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Horsewoman rues Rillito’s dirty deed

Flood ruined stables of Tucsonan, who needs lots of soil to recover

Betsy Lundell, owner and instructor at Sarabande Academy of Riding, 3721 N. Edith Blvd., checks flood damage in a horse stall.

Betsy Lundell, owner and instructor at Sarabande Academy of Riding, 3721 N. Edith Blvd., checks flood damage in a horse stall.

Betsy Lundell would love to be outside today, teaching her students to ride horses.

But when the Rillito flooded last month, it swept through Lundell’s Sarabande Academy of Riding, 3721 N. Edith Blvd., leaving it a muddy mess.

“We love this barn. We made it really nice, and we worked really hard and then just got to see it all destroyed in a day,” said Danielle Smith, 11, one of Lundell’s students.

The 5-foot-tall Lundell had to wade through waist-deep water to get her horses out of the barn.

The stalls are still mud pits, and Lundell’s seven horses are scattered as far away as Benson while she tries to bring the barn and arena back to normal.

It will take about 300 cubic yards of soil to make the barn and arena how they were before the flood, she said.

She said 60 cubic yards are the bare minimum it would take to make the stalls safe for the horses.

Ten cubic yards cost Lundell’s neighbor about $200, with delivery.

“All I need is some dirt,” Lundell said.

With the riding academy her full-time job and only source of income, Lundell said she’s lost about $2,000 since she had to take the horses away.

“It kinda sucks,” said Katya Valenzuela, 11, one of Lundell’s students. “I can’t wait till the horses come back.”

Valenzuela, like many of Lundell’s students, works in the barn to help pay for her lessons.

After a few years of giving discounted lessons to city kids at barns around Tucson, Lundell bought the little barn, which had been used for storage for about 15 years, and opened her academy.

She has about 50 students, many whose families wouldn’t be able to afford full-price riding lessons.

“This is the kids’ barn,” Lundell said. “There’s some real magic between kids and horses.

“They helped clean it up and make it nice. We had an explosion in enrollment over the summer. We had camps, and then the flood came.”

After the flood, Lundell asked for help from the Pima County Office of Emergency Management.

She got in touch with Mike Walsh, who normally works for the Pima Animal Care Center but was called in to help with the workload caused by the flood.

“He said, ‘How much do you need?’ and told me I needed release forms. He made it appear that it would be no problem,” Lundell said.

“I told her it’s a possibility. I made no promises. It was not my decision to make,” Walsh told the Tucson Citizen.

On Thursday, Lundell got a call from a county employee, who told her the county couldn’t give her soil after all.

“You’d think the county would want to help. We’re creating an after-school program and giving kids hands-on experience with the horses,” Lundell said.

“You’d think it would be easy for them to just bring in a truckload of dirt.”

Lundell said Thursday that a friend in Benson offered her all the dirt she can haul away free.

But she can haul only about 3 cubic yards in one trip.

“Hopefully, I’ll be back in business next week. It just depends on how much dirt I can get in here,” Lundell said. “I need to get back in business; it’s just hurting me so much.”

Lundell can be reached at 907-3965.

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