Gallop into May with Equine Activities Celebrating Maryland’s Rich Horse Heritage

From cheering on your favorite Thoroughbreds to riding new horse trails, visitors will enjoy Maryland’s strong equine traditions this spring

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Connie Yingling,
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Leslie Cox,
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BALTIMORE (May 1, 2015) – Saddle up! Maryland is celebrating its horse heritage this month by highlighting various activities including the 140th running of the famed Preakness Stakes on May 16. From the horse that pulled the plow to the horse racing down the track at Pimlico or Laurel Park, horses have played in integral part in the growth of the state’s industry and traditions.

Maryland’s horse history began with the first settlers to St. Mary’s County in the mid-17th century. Wealthy colonists imported Thoroughbreds from across the Atlantic, and the wild horses that roam Assateague Island’s beaches date back to the early 1700s. The state is credited with introducing formal Thoroughbred racing to the colonies after establishing the Maryland Jockey Club, the oldest sporting organization in North America, in 1743. In 2003, the Thoroughbred horse was named the state horse of Maryland to recognize its rich contributions to the state.

This spring, the Maryland Horse Industry Board launched a statewide network of 35 Horse Discovery Centers in 15 counties. These carefully selected and licensed stables welcome people of all ages and experience levels into their barns to learn about horses in a friendly and knowledgeable environment. Activities range from trail riding centers to Western riding operations; horse rescues to stables offering summer camps; and English equitation farms to Civil War re-enactment stables.

“Horses and the relationships we form with these majestic animals are vital to leading a healthy and active lifestyle,” said Ross Peddicord, executive director, Maryland Horse Industry Board. “That’s why it’s so important to continue to provide these opportunities throughout the state to ride, race and experience Maryland’s equine heritage, not just this May but throughout the year.”

Visitors to the Eastern Shore will also find the first Maryland Historic Horse Trail. Opened last summer, Horses at the Beach, a self-guided driving tour, takes visitors from the Assateague National Seashore Park, home of the Assateague Ponies to locations including Glen Riddle Farm, once the training grounds of Thoroughbred horse racing legends Man o’War and War Admiral.

“With hundreds of miles of riding trails, equestrian events throughout the year and strong support for all-things equestrian, Maryland offers visitors a variety of opportunities to experience the state’s horse heritage,” said Bill Pencek, acting assistant secretary, Maryland Division of Tourism, Film, and the Arts. “Horse enthusiasts will find endless activities throughout the state, including lessons, guided trail rides or even watching dressage shows.”

Below you’ll find a sampling of locations in Maryland that offer a variety of riding or racing experiences:

Western Maryland

Enjoy horseback rides along the Appalachian range at Circle R Ranch, located in the heart of the Deep Creek Lake area. Take a guided tour along trails that wind into the hillsides, through woods of mature maples and oaks, and around fields following streams through mature apple orchards on this family farm.

Explore the open fields, undeveloped mountainside and views of Deep Creek Lake on a guided horseback tour from Western Trails Riding Stable. There’s fun for the entire family and all experience levels, including hand-led pony rides for kids, or a hay ride and cozy campfire under the stars.

Get a view into the world of horse-drawn transportation at the Thrasher Carriage Museum, located at the depot of the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad in Frostburg. The museum offers one of the top collections of horse-drawn vehicles, from milkman carts to luxurious sleighs used by the Vanderbilt family, to funeral wagons to the inaugural coach used by President Theodore Roosevelt.

Take a guided tour by horse and Amish-crafted carriage for a unique perspective on the 1862 Battle of Antietam at Bonnymeed Farm near Sharpsburg. The tour includes stops at several farms along the way, living history narratives and an all-inclusive picnic.

Capital Region

Roam along the banks of the Potomac River and C&O Canal Towpath on horseback with Elk Mountain Trails. Reserve a spot for the Mother’s Day Brunch Ride on May 10, or pick your favorite ride–morning, lunchtime or a moonlight dinner and campfire.

On May 17, celebrate Bowie Heritage Day with free pony rides and music at Belair Stable Museum, one of the country’s premier stables during the 1920s-1950s. Plan a tour of Belair Mansion and learn more about Maryland’s Thoroughbred horseracing tradition, including bloodlines, racing silks, trophies, carriage collection, farm equipment and a 1923 stable master’s apartment.

On May 18, join the hunt at the annual Potomac Hunt Races in Poolesville, and celebrate the sport of Steeplechase racing. Amidst the thrill of thundering hooves and soaring horses, family-friendly race-day festivities include a car display, mounted police demonstrations, a moon bounce, pony rides and vendor row.

Learn to ride and care for horses through a hands-on approach at Free Spirit Stables, located at Rushing Winds Farm in Frederick. The 30-acre farm dedicates its efforts to aiding horses from all parts of the U.S. through its Horse and Pony Sponsorship Program and other farm activities and events.

Visit the 25 acre-estate of Woodland Horse Center in Silver Spring for horse riding rings, stables and trails. Attend a horse camp or after school program to expand horsemanship knowledge or enjoy the Western lessons, which are perfect for preparing for a riding adventure.

Central Maryland

Welcome spring at the Howard County Cup Races on May 2. This family tradition of nearly 70 years showcases horse racing over the open countryside and jumping over natural fences. While cheering on the horses and riders, enjoy an outdoor party, vie for "Best Tailgate Awards", shop a vendor and take in the Classic Car Corral, Disc Drive Frisbee dogs and stick-pony racing.

Join the Riehl Farm in Pasadena on May 9 to celebrate Horse Appreciation Day. Mark your calendars to spend the day watching various horse demonstrations and learn about the local stables, riding programs and different styles of riding.

On May 9-10, take part in the 3rd annual Mid-Atlantic Wild West Fest Cowboy Reunion. Enjoy roping demos, cowboy mounted shooting, gunfight re-enactments, 1880s re-enactors and camps, a high school rodeo, live music, authentic covered wagon cooking and vendors at the Living Farm Heritage Museum in West Friendship.

Enjoy the many activities scheduled at Pimlico, culminating on May 16 with the 140th running of The Preakness® Stakes, when millions of Americans cheer on the nation's finest Thoroughbreds as they compete for the middle jewel of the Triple Crown. Indulge in Maryland's food, culture and history all week long with tours and events like Black-Eyed Susan Day or the Preakness Celebration’s Hot Air Balloon Festival at Turf Valley.

On May 16, ride along the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission’s Rocky Gorge Reservoir Trail. Starting in West Laurel, the 3 hour walk-only, walk-trot or walk-trot-canter ride will offer picturesque views of the reservoir and conclude with a potluck lunch.

Be swept away to a forgotten age of bravery, honor, and love at Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament at Arundel Mills.  The show features heroic knights on spirited horses, astounding athletic feats and thrilling sword play – all against an exhilarating backdrop of brilliant lights, and sweeping musical score.

Ramble along the Horses and Hounds Scenic Byway, from Monkton to Towson, through an area traditionally known as Hunt Country. Oregon Ridge Nature Center and Park, a premiere 300-acre equestrian facility, Shawan Downs, Sagamore FarmLadew Topiary Gardens and Boordy Vineyards are just a few of the popular places along the way. 

Southern Maryland

Visit the Melwood Recreation Center, a beautiful 108-acre facility located on the Nanjemoy Peninsula in rural Charles County. Its equestrian program offers therapeutic and general riding lessons and trail riding activities for all ages and abilities.

Ride miles of equestrian trails or riding rings at Oak Ridge Park and Maxwell Hall Park Equestrian Area, both in Hughesville. There are more than seven miles of equestrian trails at Oak Ridge Park and 14 miles at Maxwell Hall Park. Both offer level wooded and meadow areas for novices, and creek crossings, bridges and moderate inclines/declines for more experienced riders.

School is in session at Lucky Cricket Farm and Chesapeake country horses are attending. Their subject is dressage, a horse and rider training method that dates back to ancient Greece and owes its traditions to Renaissance Europe.

Plan a riding lesson at the Greenwell Foundation, one of Maryland’s 35 Horse Discovery Centers. Located on 600-acre Greenwell State Park along the lower Patuxent River in Hollywood, the Foundation offers inclusive programs, including therapeutic and recreational riding lessons, horse camps, one-time rides, pony parties and group rides.

Take a guided tour around Suttler Post Farm and visit Southern Maryland's only six horse hitch of Clydesdales.

Learn about the region’s growing equine industry and other resources for horse businesses, owners and riders in the Southern Maryland Equine Guide. The 32-page full-color guide includes a comprehensive directory of more than 60 equine stables located in Southern Maryland. 

Eastern Shore

On May 23, spend the day at Cecil County’s Fair Hill Races. Located on the 5,600 acre former estate of William DuPont, Jr., the single-day event includes Steeplechase races and a range of family-friendly activities, including stick pony races for the kids, dozens of merchants in Vendor Village and a variety of delicious foods for sale from crab cakes to pulled pork.

Discover Maryland’s wild horses on Assateague Island. Whether you believe they are descendants of the colonists’ horses or the survivors of a Spanish galleon shipwreck, the state’s herd of wild ponies is worth the trip. The horses roam freely on the island and are managed by the National Park Service.

Trot your equine friend out to Pocomoke River State Park and Forest, where horseback riding is allowed on maintained forest trails and roads designed to accommodate recreational use.

About Maryland Tourism
The Maryland Office of Tourism is an agency of the Division of Tourism, Film and the Arts within the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. Visitors to the state spent more than $15.4 billion on travel-related expenses in 2013. During 2013, the Maryland tourism industry also generated $2.1 billion in state and local taxes, and provided 138,682 jobs for Maryland residents.

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