Two glossy brown horses enjoy the fall sunshine at the Halifax Junior Bengal Lancers property in downtown Halifax.
Halifax Lancers horses. Photo: Halifax Lancers Facebook

A decision by HRM’s Community Planning and Economic Development Standing Committee to defer a motion to send the Halifax Common Master Plan before Regional Council was applauded by the Halifax Junior Bengal Lancers on Wednesday.

Canada’s only urban not-for-profit equestrian school was established in downtown Halifax in 1936. It offers junior and adult lesson programs, and since the 1960s has also provided a therapeutic riding program.

In an email Tuesday evening, the Halifax Lancers said as an organization committed to accessibility and inclusion, members were “gravely concerned” about the proposed redesign of their space under the Halifax Common Master Plan.

Tamzen Black addressed the standing committee on Wednesday afternoon, speaking on behalf of the Lancers. She said the plan as presented “remains flawed” for several reasons and jeopardizes the Lancers’ operations.

Among the issues, Black said accessibility of their only entrance has been removed, impacting all programming for people with disabilities. The plan also doesn’t provide adequate space for an 18-wheeler to bring in shavings, hay, and weekly manure remove, nor does it allow space to load and unload trailers for horse transportation.

She pointed out the shape of the outdoor arena didn’t fit the dimensions required for equestrian sport, adding that the design also didn’t allow for the Lancers’ proposed growth.

She expressed overall expressed dismay over accessibility issues not taken into account.

“There’s no apparent consideration of the built environmental standards currently under development as part of Nova Scotia’s accessible legislation,” Black told the committee.

“Lancers is determined to become more accessible to and reflective of the diversity amongst Nova Scotians, not less.”

A photo of two young girls riding horses in front of the Bengal Lancers facility in Halifax.
Photo: Halifax Lancers/Facebook

Black said the planning document also incorrectly stated the Lancers were contemplating growth to expand its membership. She said while they do want to grow, it’s with the primary goal of expanding to deliver therapeutic and mental health programming.

There are currently 1,000 people on a waiting list to access the Lancers’ programming.

“If you wanted to join the junior beginner program as an eight year old…you’d be about 24 years old when you were able to come in,” Black said.

She concluded her remarks by saying there seems to be a lack of appreciation for the value the horses bring to the people of Halifax.

The benefits of horses are far reaching beyond the act of riding a horse. If a sport was our only concern, it would be akin to saying ‘Why would anyone want to be around a dog if they weren’t practicing agility or pulling a sled?’

The horses of Halifax bring a gift to the city by allowing the people to interact with powerful prey animals that touch our souls and support the mental health of our citizens. For 85 years, the horses in this city have made Halifax unique in Canada. Councillors…we respectfully implore you to request further consultation with the stakeholders, including Lancers.

All six councillors on the committee were in favour of deferring the matter, with Deputy Mayor Pamela Lovelace noting she was concerned they’d otherwise be “putting the cart before the horse” without having the full picture.

“I do think we need to just hold our horses,” Lovelace said.

The motion was deferred and will be discussed at the committee’s next meeting in January.

The deferral was welcome news to Angie Holt, executive director and head coach of the Halifax Lancers.

“We are pleased that the motion for the Halifax Common Master Plan to go before council has been deferred,” she said in an email.

“It was encouraging to hear some of the councillors and the deputy mayor voice their support for our growth. We hope this will provide an opportunity for us to have our concerns addressed before the plan makes it to council.”

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Yvette d’Entremont is a bilingual (English/French) journalist and editor who enjoys covering health, science, research, and education.

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