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Union County Horse and Show Arena to undergo improvements to ground surface

Published: Friday, June 28, 2013 10:06 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, June 28, 2013 11:45 a.m. CDT
(Contributed photo)
Local riders congregate at the Union County 4-H Horse Show Arena at the fairground in Afton. Danny Stephens and Bruce Travis are spearheading a renovation project at the horse show arena.

The Union County 4-H Horse Show Arena on the Union County Fairgrounds in Afton has a ground surface that is not up to par for the horses and riders, according to Danny Stephens, advocate for local equestrian activities. 

The terrain is rough and rocky, which causes potentially dangerous footing for horses, making it a threat to the riders, as well.  There have been a few accidents recently because of the poor surface. 

Stephens and Bruce Travis were the first to bring up the issues of the arena and are spearheading renovation of the suface. Others helping include Bob Pringle, Jack Quee, Mike Page, Kelsey Bailey, Union County 4-H Saddle Club, 4-H Horse and Riders Club and FFA members.  

Because of these issues in the past, some participants no longer attend the events held at the arena, Stephens said. 

The goal of the renovation is to have a safe, usable, and workable terrain to enhance and expand the use of the arena.  The arena track must be able to be ridden safely when wet without destroying the surface, be workable even when it is not completely dry and be maintained continually in the future.

Work to be done

At least 8 inches of the current surface must be removed because of rock and poor-quality.

In addition to the renovation of the arena surface, ground equipment, such as a drag system, is needed to maintain the dirt for future years. Equipment used currently is borrowed from the Travis family.

“What we’re trying to do is get a sandy, little surface once the rain quits and get the water away,” Stephens said.

In 2011, rain was the cause of canceling multiple events.

In 2012, the ground was still not in permissible shape when no rain was present.

The current surface is not workable when damp or wet.  Only a little moisture makes the ground pack together and it cannot be worked back to safe shape without bringing up large clods of dirt.  

These clods can only be broken down by a heavy rain, proceeded by a length of drying time, followed by a second working of the ground.  

Surface construction work is targeted to start about Sept. 1 and be finished by October.  This time frame is highly unlikely with normal Iowa weather patterns, Stephens said.


Fundraising for the arena has been a work in progress.

The estimated cost of the repairs is about $30,000.  A grant application has been filed, and the team is waiting for the final report. Total money collected is currently $8,718.66.

Donations have been key in raising the money.

“A large part of those donations, probably $6,000 have been from local businesses,” said Stephens.

Two grant applications have been completed and turned in, with two to three grants yet to be pursued.  The grant notifications could be a potential set back to the construction as it takes about 60 days to receive feedback. 

The Horse and Riders 4-H Club members raised nearly $785 through donations, concession stands and a show fundraiser June 8 with about 60 participants.     

Goals and benefits

The goal for the Union County 4-H Horse and Show arena is to create a long-term impact on the community.  It is hoped that increased educational and recreational opportunities for horse-oriented youths and adults will increase both the number of events held and number of participants involved in 4-H events and other horse-related activities.  

The project holds importance to those involved in 4-H horse riding and showing according to Stephens.  The arena holds weekly 4-H horse practices, several horse shows, three or four Union County Saddle Club horse shows, a six-week barrel racing series and county fair, along with individual sessions when the surface permits usage.  

Consistently, there are about 40 youths participating in events in the areana between ages 10 and 18.  The Union County Saddle Club members range from 3 to 80 and have about 60 members.  And there are about 40 3D barrel series participants ages 3 to 65.  

These numbers only show the participants, not the spectators, including family members and horse enthusiasts, who come to the events, as well.  

Stephens said, with a safer and higher-quality surface, it is possible the number of horse-related events will increase.

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