'There has been no intention to deceive anyone': Misunderstandings and miscommunication root of Mono horse owner’s rocky reputation

·5 min read

An application to bring in fill for a horse track has continued to cause controversy and upset in the Town of Mono.

It doesn’t help that there is already a rocky history with compliance issues and delays. But is there more to the story than meets the eye?

The applicant says yes.

Paul Ritchie, who has been a resident of the area for many years, believes there are a lot of misunderstandings surrounding the application.

“There has been no intention to deceive anyone through this process, absolutely not,” said Ritchie. “Why would we want to do that?”

The project itself boils down to Ritchie’s passion for working with horses. He began working with them at the age of 14, and it’s been a dream to be able to train them.

Ritchie has a friend who lived on 4th Line EHS and had taken note of the property whenever they passed by it.

“I told my wife if it ever went up for sale, I’d like to go see it,” he said. “It went up for sale.”

Besides the obvious beauty of the property, there were a number of appealing features.

“It had the paddocks; they were already here and the previous owner only had one or two horses the entire time he lived there,” said Ritchie. “He had the big field in the back there too.”

Ritchie bought the property in 2018 and began making plans to create a horse track on the back field. He hired Rayburn Construction, which began to look into what needed to be done.

Rayburn told him what was in the field already wasn’t usable for the main part of the track, as it consisted entirely of sand and rock.

Although that would make a great base for the track, using it in the road would not work and could endanger the horses.

“Horses’ legs are pretty thin. You have to have a good surface on the tracks or the horse will go lame. It would cripple them,” said Ritchie.

In order to build the track properly, it needs to be constructed in layers, with hard clay on the bottom followed by sand and rock and another layer of hard materials like clay, and then stone dust on top as the finishing touch.

Brine will also be laid down, to prevent dust, and the hardness of the track, along with large berms that have already been constructed, would help mitigate noise, Ritchie said.

Ritchie owns the horses in partnership with his brother and two sons. Despite concerns raised by neighbours, he says he is not running a commercial training business.

“This is a family-owned horse farm,” explained Ritchie. “We buy yearlings, break them, race them, sell them, then buy more. We don’t train for anybody but ourselves.”

The controversy started in early 2019 after an application was sent to the Town of Mono to bring in the necessary fill. Ritchie had been at work and returned home to find 20 loads of fill deposited on his property. The next day, another 20 showed up.

“They brought in two days worth of fill without our knowledge. I didn’t even know it was here until I walked the dog,” he explained.

He was told by his fill deliverer that it was an accident. Given that it was a major one, he decided to switch to a different firm.

As that much fill was contrary to the town’s fill bylaw, Ritchie was given a compliance order to get rid of it.

What happened next has been cited as evidence he is untrustworthy, but Ritchie said he didn’t intend to mislead anyone. It was a miscommunication where information was passed on to the town before it was confirmed.

“Arrangements were made through my fill guy with a place in Adjala, where they were building a chicken or turkey barn, but nothing had been finalized,” Ritchie explained. “There were delays in the process; my fill guy told the town that’s where we were taking it.”

In the meantime, the property owner had obtained fill elsewhere.

The fill removal was then delayed by COVID-19, as fill was not considered an essential service. By the time things were up and running again — Ritchie said the plan was approved for removal in mid-August — they had two weeks to remove the fill.

Enter the next problem.

“You couldn’t get a truck,” said Ritchie. “It was almost impossible. Many of the drivers were getting CERB and the rest were going to where the big jobs were.”

They applied for an extension to the end of September, and the fill was confirmed as removed from the site before that.

Although there have also been concerns about contamination, Ritchie said all studies and tests done on the original soil brought in have come up clean.

Going forward, the project will require 2,000 loads of fill. Ritchie said he is willing to work with both neighbours and the town on a schedule.

At this stage, Ritchie is back to the waiting game to see whether Mono will approve his application.

“We’re genuinely willing to do whatever the neighbours want us to do,” explained Ritchie. “We’re not going to be bringing it in all day, and we’re definitely not going to bring in trucks when school buses would be coming through."

Tabitha Wells/Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Orangeville Banner