Pinellas Park merges Equestrian, Recreation boards

The Equestrian Board, which has now been merged with the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, helped the city create the equestrian facilities at Helen S. Howarth Park.

The Pinellas Park City Council approved the merger of the Equestrian and Recreation Boards at its March 9 meeting.

The city dissolved the Equestrian Board, which was founded in 2003, to establish a new Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. The new board will include 11 seats, nine of which will be reserved for previous Recreation Board members. Two seats will be added and designated for individuals with interests in the city’s equestrian community.

“We felt they were all related and tied in together, so we brought the two boards together,” said Keith Sabiel Jr., recreation director. “It gives more of a chance for [the Equestrian Board members] to voice their concerns and also weigh in on other recreation issues in the city.”

Those who previously sat on the Equestrian Board are encouraged to apply for the two seats, Sabiel said, but anyone with equestrian interests are welcome to fill out an application. The Equestrian Board previously had nine seats.

“We’re disappointed that they are doing away with the advisory board for the equine community,” said Sharon Goldston, the former chair of the Equestrian Board.

While worried this change could stifle the voice of the equestrian community within the city, she said, she was grateful the city was retaining two seats on the new board for equestrian issues.

“We’re sad and disappointed that they felt they needed to do this, but we’re delighted they’ll still hear equestrian issues through these two spots,” she said.

Goldston said she has applied for one of these seats. The application asks about the number of horses owned, whether applicants own an equestrian-related business and what applicants have done for the equestrian community.

“So the city is dedicated to this,” she said.

Connie Bruce, the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board chair, said she thinks the merger will benefit both groups.

“I actually think this is a good change,” she said. “I think there are a lot of things we can do to work together. We’ll be able to collaborate more. I really believe combining these two boards will allow us to utilize our facilities and time better.”

The two groups were already closely intertwined, she added, since many of the city’s equestrian interests involved city parks and trails. If anything, the merger will give the equestrian community “more of a voice,” she said. There are many parks and recreation events that the equestrian community can participate in and help organize.

Bruce said, “We’re going to try to bring equestrian [interests] more into mainstream parks and recreation.”

Though the Equestrian Board was founded Nov. 13, 2003, its roots go back to the mid-1990s, Goldston said. At that time, the city gave one of the equestrian community’s riding fields at Helen S. Howarth Park, where the Pinellas Park Equestrian Center is located, to a local Little League baseball league.

“The equine community came together over that,” Goldston said.

An advisory board was created, which later officially became the Equestrian Board.

Pinellas Park has always been known as an avid equestrian community, she added. Currently, there are about 1,000 horses within city limits and several hundred just outside those limits. The city also offers 9.6 miles of equestrian trails, which the board helped maintain.

“We’ve done a lot of good in the community,” Goldston said.

So she’s trying to remain hopeful about combining the two boards.

“We have worked so hard to become an equestrian community,” she said. “We don’t want to lose what we have worked to create.”