ConToy taking off, attracting equestrians from many states
MT. PLEASANT—The ConToy Arena has become a hub of equestrian activity that goes beyond traditional cowboy rodeo events, and as a result, is poised to be an economic and cultural boon into the future.
The change that has put the arena in the spotlight is the addition of what is called the Skyline Eventing Course. The course supports the kind of riding events seen at the Olympics, including dressage (which is performance of various riding tests), cross-country and show-jumping. People are coming from all over the West to attend eventing meets at ConToy.
The arena was born out of discussions that took place several years ago when county leaders were considering moving the county fairgrounds out of Manti. An ad hoc group, which included Gary Anderson of Ephraim, Steve Clark of Chester and former Mt. Pleasant City Councilman Monte Bona, among others, began asking “what if” and reached the conclusion that if the fairgrounds were to leave their current location, a spot near the Mt. Pleasant Industrial Park on the south end of town would be ideal.
The committee created a concept for new indoor and outdoor arenas suitable for all fair events. But the county commission sacked the relocation idea in favor of holding to tradition.
By then, however, the seed of a Mt. Pleasant arena had taken root with committed “horse people” in northern Sanpete County. Bona helped shepherd the idea through approval by the Mt. Pleasant City Council.
The city searched for funding to build the arena and was able to win a $565,000 grant from the Utah Community Impact Board. The city also issued a $1-million revenue bond. On top of those sources, the city secured a promise from Wasatch Academy to pay $20,000 pr year for use of the arena for its student equestrian program. The ConToy Foundation, a Utah foundation with an interest in horse-related activities, donated $125,000, and the George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation contributed $305,000.
In the beginning, the arena was used primarily for barrel racing. Jack Widdison, manager of the ConToy, said use of the arena was sparse. Few people purchased memberships.
Then, with the help of a $50,000 GoFundMe campaign, the Skyline Eventing Course was developed just outside the indoor arena. Since then, English-style riding has really taken off at ConToy.
Gayleen Widdison, co-manager of the the arena, attributes the growing of eventing to Ellen Walker of Mt. Pleasant. “Ellen Walker was the one who introduced English riding to Sanpete County.” After her passing last year, the arena honored her memory by naming a permanent horse jump on the eventing course after her.
Word about the Skyline course has spread through the eventing community. The course was recently certified by the United States Eventing Association (USEA). The number of riders competing at the ConToy events continues to grow as the course reputation spreads.
A new organization, Skyline Eventing, schedules and runs eventing competitions and classes. On May 5-7, the Spring Event, a USEA-sanctioned competition, was held, drawing riders from all over the western United States, On June 30 and July 1, the Freedom Fest mini-event will be held. And on Oct. 6-8, the Fall Event, the USEA Area Championship, will be held.
Jack Widdison sees a groundswell of interest in the English riding and eventing that will propel growth at the arena. A good indicator, he says, is the fact that 4H is now offering equestrian classes, where before it offered only general “riding” classes. And Wasatch Academy involvement should be perpetual help.
The indoor ConToy Arena will continue to hold events more “at home” in Sanpete. The Sanpitch Events Barrel Racing Association (SEBRA) holds races every other Monday. Wasatch Academy holds classes and training throughout the year. 4H gives classes at the arena as do local ranches involved in riding training. Even been dog training classes are being held on a regular schedule. And the Sanpete County Sweetheart and Junior Princess pageants are held at ConToy.
Significantly, the whole equestrian complex isn’t even finished yet. There are plans for an outdoor arena with seating for under-the-stars horse and rodeo events.
Additional development of the arena complex may hinge on what happens nearby. Shopko has been in negotiation to build a store at a location beside the arena and at one time contemplated buying some of the intended arena grounds. However, the store is now more likely to only purchase land up to the edge of the grounds and has even suggested it would allow parking for arena events in its parking lot.
A number of investors and businesses have contacted Mt Pleasant about the former Mt. Pleasant Airport, which is next to the ConToy. One developer discussed the idea of building luxury houses on the airstrip with garages attached to house private airplanes.
Mayor David Blackham of Mt Pleasant says, “With the development of the eventing course, and the dog training, in addition to the [traditional] horse [events], I believe [ConToy] is here to stay.”
While confident the arena will do well in the near future, Blackham cautions that he must plan for the long-tern future. “In anything I do, I want to prepare for the worst-case scenario, to safeguard the public funds of the community,” he says.
ConToy supporters “may think they’re running in the black, but the debt service isn’t considered,” Blackham says. The city’s commitment to pay off the $1 million revenue bond will last for 26 years, so he says he must make contingency plans in case of a reversal in the arena’s fortunes.
He notes Mt. Pleasant has had inquiries into whether the city might someday sell the arena. The queries have come from educational institutions and even private individuals. As he puts it, “There’s options.” However, he said, sale of the arena would occur only after all other options were exhausted.
But Blackham doesn’t foresee any changes in ownership structure in next four to eight years and believes growth in arena use should continue. For that, he gives a lot of credit to Wasatch Academy.
“What a terrific neighbor they are, in these public-private associations. Our city has been unbelievably blessed by having that wonderful institution in our community.”
Blackham about horse ownership declining. Owning a horse is expensive, and fewer people own horses for agricultural reasons.
However, he said, a committed core of “horse people” and strong leadership from the Widdisons give him optimism for the future.
“I can’t see anything but a positive healthy future for the ConToy Arena as we move forward,” he said.