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Oldsmar votes against deal for Hire A Pony Riding Academy to use preserve trail

Victoria Menyhart, 9, left, and Aaron Stewart, 8, both of Oldsmar, lead summer campers on a Hire A Pony ride in Tampa.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Victoria Menyhart, 9, left, and Aaron Stewart, 8, both of Oldsmar, lead summer campers on a Hire A Pony ride in Tampa.

OLDSMAR — Figuratively speaking, Armando Gort fell off his horse this week.

But in true equestrian tradition, he's vowing to get right back on.

The Oldsmar City Council voted 4-1 Tuesday night not to enter into a revocable license agreement with Gort's Hire A Pony Riding Academy, which would have allowed the company to use a trail in the Mobbly Bayou Wilderness Preserve.

Gort and his sister, Estela Orosz, manager of Hire A Pony, said the decision isn't the end of the trail for the Hillsborough-based stable and rent-a-steed business that provides horse riding opportunities mostly for children.

"We're not going to stop," Orosz said. "We're going to the County Commission, the state, anyone who will hear us."

But Vice Mayor Jerry Beverland said he thinks the issue he once supported is "dead.''

The contract, in part, called for:

• The nonexclusive use of a trail in a portion of the uplands area of the preserve from 8 a.m. to dusk from Sept. 1 to Feb. 28.

• That Hire A Pony remove all trash and manure from the trail daily.

• Protection for the city from all liability claims, damages, costs and the like.

• That Hire A Pony pay the city a fee of 50 cents for every rider who uses the trail or $350 a month, whichever is greater.

• That Hire A Pony install a hog-wire fence at a cost estimated at $20,000 to $40,000.

Leisure Services director Lynn Rives said a fence is necessary "for security reasons'' and to maintain control of the protected area.

But Gort told the council he could not afford such an expense. Plus, he said, there is no need for it.

"None of the horses wander off,'' he said, adding that they follow each other nose to tail on trail rides.

Suzanne Vale, the lone council member to vote in favor of the agreement, said she thinks "it's ridiculous" to fence an area when much of it is enclosed by woods.

She also was upset that Hire A Pony supporters were not permitted to address the council Tuesday.

"I felt the people should have been allowed to talk,'' Vale said. "It's the American way. The people in this country should be allowed to be heard.''

Gort agreed.

"We feel this is a democracy, and at the meeting they didn't even let us speak.

"During the meeting, the mayor said that he had already made up his mind before he even came, that he was going to turn us down.''

Mayor Jim Ronecker said proponents had already voiced their opinions at previous meetings.

"It wasn't on the agenda for the public to make comments,'' he said. "It was strictly to discuss the licensing agreement.''

Gort first entered into an agreement with the city to have a trail on the preserve about five years ago. But he never bought the necessary liability insurance and moved his rental horse operation to Pasco County.

When he was forced out of that location, he returned to Oldsmar, but the contract had expired.

He told the St. Petersburg Times last month that he now has liability insurance, but the council rejected his plea.

"We don't feel they have the right to keep us out of the preserve," Gort said. "It was bought by a Florida state grant for recreational activities.

"For the past five years, it's been one road block after another."

He also said that his company is no longer being hired for local events and wondered why.

"Is this a personal thing or what?'' he asked.

Council members balked at the idea of subsidizing a private company.

"This city is not willing to spend money for a for-profit business,'' said Ronecker. "It's not even in our city or in our county.''

One of the issues is that the city would have to pay $672 a month to open and close the gate daily to give the stable access to the preserve.

Vale said she believes "they probably exaggerated'' that figure.

"How long does it take to unlock a gate?'' she asked. "Five minutes?''

Eileen Schulte can be reached at schulte@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4153.

Oldsmar votes against deal for Hire A Pony Riding Academy to use preserve trail 08/18/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 19, 2009 8:47pm]
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