(first published in the August 2020 Equiery)
The Maryland Horse Industry Board created the Horse Discovery Center (HDC) program specifically to give potential new riders a list of facilities that provide introductory horse experiences. These experiences include unmounted lessons on how to groom a horse, to pony rides, to trail rides, and introductory lessons. The HDC program is a network throughout the state that helps boost the equine industry as a whole.
Currently there are 38 HDCs across Maryland. According to MHIB’s recent HDC 2019 year in review report, these centers held over 600 events and introduced over 65,000 adults and children to horses. Centers were also represented at several 2019 fairs and festivals including Horseland at the Maryland State Fair. In 2019 alone, 70,250 people at these fairs and festivals participated in some sort of activity provided by various HDCs.
As stables throughout the state continue to work through COVID-19 recovery plans, several HDCs shared their experiences.
“Prince George’s [Equestrian Center] is still closed so people are looking for shows to go to in our area and have asked us to host more this summer.” – Bobby Lindsley, A Moment in Time (St. Mary’s County)
“We are still closed to protect our staff [from COVID-19] but have discovered a whole new revenue source with a series of virtual lessons we are producing on YouTube for students. We are also working with the county library system to make 30 minute episodes for their summer reading challenge.” – Cathy Schmidt, Chesapeake Therapeutic Riding (Harford County)
“We are different than a lot of Discovery Centers and opened later than the boarding stables. People who have come here have said this is the first place they have taken their kids because its outside and they feel more comfortable.” – Martha Clark, Clark’s Elioak Farm (Howard County)
“We are barely getting by and canceled our summer camps and parties. But our sponsor a horse program is still working well and we started a ‘ponies and popsicles’ evening program that is almost completely full.” – Rick Holt, Dun-Pikin Farm (Anne Arundel County)
“We are slowly opening back up and are seeing a continual increase in lesson requests. Everyone will continue to wear masks and gloves because we don’t want to be shut down again!” – Deana Tice, En-tice-ment Stables (Anne Arundel County)
“We are getting more calls in terms of people wanting to ride for the summer because many are just not going out of town on vacations. We started a summer lease program this year, which is new for us and very popular.” – Tracey Gay, Molly Hill Farm (Harford County)
“We have seen a one third increase of new kids, mainly in the six to twelve year old age group.” – Candy Cole, High Ridge Farm (Carroll County)
“We have 13 new students at the farm and I suspect that is because of no summer camps and might be temporary.”
– Karen Altieri, Linden Farm (Charles County)
“We have seen a lot of interest in our summer camp but we are sticking with 50% capacity and have very limited slots available.” – Rachel Doyle, STAR Equestrian Center (Washington County)
“We have started back up our intro lesson program for those who call about the Discovery Centers.” – Ann Petrasak, Talbot Run Equestrian Center (Carroll County)
“We are back to offering lessons but eased into it. We also produced a video that is on our website to show riders the new [COVID-19] protocols. We’ve been getting several new rider inquires for both our discovery center and therapeutic programs.” – Ann Joyner, Talisman Therapeutic Riding (Queen Anne’s County)
“There have been quite a few people calling to start into riding because they want to get outside and enjoy the fresh air!” – Mary Shunk, The Retreat at Beckleysville (Baltimore County)
“We are definitely getting many requests for lessons and some for our summer horsemanship experience. We still have pre-COVID students looking to return to our program since our offerings have been reduced due to COVID.”
– Gayle Ford, Waredaca (Montgomery County)
“We are currently offering trail rides only.” – Morgan Decker, River Valley Ranch (Carroll County)
“Since our special needs groups cannot come to us, we are trying to gear up to go to them! We have a mobile visiting program that we are almost ready to launch to bring our minis and program to our students.” – Jo Marie Twining, Rose of Sharon Equestrian School (Baltimore County)