EATON — Having started out in 4-H in 1978, Wendy Jewett has “stewed and stewed and stewed” for years over wanting an indoor horse arena for the Preble County fairgrounds.
Years of “standing in the mud” and no work being done to finish a horse arena led to her asking local business leader Mary Bullen for her advice on where to start.
That was the beginning of work on a possible covered horse arena, and from it was born the current horse arena committee in late 2019.
Members of the committee toured and researched other horse arenas, realizing such an arena at the Preble County Fairgrounds could become a regional leader, according to Bullen.
Bullen brought together connections from other projects, including ProGrade’s Darryl Buckley and The Simmons Insurance Group, made up of retired engineer Steve and his brother, architect Bill Simmons.
The group went to the fair board and explained what they would like to do.
Fast forward to today, and the new Preble County Covered Horse Arena is under way thanks to the generosity of community members, “with a passion for our agricultural community and the 4-H programs.”
According to Jewett, the fair board has been behind the project “100 percent.”
“This fair board is amazing,” she said. “Every single one of them.”
The project includes a 150 foot by 300 foot covered arena, a show office, bathrooms with showers, an announcer’s stand, and storage. It also includes new camping sites with full hook-ups in the area.
An order for the building was placed in October.
Work on the project began in November, and according to Buckley, the foundation was able to go in in January due to mild weather.
On March 13, more than 50 volunteers came together to dismantle the old horse arenas, move bleachers, and prepare the area for ProGrade to begin work on stripping the topsoil.
The main frame of the steel structure is 100 percent erected, according to Buckley.
“The roof is 25 percent complete, footers and foundations are complete in the men and women’s restroom and office area, and masonry walls are under construction as we speak,” he added, noting all underground plumbing is also complete.
Interior slabs are to be placed the week of March 29. An area for the campgrounds, where the old horse arena was located, was being excavated last week.
The campground will have approximately 60 spots with a common area in the middle, according to Buckley. This is a 50 percent increase in camping spots, according to the committee, with water and sewer hookups at each spot.
Buckley, a lifelong resident of Preble County who himself participated in 4-H and is raising his family here, is trying to make sure the arena and fairgrounds in general can be a place to be enjoyed for years to come.
“I’m doing everything in my power to make sure that it’s as low maintenance as it can be in here for many, many generations,” Buckley said. “Through engineering and proper planning, we’ve made provisions for the future, for future growth around the arena with larger sewer and water infrastructure all the way around: electrical, water, sanitary and storm combined, for future growth.
“To the north or any anywhere back there, the campground could really be added on to at any time,” he added. “Infrastructure is being laid for that. The building and building products that we have chosen are 30 and 50 year warrantied. Because it’s no secret you know we have a lot of buildings down here that need maintenance.”
According to Buckley, products and technology have improved so greatly the group was able to select the building products which will last the longest.
The committee has worked with the fair board to come up with a plan which will help to make the new facility sustainable by setting aside funds for future improvements and repairs.
According to fair board member and horse department chair Bill Croucher, a percentage of funds made from the new camping spots will be put in a fund directly for the covered arena and any small repairs needed on other horse buildings.
New horse shows are already booked for 2021. The committee is excited to build up the equine community in Preble County and be able to host larger shows most families must travel miles away to participate in. Having restrooms will allow horse camps to be held locally.
“Think about the advantages that it lends to Eaton and Preble County, as far as economic development,” Bullen said. “It’s great because we’re going to be bringing people in from out of the area and hopefully promote some businesses inside Preble County, but maybe more importantly, the opportunities for Preble County 4Hers, FFA – anybody — to have this type of opportunity in Preble County. It’s one of the strengths of our county to be able to make it a top-notch facility that they can be proud of.”
A grand opening dedication is planned during the first horse show, scheduled for June 19, at 1 p.m.
The group is now seeking additional sponsors. Although the greatest expenses are covered, according to committee members, donors are needed for other expenses including fencing and more needed to finish the project.
Sponsor levels include a Bronze Level, Silver Level, Gold Level, Platinum Level and Diamond Level. Levels are described as: bronze, $50-250, recognition on a bronze level banner for 2021 show season; silver, $250-1,000, recognition on a silver level banner for the 2021 show season; gold, fence sponsors, $1,000 – sign on one section of fence, $2,000 – signs on three sections of fence. (Total goal for the fence is $60,000;) platinum, $5,000-$15,000, recognition on a platinum level plaque within the arena complex and diamond, over $15,000, recognition on a diamond level plaque in the arena complex.
To be included on a banner, sign, or plaque in time for the dedication ceremony, donations must be received by May 1.
Additional information regarding the Grand Opening Horse Show and how to donate can be found at www.preblecountyfair.com.
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4061 or follow on Twitter @emowenjr