The early hotspots for colonial horse sports, including racing and foxchasing, were in Southern Maryland, Annapolis and the Eastern Shore areas of the state.
The early hotspots for colonial horse sports, including racing and foxchasing, were in Southern Maryland, Annapolis and the Eastern Shore areas of the state.
But this began to change in the 1700s as settlers migrated north and west and the commercial scene shifted to Baltimore City. The first major Baltimore County horse farm was established in what is now Towson at Hampton Mansion, where Charles Carnan Ridgeley bred and raised Thoroughbreds in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Elsewhere, the terrain of the Worthington, Green Spring and Long Green Valleys was ideal country for foxhunting and steeplechasing coupled with major flat racing at Pimlico within Baltimore City limits.
In 1878 the Maryland State Fair was founded five years after the first Preakness Stakes was run in 1873. The fair moved the following year to its current site in Timonium. The Green Spring Valley Hounds was formed in 1892 followed closely by the first Maryland Hunt Cup race in 1894. The illustrious Sagamore Farm was purchased by the Emerson/Vanderbilt families in 1925. In 1929 the Maryland Horse Breeders Association became the first Thoroughbred breeding organization in the U.S., followed by the founding of the Maryland Horse Shows Association in 1932.
In short, Baltimore County became the center of Maryland’s horse industry and, despite being traversed by five major interstate highways (I-95, I-895, I-695 Baltimore Beltway, I-795 and I-83) and thanks to land preservation efforts led by such organizations as the Valleys Planning Council, it remains so today.
Maryland State Fair & Agricultural Society
The Fairground sits on more than 100 acres in the Baltimore County metropolitan area near the junction of two interstates—I-695 and I-83. It is the only State Fair east of the Mississippi River that offers Thoroughbred racing, which is licensed to run 10 days during the Fair from late August through Labor Day. The Fair is also home to the state’s most successful off-track betting parlor, open 7 days a week; the Fasig-Tipton Sales Pavilion, where more than $50M worth of horses are sold each year; a show ring and stables, offering horse shows during the Fair and the Maryland Horse Breeders annual Yearling Show, one of the oldest in the country. The Fairgrounds is a favorite of horse buyers and race fans with several hotels and restaurants like Nick’s Grandstand Grill & Crab House, located next to the OTB in the Grandstand and with other popular restaurants in close proximity.
The Valley Inn
In 2012, Ted Bauer, owner of the Oregon Grille, bought and renovated the Valley Inn, which had long been a restaurant and watering hole serving Baltimore County’s horse country. Staying true to the original structure built in 1832, Bauer preserved the building’s rich history and notable past while reimagining the space and updating the décor. Horse murals and paintings lend themselves to the inn’s equestrian past and present history.
COCKEYSVILLE-HUNT VALLEY area:
Center for Maryland Agriculture and Farm Park
Baltimore County developed the Center for Maryland Agriculture and Farm Park on 149 acres on the corner of Shawan and Cuba roads, on property that was once the site of major Thoroughbred breeding and training centers. The Ag Center consolidates many of the support services for the county’s agricultural community, promotes the future sustainability of the agricultural industry, and serves as an educational resource center and field destination for school children and adults. The Ag Center is also home to EquiTeam, serving kids in the Baltimore County foster care system, veterans and others; as well as, Saratoga War Horse program which serves veterans. The large outdoor horse show arena is available for schooling and shows; and is the site of an annual jousting tournament.
The Oregon Grille
Nestled in the heart of Maryland’s horse country, The Oregon Grille sits on a corner across from the Baltimore County Agriculture Center and is a short drive from downtown Baltimore. Guests enter the building through a series of jockey statues sporting the colors of famous racing stables and equine art and equipment adorn the walls. The interior features deep leather booths, dark mahogany walls, a granite bar and soft piano music. The restaurant serves creative American cuisine in a luxuriously renovated 19th-century stone farmhouse.
Located in Hunt Valley, virtually adjacent to the Baltimore County Ag Center, Shawan downs is a beautiful property transformed from a small piece of a much larger working farm to a first-class equestrian center. Home to the Legacy Chase, held the last Saturday in September. Shawan Downs is also the site of the Green Spring Valley Hounds Point-to-Point, in March; and the Junior Hunt Cup in April; and the Maryland Combined Training Association horse trials in May.
John Brown General Store & Butchery
John Brown General Store & Butchery is a locally sourced, whole animal butcher shop located at the top of Shawan Road in the Worthington Valley. Its team is passionately dedicated to searching out good food produced by great farmers and ensuring that it is properly processed and ready for customers. The store has a long history in horse country and also has a coffee shop with outdoor seating and lunch service.
Maryland Hunt Cup
The Maryland Hunt Cup, a four-mile steeplechase held in Worthington Valley, was started in 1894 by two competing fox hunting clubs. Today, fans watch from the hillsides as riders charge over 22 fences, vying to qualify for England’s Grand National. This event is held one day a year.
Sagamore Farm has a rich history connected with Thoroughbred racing and breeding. The farm is known as a premier breeding and training ground that has produced many famous residents such as champions Native Dancer, Discovery and Bed o’ Roses. Most recently the Breeders’ Cup winner, Sharing, was born and raised on the farm. In 2020, farm owner Kevin Plank announced he was shifting from breeding and training Thoroughbreds to growing grains for the Sagamore Spirit brand. But some horses will remain on the farm and it is occasionally opened to the public for tours. Sagamore can be followed on Instagram and by joining its Three Diamond Club.
Maryland Horse Breeders Association and Maryland Horse Library & Education Center
Since 1929, The Maryland Horse Breeders Association has been a leading advocate for the state’s horse industry and recently celebrated its 90th anniversary by purchasing and moving into a permanent home in Reisterstown. The organization registers all Thoroughbred horses born in Maryland and operates the Jim McKay Maryland Million Day, a one-day festival for Maryland-sired horses. The MHBA staff also oversees operations of the Maryland Horse Foundation, publishes the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred magazine and hosts the industry website marylandhorse.com. The Maryland Horse Library and Education Center, which will also be located at 321 Main St., is in the design phase and will be open for the public to research and learn about all facets of the horse industry in Maryland.
Glyndon Grill opened in 2013, quickly becoming a community favorite. There is a Sagamore Farm-themed dining room as well photos of well-known local horsemen and horses lining the wall. The restaurant provides a cozy neighborhood atmosphere, a well-stocked bar, carry-out service and casual in-house dining.
Shawan Downs is the site of horse trials and steeplechasing.
Sagamore Farm has a rich history connected with Thoroughbred racing and breeding
Grand National Steeplechase, a demanding three-mile timber race, benefits two non-profit partners
The Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail follows 19.7 miles of the former the Northern Central Railway (NCR) in northern Baltimore County. Hikers, joggers, bicyclists, horseback riders and pets on leashes are welcome.
The Mill supplies feed and bedding to many champion Maryland racehorses as well as numerous Preakness winners.
Maryland Saddlery is a big part of the equestrian community and supports numerous horse industry events.
Veloccino Bike and Coffee brings the tastiest coffee and the highest-quality bicycles, bicycle service and accessories to Butler village.
The Manor Tavern offers a farm to table experience and a commitment to local farmers, sourcing many of its ingredients from its own garden.
Grand National Steeplechase
The Grand National Steeplechase was founded in 1898 by several young men who wanted to compete in the Maryland Hunt Cup, but were too young to enter. Indeed, the Grand National is often compared to the Hunt Cup, with which it shares many similarities. But if the Maryland Hunt Cup is the most demanding timber race at four miles, then the Grand National is the most demanding three-mile timber race—a critical difference, as the shorter distance means faster racing over 18 unyielding obstacles. Many great timber horses have graced the Grand National, however, Mountain Dew remains the reigning king, with six wins from eight starts, two seconds and not one fall over 144 fences. Grand National day, the second-to-last Saturday in April, has been one of the most highly anticipated days of the year for all enthusiasts of timber racing and equine sport. The one-day event benefits two non-profit partners, the Valleys Planning Council and the Maryland Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
Maryland Saddlery, owned by Hope Birsh for more than 30 years, stands by its motto of being part of the community and supporting numerous horse industry events. Specializing in equine consignment, the store offers affordable prices on a variety of brands and sizes for all riders and disciplines and also specializes in women’s clothing and equestrian gifts. There are two other branches, one in Crofton and the other in Hockessin, Del.
Butler Store and Liquors/The Peppered Pig Café
Not only does the Butler Store offer an extensive selection of high-quality drinks from champagne to brandy, they are also home to The Peppered Pig, with a large selection of mouth-watering barbecue. It’s a one-stop shop for your belly-filling barbeque and drink of the day.
Veloccino Bike and Coffee
Veloccino Bike and Coffee brings the tastiest coffee and the highest-quality bicycles, bicycle service and accessories to Butler village. If you want to bike in horse country, this is the place to start your ride with plenty of parking, bottle fills, changing area and covered patio. There’s even an outdoor shower after the ride.
A rustic, fun atmosphere that serves homemade pizza, fresh salads, tacos, subs and sandwiches. With a jukebox, bar and billiard table, it’s a popular local hangout for Baltimore County horse folks.
BUTLER to HAMPSTEAD
Farmacy Cultivated Craft
Nestled in the rolling hills of horse country, Farmacy Cultivated Craft at Willowdale Farms is anything but ordinary. The craft beer brewing house is situated on a working farm raising Thoroughbred horses, cattle, hay, row crops, fruits and vegetables. A 3.5 barrel brewhouse gives Farmacy Cultivated Craft the flexibility to constantly rotate what’s on tap, while using whatever the season provides to create unique beers with a true sense of place. The Farmacy Cultivated Craft facility is operated by Justin Harrison, President of the Baltimore County Farm Bureau. His father, Dr. Michael Harrison, has been a practicing equine veterinarian for almost 40 years and is President of the Maryland Horse Breeders’ Association.
The Retreat at Beckleysville
The Retreat at Beckleysville offers recreational, competitive and therapeutic riding for people of all ages and abilities in a safe environment with minimal cost. It is one of four certified Maryland Horse Discovery Centers where the public is welcome to visit and learn about horses. Owner Mary Shunk has been honored with numerous awards, helps organize the Maryland Special Olympics and is an accomplished horsewoman.
The reservoir area serves as land for hiking, mountain biking, cycling, fishing and boating as well as horseback riding. You must trailer-in your own horse. There is parking in several locations for horse trailers along Gunpowder Rd. According to tradition, the lake was named after a settler’s horse, Prettyboy.
SPARKS to HEREFORD to MONKTON
Dover Saddlery as a company was founded in 1975 by Jim and David Powers, former members of the United States Equestrian Three-Day Event Team. Now with dozens of stores all throughout the U.S., Dover takes pride in its ability to offer world class service and products. The Hunt Valley/Sparks location is run by their manager Kristina Soltow, who specializes in eventing, hunters, jumpers and equitation, being able to assist any rider with her bundle of knowledge.
The Milton Inn
The Milton Inn has been a Baltimore County fine dining and horse country staple for 70 years. It was recently purchased by famed restaurateurs Tony Foreman and Chef Cindy Wolfe, with owner partner Executive Chef Chris Scanga. The restaurant is housed in an 18th-century stone building with garden terraces and is set to reopen in Spring 2021.
Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail
The nearly 20-mile trail is used by an eclectic mix of horseback riders, joggers, walkers, hikers, bikers and people of all ages. This trail was formerly known as the NCR trail and is open to horses, but you must bring your own mount. The best trailer parking is the Freeland Rd parking lot or Wiseburg Rd parking lot (a few spaces for horse trailers). Ashland Rd in Cockeysville is usually full of cars so horseback riders avoid that location although it has a large parking lot.
The Mill Stores
The Mill has six Maryland locations with two in northern Baltimore County, three in northern Harford County and one on the Eastern Shore. The Mill is a one stop shop for horse feed, supplements and supplies as well as lawn and garden needs, a wide variety of pet products as well as home, wildlife, livestock, crop and other agricultural supplies and services. The Mill supplies feed and bedding to many champion Maryland racehorses as well as numerous Preakness winners.
Graul’s Market is an upscale grocery store with a full-service deli, meat department and bakery. There is also a prepared foods section, fresh local produce and salad bar. Graul’s is a staple for horse country picnics and catering needs. There are also two other Baltimore County locations in Ruxton and Mays Chapel.
Wellspring of Life Farm
Nestled on 71 acres among rolling hills and winding woods in the horse community of Monkton, Wellspring of Life Farm empowers, encourages and connects humans with horses and hounds. Dedicated to providing support to those experiencing emotional, cognitive and physical challenges through equine and canine therapeutic activities, Wellspring of Life is honored to work with military, veterans and first responders as well as children and youth. As an official Maryland Horse Discovery Center, Wellspring of Life welcomes the general public to visit and learn about horses with hands-on, interactive activities. The farm was recently featured on PBS/MPT’s “Farm and Harvest” program. Owner Dawn Leung is a former school teacher with a lifetime of horse experience.
Inverness, a 100-acre historic Monkton farm, is home to 50 Black Angus cattle,, 600 thriving hop plants, seasonal crops and Folly the Dog. The brewing operation began in 2018, making inverness Brewing the first Baltimore County farm brewery. The focus is on beers brewed from seasonal ingredients and based on a “Crop to Keg” philosophy. There is an on-site taproom, on premise food and farm experiences. The course of the famed My Lady’s Manor steeplechase race once bordered the farm and at one time Inverness was the home to the legendary racehorse Chase Me.
The Manor Tavern
Long a fixture in Maryland’s horse community, The Manor Tavern is a destination dining experience with 12,000 square feet of entertainment space used for weddings, birthday celebrations, holiday parties and offsite company meetings as well as a large outdoor patio space and extensive gardens featuring live music, lawn games and a grill and a bar. The restaurant offers a farm to table experience and a commitment to local farmers, sourcing many of its ingredients from its own garden. The annual Blessing of the Hunt on Thanksgiving Day takes place at St. James Church, practically adjacent to the property.
Rose of Sharon Equestrian School (ROSES), an ADA-compliant facility, provides experiential learning opportunities where participants safely interact with horses in the naturally stimulating environment of a farm.
Boordy is immersed in the horse country of the Long Green Valley and the vineyard owners, Rob and Julie Deford, have a long family history in the horse—and wine—industry.
Boordy Vinyards was started in 1945 and is Maryland’s oldest winery. Over the years, historic buildings on the property were renovated and dedicated to new uses, vineyards were expanded and the public was welcomed.
The Hampton mansion is grand example of Georgian architecture and was the largest private home in America when completed in 1790
Two historic stone stables dating 1805 and 1857 survive at Hampton National Historic Site, one open to visitors for viewing original carriages and tack.
Wellspring of Life Farm empowers, encourages and connects humans with horses and hounds.
Graham Equestrian Center's mission is to educate the mind, improve the body and lift the spirits of local children and adults through the joy of horses.
TOWSON to LONG GREEN VALLEY
Hampton National Historic Site
Hampton is the story of its people, an estate which evolved from the 18th to 20th centuries through the actions of the Ridgely family, enslaved African-Americans, European indentured servants and paid laborers. The centerpiece is Hampton mansion, a grand example of Georgian architecture, and the largest private home in America when completed in 1790. Charles Carnan Ridgely, the second owner, was an avid horseman who bred, raised and raced Thoroughbred horses at Hampton. Ridgely’s greatest champion, Post Boy, won the Washington City Jockey Club Cup in both 1804 and 1805. Enslaved workers were essential to equestrian life, serving as jockeys, grooms, and coachmen, some of whom were famous for their skill at driving a four-in-hand. Two historic stone stables dating 1805 and 1857 survive on site, one open to visitors for viewing original carriages and tack. The site is a property of the National Park Service.
Fire Museum of Maryland
The Fire Museum of Maryland is one of the largest fire museums in America. The museum is a leading institution in preserving, restoring and interpreting the history of the urban fire service in the U.S. The museum was founded in 1971 and includes a collection of 15 horse-drawn apparatus, some in original and some in totally refurbished condition. Three are used for demonstrations with horses. The museum pays tribute to Goliath, the horse who was cited as the ‘Hero” of the Great Baltimore City Fire of 1904. He was immortalized in the children’s book “Goliath: Hero of the Great Baltimore Fire” by local author Claudia Friddell.
Graham Equestrian Center
GEC’s mission is to educate the mind, improve the body and lift the spirits of local children and adults, regardless of income or (dis)ability, through the joy of horses. It is a 501c3 non-profit focused on education, run by a dedicated Board of Directors and is located on 25 acres within the Gunpowder Falls State Park. GEC is a Maryland Horse Industry Board Horse Discovery Center and they welcome the public for educational events. Veterans, Scout troops and groups participating in community service are examples of those who have taken advantage of GEC’s programs. GEC’s outreach events, large lesson program, Horse Discovery Days and open house are all part of their effort to expand the awareness and benefits of equine interaction into the community.
Rose of Sharon Equestrian School
Rose of Sharon Equestrian School uses the power of horses to strengthen the hearts, minds and bodies of students and seniors with disabilities. ROSES, an ADA-compliant facility, provides experiential learning opportunities where participants safely interact with horses in the naturally stimulating environment of a farm. ROSES is a certified Maryland Horse Discovery Center and as such welcomes inquiries from the general public and educational institutions regarding opportunities to learn about, and engage with, horses. ROSES also maintains a mobile unit to transport miniature horses to schools and other facilities for those who are unable to travel to the farm.
Boordy is immersed in the horse country of the Long Green Valley and the vineyard owners, Rob and Julie Deford, have a long family history in the horse—and wine—industry. Rob’s family history is intertwined with Sagamore Farm and Julie is a member of the famed Janon Fisher clan who produced many Maryland Hunt Cup winners. Growing and making wine, however, is their life’s work. Boordy was started in 1945 and is Maryland’s oldest winery. Over the years, historic buildings on the property were renovated and dedicated to new uses, vineyards were expanded and the public was welcomed. As the winery grew, talented employees were hired and the Boordy wines steadily gained renown. Boordy Vineyards is located on the Long Green Farm which was owned in the early 1900s by noted horse trainer Victor P. Noyes.
Iamps at Jennings Café
Larry Jennings was once called “one of the most consistently successful horse trainers in the U.S.” So, what does that have to do with this friendly neighborhood restaurant and bar in the middle of Catonsville? His dad, Omar Jennings, used to own the famous Pimlico Hotel restaurant right outside the gates of Pimlico Race Course. And when that place closed, he opened the Jennings Café in Catonsville. Son Larry came close to winning the Preakness in 1974 with Neapolitan Way and the walls of the restaurant are still covered with his win pictures. Current owner Steve Iampieri purchased the restaurant from the Jennings family in 2017 and is keeping the family tradition of fine food and drinks and a convivial atmosphere alive. The café is a “must” when in the area.
There are literally hundreds of horse farms in Baltimore County—more than 1,500 spreading over more than 20,000 acres according to the last Maryland equine census in 2010. They range from small backyard horse establishments to large breeding and training centers raising some of the finest horses in America. These are businesses and/or private farms that are not open to the public.
Among the famous Thoroughbred establishments are Marathon Farm, whose splendid miles of white fences can be seen from I-83 and from York Road, to Dark Hollow and Safely Home farms off the beaten path in Upperco. Merryland Farm is in Hydes, literally over the hill from Boordy Vineyards. Sabrina Moore’s Green Mount Farm just bred Knicks Go, winner of the $3M Pegasus Cup and Maryland-Bred Horse of the Year. Baltimore County is also home to the Jack Fisher steeplechase training center. Fisher is perennially the leading steeplechase trainer in America and in 2020 saddled Eclipse Award champion Moscato for Baltimore County horsemen Charles Fenwick, Jr., Michael Hankin and Charles Noell.
Fenwick earned international renown when he won the English Grand National in 1982 with Maryland Hunt Cup winner, Ben Nevis II. Baltimore County is home to two foxhunting clubs—the illustrious Green Spring Valley Hounds and its upper county counterpart, the Mt. Carmel Hounds.
There are large equestrian programs at Goucher College in Towson as well as private high schools including McDonogh, Garrison Forest, Oldfields and St. Timothy’s. These schools have produced Olympic gold medalists in equestrian sports as well as owners and trainers of champion race and show horses. Garrison Forest has sent out national winners in women’s interscholastic polo. Stevenson University also pays tribute to the county’s horse heritage by naming its athletic teams “The Mustangs.” A splendid life-size sculpture of a wild rearing horse is located at the school’s stadium on the Owings Mills campus.
Marlan Farms in Freeland is a bastion of championship men and women’s interscholastic polo teams, winning over a dozen national titles in the last decade. Coach Kelly Wells, in addition to Garrison Forest’s Cindy Halle, have become polo coaching legends. Loafers Lodge breeds many of the top Welsh ponies in the state as well as winning national awards. The great show jumping mare, Touch of Class, winner of two Olympic gold medals, was born and raised in Upperco. The Maryland Horse Industry Board gives a monthly award in her honor to Maryland horses and people who gain national and international recognition.
One of the most unique and picturesque stables is Rockland Barn, located inside the Baltimore Beltway on Falls Road. The county is home to the Baltimore County Horse Show Association, the Maryland Combined Training Association, the U.S. Pony Racing Association and other youth Pony Club and 4-H groups.
Baltimore County’s reputation for producing fine horses and horse people is safe for generations to come.