Maryland's rich equestrian heritage evokes a variety of traditions
Maryland gallops into full stride with a rich equestrian culture on display. The most visible tradition might be the Preakness Stakes, but horse enthusiasts can enjoy a wide variety of events and activities year-round.
Steeplechase, dressage competitions, polo, and even jousting all have strong identities in the state, and, for recreational equestrians, nothing beats a refreshing jaunt down one of Maryland's many riding trails. The Maryland Horse Industry Board and the publication The Equiery are great directories for places to go riding and where to learn to ride. Travel the Horses & Hounds Scenic Byway to immerse yourself in Maryland's Horse country, where fox hunters have swept across rolling, grassy fields in a colorful pageant of horses and hounds since Colonial times.
Here are some of the many highlights from around the state:
Marylanders love their horse racing, and few tracks are as storied as Pimlico. The day before the middle jewel of the Triple Crown, fast fillies from across the country compete in the Black-Eyed Susan race, which dates back to 1919. Then it's on to the legendary Preakness Stakes, the race that has shaped the legacies of champion horses like Seabiscuit. Each year, fans gather on the infield for live music and fun. More about Maryland's legendary tracks.
Although it originated in the United Kingdom as a cross-country race from church steeple to church steeple, this exciting sport has quite the history here in Maryland, too. Expect plenty of tailgating at the annual Potomac Hunt Races in May. The Fair Hill Races have been held on the 5,600-acre former estate of William DuPont, Jr., since 1934. This Elkton (Cecil County) race is the only U.S. steeplechase event with parimutuel betting, a wagering system in which payoffs are determined after the betting pool closes.
More Steeplechase info...
Horse trials and shows
Maryland Combined Training Association (MCTA) Horse Trials, May, Cockeysville (Baltimore County) – Held at Shawan Downs on Shawan and Falls Roads, this nationally-recognized, longtime event features novice through advanced levels of competition that showcase endurance, dressage, and jumping.
Fair Hill Recognized Horse Trials, May, Elkton (Cecil County) – Held at Saw Mill Field by the county fairgrounds off Route 273, this "triathlon for horses" is a competition that draws over 200 horses from the Mid-Atlantic region and spans three phases: dressage (a horse's capacity for precision moves and communication with the rider), cross-country, and stadium jumping. Admission is free, and Olympic riders are expected to be in attendance, so there's really no reason not to come!
Loch Moy Farm serves as a premier venue for a variety of equestrian competitions — it is the #1 Eventing venue in the Mid Atlantic and #4 in the USA. They draw large attendance to their Hunter and Jumper Sugarloaf Mountain Horse Show Series and feature competitions each July. Located in Frederick County on the Monocacy River, Loch Moy Farm is surrounded by stunning views of Sugarloaf Mountain.
Capitol Polo Club, Poolesville (Montgomery County) – Located on nearly 600 acres in the Montgomery County Agricultural Reserve, this club has three full-sized polo fields, outdoor and indoor arenas, and a grandstand. The Polo Academy offers a full range of instruction, and the Development League allows Academy graduates to continue their progress in learning how to play. Weekend matches are open to the public.
Maryland Polo Club, Monkton (Harford County) – Games are held Fridays at 6 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m., starting June and running through the summer. The field is adjacent to Ladew Topiary Gardens, and tailgating is a popular way for visitors to watch the matches.
More than 50 years ago, in 1962, Maryland designated jousting as the state's official sport. Upcoming tournaments are listed on the Maryland Jousting Tournament Association website.
Assateague Island National Seashore (Maryland portion in Worcester County) – Assateague's wild horses are descendants of domestic animals that have reverted to a wild state. Their ancestors were likely horses brought from the mainland to barrier islands such as Assateague in the late 1600s as a way for owners to avoid fencing laws and livestock taxation. Visitors to this scenic natural habitat, a short distance from Ocean City, should view these horses from a distance.
Belair Mansion and Stable Museum, Bowie (Prince George's County) – Built in 1907, the stable was operated by Belair Stud until 1957. Samuel Ogle, a provincial governor or Maryland credited with introducing organized Thoroughbred racing in North America, established Belair Stud as an American Thoroughbred horse-racing stable and breeding farm in 1747, and between 1923 and 1953, Belair Stud horses won 631 races. (Five of these horses are in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.)
Days End Farm Horse Rescue (DEFHR), Woodbine (Howard County) – This nonprofit rescue and rehabilitation center shelters 50 to 70 horses at any given time. Since its founding in 1989, it has taken in more than 1,750 horses, 94 percent of which were eventually adopted and moved to permanent homes. DEFHR uses volunteer adult and youth trainers to help with the rehabilitation of horses on-site, and in some instances, off-site. Horses available for adoption are listed on the DEFHR website.