaking Sunday afternoon.

The tender for the design closed on April 8. Hundreds of people were on hand as draft horses pulled a plow over the new site, including many children.

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“We’re going to have a brand new riding arena that’s about 40 per cent larger than our current one,” said Diane David, executive director. “It’s going to be a fully accessible building 35 per cent of our riders are people with special needs.”

There’s currently a two-year waitlist for many of the programs, including Little Bits, which introduces people with physical and mental disabilities to riding therapy.

“Riders will be able to have their parents pull up to the front, drop them off,” said Little Bits Vice-Chair Andrea Wiebe.

The facility will also have indoor stables for horses, stables for programs, a classroom, reception area, spectator seating and indoor washrooms.

The centre will have indoor plumbing and regulated temperatures all winter long, an announcement that drew cheers from the crowd gathered at the ground breaking.

The current arena was once a World War II airplane hangar that was rebuilt in the river valley nearly 60 years ago.

“Essentially, the old arena that you can see over there has been condemned. It’s deteriorating very quickly,” said David. “The roof leaks, the building shifted off its foundations.”

Once the new arena is open, the old arena will be torn down and turned into pasture.

The new riding facility will cost $6.5 million, $4 million of which is coming from the City of Edmonton.

Ground-breaking emcee Janice Ryan said Edmonton is one of only four cities in the world with a riding stable like this in the middle of it.

She started coming to ride horses nearly four years ago, looking for a way to de-stress. Now she rides weekly.

“It has absolutely improved the quality of my life. I am stronger, I’m sharper because I’m taking tests and I’m learning something every day. The social aspect is amazing. I’ve made so many new friends.”

Ryan is most excited for regulated temperatures, especially in a climate like Edmonton’s.

“Riding when it’s minus 30 outside, it’s like minus 40 in there. Your toes are like popsicles when you’re jumping off the horse at the end the hour. It’s going to be amazing,” she said.

According to its website, the Whitemud Equine Centre hosts 2,200 horse riders each year.

The centre is primarily run by volunteers.

The new facility is expected to open in June 2017.

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