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Ride gives official a fresh viewpoint

Published Sep. 28, 2005

Desiree Assante made her offer to council members at the height of a dispute between horse lovers and baseball fans: Come for a horseback ride and see what horseback riders are talking about.

Chuck Williams took her up on that offer and recently rode Pinellas Park's trails with Assante for about two hours.

"I was a little sore in the posterior area, but that's to be expected when you don't do that a lot," Williams said. "I came back with a different perspective."

Williams still thinks the baseball field should be built at Helen Howarth Park, but he does have a new appreciation for the difficulties riders face when civilization and horses collide.

"I think we can all sit down and get along and come up with things that will work," he said.

That's just what Assante wanted _ for council members not knowledgeble about horses to understand the issues from all points of view. Some horse people had criticized council members for seeing the issues only from baseball's side.

"He had never seen it from our point of view from the back of a horse," Assante said.

The dispute between baseball lovers and horse enthusiasts broke out earlier this year when some members of Pinellas Park's horse community protested the construction of a $600,000 senior Little League baseball field on the western side of Helen Howarth Park.

The horse people were upset that noise from the field would disturb horses on nearby farms and those being ridden on the trail that would border the field. The city responded by shifting the concession stand and some of the parking so they would face away from nearby residents and the trail.

The council also created a horse commission to study trails and other equine issues. The commission is scheduled to begin meeting this month.

Throughout the debate, many horse enthusiasts accused council members of not understanding the issues from the horse's perspective. Baseball, they said, is something most people understand; horses do not.

Assante challenged the council to come out for a ride. Williams took her up on it.

"All she's asking is for us to see their viewpoint," he said. "I want to see it firsthand. She showed me all the things where problems might arise."

After he brushed and saddled his horse, Williams rode along trails in north Pinellas Park for about two hours. He and Assante also rode around Tingler Park and on the trail at Helen Howarth.

"They gave me a really great horse," Williams said. "Basically he was following the larger horses."

The worst part, Williams said, was crossing 94th Avenue.

"That was scary," he said. "That was the scariest part of my ride."

He also discovered that horses can be scary. Although Assante put him on a placid horse, the animal was unsure about a Santa Claus in one person's yard. The animal was also wary of a tarpaulin.

At one point, the horse Williams was riding decided to catch up with the other horses.

"I don't mind the bolting, just let me know when you're going to do it," he said.

As they rounded the existing baseball field on the eastern side of Helen Howarth, Williams said he realized how there could be problems with kids and noise and activity. But Williams thinks those problems can be fixed.

Both Williams and Assante said the ride was successful, bringing the two sides closer together peacefully.

Assante said, "Some more (council members) are going to go riding. Hopefully, they (will) see it from a different perspective."