When Amy Lance was 14, she wanted to keep a horse in the stables at Chastain Park.
She lived nearby. She figured she could take her bike to the city-owned stables any time she wanted to ride her horse.
But her parents didn’t approve of the Chastain stables. “The place was in horrible shape,” Lance said.
She had to board her horse miles away in Alpharetta.
Flash forward to 1992. Long after she had given up her horse and had stopped riding, Lance drove by the Chastain stables one day and was taken aback by their condition. They were overgrown with weeds. “I thought. ‘Who is in charge of this?’” she recalled.
She decided she should do something about it. After years of drawing up proposals and negotiating with officials of the city of Atlanta, she won the contract to run the Chastain Horse Park. Once she did, “I tore every single building down,” she said.
She rebuilt. Before she was done, the nonprofit group she created had invested $4 million in the place, she said.
“I probably did it for all the girls out there who want to ride in town – the way I couldn’t when I was little,” the 45-year-old said. “Part of it was to set things right.”
She likens it, believe it or not, to “Gone With The Wind.” She recalls a scene in the movie when “the moon comes out from behind the clouds and it shows Tara had been ravaged.” When she saw that, “my heart sank. I relate that to when I saw Chastain. I knew it must have been beautiful back in the day.”
She wanted to bring it back, she said. “It needed to be a busy, bustling, thriving center of activity.”
Her efforts worked. The weeds and shabby barns are gone, replaced with a horse park that claims 86 stalls in four barns, three riding arenas and a clubhouse. The park employs three fulltime staff members and more than a dozen contract workers and hundreds of volunteers. Lance says the nonprofit she set up now has a lease to operate at the park through 2033. “It’s there for a good long time,” she said. She’s obviously proud of that.
Now she’s decided to walk away from the park. “I have ants in my pants,” she said one recent afternoon as she looked out a big upper story window at the horse park’s main riding rink. “I’ve been doing this for a very long time. It was very fulfilling to launch something that was going to be brilliant. But it runs so well … that I don’t think I’m necessary anymore.”
What does she want to do? “Fix something that might be broken,” she said. She looked around. On the hill nearby, employees took water to stabled horses. “There’s nothing broken here.”
The park couldn’t have happened without her, says Gary Hull, the horse park board member who is taking over from her as president. “That whole place is because of Amy,” he said. “Not only in its founding, but in its running, its evolution — right up to today.”
Lance said she’s proud of the therapy ride programs the horse park offers for veterans and children. She thinks it’s important for people to have relationships with animals. Especially horses.
“Every child should have an experience with horses in their life,” she said. “It is very meaningful, and, in some cases, transformational. I know it was for me.”
She was painfully shy as a teenager, she said. “I truly was a fly on the wall,” she said. “[By taking care of a horse,] I become a lot more confident, a lot more willing to have a voice It’s an incredible vehicle for any shy child. It brings them out.”
Now the mother of four – three boys and a girl — finds herself thinking about what comes next. Perhaps another non-profit, she said. Perhaps something else. She’s taking time to think about it.
So how does she feel about leaving? “Bittersweet,” she said. “I’m very happy for the horse park. It’s in the hands of some very capable people and I could not have dreamed up a better scenario for the Horse Park and my transition.
“But I’ll miss it.”