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Bible Hill equestrian centre faces eviction

Shelby Gatti, left, helps Jenna Heitkemper, centre and Carly Duggan put a bridle on Dolly. The girls are taking part in a March Break day camp at Forever Memories Equestrian Centre.
Kids are a big focus for Shelby Gatti's equestrian centre.

BIBLE HILL, N.S. – An equestrian centre, operating on the Nova Scotia Provincial Exhibition grounds since 2012, is facing eviction.

Shelby Gatti owns Forever Memories Equestrian Centre and says she was notified March 5 that all operations were to cease by 5 p.m. that day. She was also to have everything off the grounds within a week.

“I thought maybe it was a mistake first, but it wasn’t,” said Gatti. “I have 27 horses here, including the mini, as well as a llama, goats and guinea pigs. I can’t find a place to move them and run my business that quickly.

“I’m not saying I won’t leave, but the timing is critical. Give me time to find a place where I can run my business.”

Gatti said the eviction letter noted she was behind in rent, but she says she made arrangements for payment with the previous manager and planned to have everything up to date by the end of March.

“We offered to pay everything right away, but the new manager wouldn’t accept that,” she said. “Now they’re telling us the barn is condemned.

The Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture says it comes down to a matter of public safety.

“A serious safety issue was recently identified on the Exhibition property,” said media relations advisor Chrissy Matheson, by email. “We are taking immediate action to ensure the safety of the public, including any children, as well as animals and any others who may be on the grounds.”

Gatti said there are people who could take in a couple of horses here and there, but she wouldn’t be able to run her business with animals spread out and no indoor area for riding. The horses can’t be turned out in a field because they’ve been mainly indoors and haven’t grown thick winter coats.

“I’m willing to move into another barn,” Gatti said, “or have whatever work is necessary done to stay in the current barn.”

She’s had considerable work done to the barn in the past, she says, strengthening walls, and building stalls and a feed room, and painting, inside and out.

Told at first the horses were not to leave the barn, Gatti got permission to turn them out in the ring Saturday.

“These are horses who are used to being out every day, so they were crazy from being cooped up, and were pulling us and knocking us down.”

About 30 children had registered for the centre’s March break camps and, without access to the MacMillan Centre, Gatti worried she might have to cancel. She was informed if she wanted to conduct the camp, it would mean signing a letter stating she would be off the grounds by March 18.

“We’re holding the camp without using the arena. The kids were riding outside on Monday and we rented space at the Horsemen’s Club for the other activities.”

Truro Mayor Bills Mills said he hopes something can be worked out to keep the centre on the grounds.

“She has a good vision for what she wants to do and this has so much potential,” he said. “Losing this would be a big loss to the community, and I think we should do what we can to support young entrepreneurs.”

Matheson said the ministry is working to address the needs of their leaseholder.

“We understand that this is an unfortunate and frustrating situation for the leaseholder,”she said, “however, safety is our main priority.”

Gatti said she’s not giving up.

“The little guys are fighting back. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t fought my way here. I just want to work something out so we’ll still be part of the community.”

Centre has been operating since 2012

Shelby Gatti is now 26 and was a teen when she started her business, Forever Memories Equestrian Centre.

It grew over the years and Gatti now occupies one of the former race horse barns on the NSPE grounds. She offers riding lessons, therapeutic riding for about 25 disabled children, day camps, and trails rides, and hosts birthday parties as well.

As a registered Kid Sport business, children from low income families are able to benefit from activities. The centre also holds barrel racing clinics and competitions.

“It’s not just what we do, it’s the lives this affects,” Gatti said. “We work with teens from a local centre for at-risk youth, have a not-for-profit show team for youth, visit nursing homes with animals, and people drop by all the time – kids, just spending time with the animals, and retired people bringing apples for the horses.

“Some of the autistic kids need consistency, and they’re used to coming here regularly. This is hard on them, too.”

Related: Hardship feared for children if Bible Hill riding centre can't operate

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