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The Year Newtown Nearly Lost The Horse Guard



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The Year Newtown Nearly Lost The Horse Guard

By Kendra Bobowick

With their belongings packed away in the bay of a semi, in August, members of the Second Company Governor’s Horse Guard (2GHG) awaited final orders to vacate the sprawling horse facility at Wildlife Drive along Wasserman Way. However, local support on both a grass roots and state level managed to save the more than 200-year-old militia that was on the verge of closing due to state budget constraints in 2011.

The threat of shutdown began in March, when word came from the state that it would close the Newtown facility, which sparked an urgent response form local legislators. “This is not going to happen,” said State Representative DebraLee Hovey, regarding plans to potentially consolidate the state’s two horse guard units for financial reasons. “This isn’t kosher with us,” she said. The state’s other unit of the Governor’s Horse Guard is based in Avon. Plans at the time aimed to relocate the Newtown guard’s ten remaining horses to Avon.

Immediately looking for solutions were Newtown’s state representatives, Ms Hovey and Christopher Lyddy, representatives from Avon and the governor’s office, Senator John McKinney, and former horse guard members. The group was “brainstorming for substantial ways to save money if the military will just work with us,” Ms Hovey said.

She said, “We don’t have a solution. It’s complex.” She and others considered ways the state might save money and resources “rather than eliminate the horse guard.”

The site was budgeted for two-and-a-half employees, and an annual cost of less than $78,000 to staff and run. Ms Hovey said, “We’re asking the governor’s office for more information” as her team continues to “think of everything we can” as they “put together scenarios and go to the governor’s office with it.”

 By April 13, Ms Hovey and Mr Lyddy and others met with the governor’s staff with her proposal “for a compromise,” according to Ms Hovey.

“[Governor Dannel Malloy] says he’ll look at it, but there are no guarantees,” Ms Hovey said. Her suggestions were “not a done deal,” but she was pleased to be discussing what she felt was a “pretty valid proposal.”

In July, the guard’s future was still uncertain, spurring a grass-roots support to raise funds. Supporters set up booths to receive financial contributions and signatures on a petition during the horse guard’s horse annual show, following a rally days earlier to jump start efforts on a community level.

Horse Guard proponent Ken Fay sent word via e-mail to a host of supporters stating the guard’s dire position: “The troop has very little time to address this situation.” Without the horse guard, he stressed, “This will eliminate any programs currently offered by the Second Horse Guard and will require the dispersal of horses with some possibly going to auction.”

Resident Chris McCormick spearheaded the local fundraising and support effort “to see what we can do” before deadlines arrived to relocate the horses on the Fairfield Hills property and lock the facility’s doors.

By early August guard members were packing their things, ready to leave the premises, but received the news they had been waiting for just days later. On August 19, in a hastily typed e-mail from his cellphone Mr Lyddy said: “I am happy to announce that in a call with the Speaker of the House’s office late today, the Governor’s Chief of Staff, Tim Bannon, stated they do not plan to move forward with the Military Department’s proposal to close the Second Company Governor’s Horse Guard in Newtown.”

In his e-mail, Mr Lyddy thanked Governor Dannel Malloy for his continued interest in this issue as well as his commitment and desire to ensure that the needs of the community were heard and respected. He said through a bipartisan effort on both the state and local levels, as well as through a high-energy grassroots effort, “we were able to ensure that Newtown’s voice was heard loud and clear.

“I appreciate the attention that our local First Selectman Pat Llodra and the Board of Selectmen have given this issue,”  Mr Lyddy continued. “Pat’s continued support has been instrumental in keeping this issue alive. I’d also like to thank my two colleagues and friends Representative [DebraLee] Hovey and Senator [John] McKinney for ensuring that this issue continues to be one that we all could get behind, regardless of political ideology or party affiliation. This is exactly the type of teamwork that our community respects and deserves from its public officials.”

Ms Hovey told The Bee that the ultimate authority over the horse guards’ fate rested with the governor.

“He waited until the eleventh hour, but I’ll take it,” she said.

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