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Horseback rides through Garden of the Gods to continue despite talks of closure

August 29, 2017 Updated: August 29, 2017 at 5:13 pm
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Courtney Collia led a group of horseback riders down Columbia Road on route to the trails of Garden of the Gods from Academy Riding Stables where she works. The popular tourist attraction was busy Friday with several large groups being led out in the afternoon. For information on schedules and rates you can call the stables at 633-5667. photo by carol lawrence 8/11/06

Despite fighting between owners of Academy Riding Stables, horseback rides through Garden of the Gods will continue in Colorado Springs.

The stable, which has an agreement with the city to allow horses in the park, was expected to close late this month. In early August, notices were sent to people who boarded horses there, employees were laid off and the stable's own horses reportedly were sent to auction.

But when co-owner George Armstrong read about the closure in a newspaper article, he drove here from his home in Arizona to salvage the company, he said. He said all of the business computers, paperwork and funds were missing when he arrived.

He accused Shirley Armstrong, his sister-in-law, of running the business into the ground.

"One person thinks they can make a decision that affects the whole community," George said. "I would like to get the business back up to where it was before (Shirley) tried to run it down."

But Mike Waters, Shirley' Armstrong's lawyer, said George evicted Shirley, forcing her to tell boarders to leave.

Stable employees told The Gazette on Aug. 2 that they were "suddenly" out of jobs. Former stable manager Walter Hampel, who now manages the Norris-Penrose Event Center stables, declined to comment then.

Armstrong Enterprises Inc., which operates the stable, was formed in 1993 by Bruce, George and Thomas Armstrong, state records show. Another entity, the Armstrong Brothers Partnership, owns the land.

George said Shirley made herself director and president of the corporation when her husband, Bruce, died in 2012.

In a lawsuit filed against George by Armstrong Enterprises Inc., a judge ruled that Shirley Armstrong could not manage the partnership after her husband's death, Waters said. The judge also determined that George was to "wind up" the business, essentially closing it and distributing the proceeds.

"Instead, he is going to operate it, which is contrary to the court's ruling," Waters said.

The judge also ordered George to pay the business $414,214, which Waters said George loaned himself and never paid back when he ran the business.

"It's no wonder that George found the stables run-down, since he has not yet paid back a $414,000 loan he took from the company," Waters said.

George Armstrong appealed the judge's decision.

"The decision still does not give her the right to do what she did," George said.

The stable still has 25 horses, and George said he hopes to hire new wranglers and staff as soon as possible.

So far, people who worked for George when he operated the business 15 years ago are volunteering as staff.

To help pay for the operation for the rest of the year, George's stepdaughter, Moriah Stoffel, set up a Go Fund Me page called Save Academy Riding Stables. The money would pay a premium to reinstate the business's liability insurance.

"My stepdad went up there to save everything. We just need some financial help," Stoffel said.

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The Gazette's Ellie Mulder contributed to this story.

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