Board members debate purchase for Ellis Equestrian Center
by Matt Schury
The Kendall County Forest Preserve District Board is considering purchasing two draft horses for operations at the Ellis Equestrian Center at 13986 McKanna Road near Minooka.
The horses would be used to pull hay wagons and a fancy cart for wedding parties, says Jason Pettit Kendall County Forest Preserve Director.
"Obviously we are looking to get as many people down there as possible and the draft horses would give us a little versatility to do that sort of thing," Pettit said.
The facility currently has six riding horses and a pony.
Julie Helicker, site supervisor for Ellis, says the bigger horses could also be used to give rides to larger adult riders.
According to Pettit, the district could purchase the horses from an auction this fall in Indiana and Iowa, which would be a little cheaper but would add the cost of transporting the animals.
Ideally, Pettit said, the district is hoping to find a local pair of horses that would be less expensive.
Pettit mentioned that there was a recommendation at a recent forest preserve committee meeting not to exceed a price of $6,000 for the horses. The Forest Preserve District Board has yet to vote on the matter.
Pettit says the draft horses were included as part of the original plan for Ellis and Helicker said there is room in the stable for the two extra horses.
Helicker estimates the price for a farm bred draft horse at $1,500 to $2,500 each. She mentioned that ideally the horses would be five to 12 years old and would be about 17 hands or 68 inches tall and 2,000 pounds.
"The draft horses don't last as long as the riding horses so that's why I'm looking for a younger horse," Helicker said. "They are a larger breed of horse and they are built to pull loads."
The horses could live 20 to 25 years, depending on how hard they are worked, while riding horses can be useful for up to 30 years, Helicker said.
Less expensive, more local
The Forest Preserve District Board took up the issue for the first time during their meeting last week.
Board member Suzanne Petrella says she is attempting to get more information from the local horse community.
"I was going to contact those people to get more information about less expensive draft horses," Petrella said. "It's not that I'm for or against it's just that it would be less expensive and more local."
Board member John Purcell said that he was not in favor of the draft horses and instead the district needs to concentrate on the facility.
"I have a real concern we are going to have a negative fund balance at the end of the year and then we are going to sit there and scratch our heads and say 'How did this happen?'" Purcell said. "I'd just rather put the kibosh on this right now."
The funds to buy the horses would come from the district's general operations fund and not the bond money approved for capital improvements.
"Our budget going into this year for the forest preserve was going to take the fund balance of the forest preserve down substantially and we are not even close on the revenue side," Purcell said.
Petrella said that part of the reason it makes sense to look into buying the horses is that the district already purchased the cart for weddings.
"Just because they got an expensive cart-it can sit there I don't need to put another $5,000 into horses plus the feed they are going to eat," Board member Bob Davidson said.
Board member Nancy Martin told the board she had a problem with the amount of money they keep putting into Ellis.
"We keep saying we need to buy more things for revenue because of Ellis," Martin said. "You know Ellis is a beautiful place but we already sunk far more money into it than we ever thought we were going to and forest preserves aren't supposed to be about making money."
She added that she couldn't understand why they bought a cart and that the forest preserve could use a tractor to pull a hayrack for hay rides instead of horses.
Board member Jessie Hafenrichter countered that it wouldn't hurt for Pettit and Petrella to look into what the horses would cost.
"We are all talking about we can't afford and we don't even know what it is we can't afford," Hafenrichter said. "I mean knowledge can't hurt you. We don't have to buy it just because we find out."
'It's picking up'
The Ellis Equestrian Center opened last July and, according to numbers provided by Helicker, about 2,212 people have visited since then.
Between January and June this year about 1,214 people have gone to Ellis, half of them taking riding lessons. The other half were casual visitors and those attending events like the Earth Day expo and pony ride day.
Pettit said that overall the facility seems to be on an upward climb when it comes to attendance.
"It's picking up." Pettit said. "It's not like we are flooded with business but the house is definitely getting more attention."