Maryland’s Horse Industry: More Than Just Racing
Lisbon, MD (May 21, 2023) – We are the Maryland Horse Council, the state-wide trade association for all aspects of our state’s equine industry, including – but not limited to – Thoroughbred racing. We applaud the General Assembly for creating the new Thoroughbred Racetrack Operating Authority earlier this year. We hope, however, that the state will take the opportunity to invest in, and collaborate across, all of the breeds and each of the 30+ disciplines that make up our $2 billion business.
Maryland reigned supreme in the 1970s and 1980s, the Golden Age of Thoroughbred breeding and racing. World famous stallions Native Dancer and Northern Dancer drew global attention to Maryland and there were three one-mile tracks with signature races. We all agree that era has ended. Now there is the likelihood that only one major Thoroughbred track will remain. Many former Thoroughbred farms like Friend’s Choice, Horsepen Hill, Buckingham, Honey Acres, Helmore, and Sycamore Hall now house dressage, lesson, boarding, and carriage driving facilities.
As Maryland Thoroughbred racing contracts, however, other equine sectors are growing. By leaps and bounds. In 2023, the Maryland Horse Industry Board (MHIB) licensed a record number of commercial lesson and boarding barns, rescue centers, and trail riding rental operations. In total, 796 operations have been licensed, a nearly 70% increase from a decade ago. Most of the lesson and boarding barns are full with long waiting lists. These farms represent 14,000 horses and 12,000 riders, and that does not include the thousands of private barns and backyard horse owners across the state. Recent studies show that our industry overall supports as many as 21,000 jobs and has an annual economic impact in Maryland of at least $2 “billion-with-a-b.”
According to a survey we conducted in January, we are industry leaders at the national level in a plethora of equine disciplines. The Olympic discipline of eventing — an equestrian triathalon in which the US dominates — came out on top. Approximately 3,000 Maryland horse people participate in eventing and there are more international eventing competitions (19) here in Maryland than anywhere else in North America. The Fair Hill Special Event Zone hosts one of the most difficult events in the world, the MARS Maryland 5* Star, which is 1 of only 7 events of its kind worldwide and 1 of only 2 in the United States. MHIB has licensed 50 eventing barns. Each of the 30+ U.S. Pony Clubs in the state has an eventing program.
The Olympic discipline of dressage – a system of training that dates back to Classical Greece and Xenophon’s book The Art of Horsemanship — came in 2nd in our survey. MHIB has licensed about 50 dressage barns. Show jumping – yet another Olympic discipline in which the US dominates – also made a top 5 finish. Every October, Maryland hosts one of the highest rated Show Jumping competitions in the world at the Washington International Horse Show, which is held at the Prince George’s Equestrian Center (PGEC) in Upper Marlboro.
Maryland also has about 40 equestrian therapeutic and education centers. These include inner city riding programs and the state’s 42 Horse Discovery Centers, which welcome the public to learn more about horses. These programs serve diverse and inclusive populations, including veterans, first responders, children living with autism, and children and adults living with other physical or health challenges.
These are just a handful of the over 30 equestrian disciplines in Maryland. Others include 4-H shows, barrel racing, competitive trail riding, cowboy mounted shooting, cutting, draft horse pulling, driving, endurance riding, fox chasing, harness racing, jousting (the State Sport of Maryland), show hunters, mule jumping, polo, polocrosse, ranch riding, reining, rodeo, side saddle, steeple-chasing, vaulting, Western dressage, Western equitation, and Working Western, as well as several others.
The State of Maryland and county governments recognize the rise of recreational riding. Maryland has invested >$20 million in the Fair Hill Special Events Zone, part of a nearly 6,000-acre equestrian destination in Cecil County. Fair Hill has a new one-mile turf course suitable for flat and steeplechase racing and could be a major factor in the Thoroughbred Racing Operating Authority’s plans. Prince George’s County and the Maryland National Capital Parks and Planning Commission have invested significantly in the PGEC, which was once the old Marlboro racetrack. In the month of October alone, PGEC attracts over 2,500 horses from around the country to its competitions. The people associated with these competitions book well over 10,000 local hotel rooms each year.
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Horseracing should not – and need not — operate apart from the larger Maryland horse industry. Indeed, horseracing can benefit from the rest of the Maryland horse industry. Thoroughbreds are sought after by recreational riders for their magnetic personalities, their speed and endurance, and their prodigious work ethic. At least 12 Maryland-bred Thoroughbreds competed at the international levels of eventing in 2022 alone. Sport horse breeders use Maryland-bred Thoroughbred mares in their breeding programs. Maryland-bred Thoroughbreds teach our newest equestrians how to ride, and provide invaluable services to our therapeutic riding programs for veterans and others.
Horses put $2 billion into Maryland’s economy each year. All we ask is that Maryland use some of that money to support the huge industry outside of racing.
Kimberly K. Egan, Maryland Horse Council President, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jane Seigler, MHC Government Relations Committee Chair, email@example.com
The Maryland Horse Council, Inc. (MHC) is a § 501(c)(6) trade association that represents all segments of the Maryland horse industry, at the state and local level. MHC has been representing the Maryland horse industry for over 35 years. Our core mission is to lobby state and local government for sensible and economically sound positions, and to provide educational and business networking resources for the Maryland horse community. MHC publishes the monthly Equiery magazine, which provides the Maryland horse community with horse industry news, educational articles, photos, profiles on horse businesses and horse people, as well as a service directory for businesses that serve the Maryland horse industry. Learn more at www.mdhorsecouncil.org.