by Kimberly K. Egan, MHC President (first published in the June 2024 Equiery)

Summer starts this month – hooray! Summer camps and lesson programs are gearing up for three months of horse-crazy children who want little more than to spend as much time as they can with their favorite lesson horses at lesson barns and riding schools. Lucky for us, Maryland is blessed with an extraordinary number of lesson barns – more than in any of our neighboring states and more, indeed, than in many states in the country.

The Maryland Horse Industry Board licenses over 800 lesson and boarding stables in Maryland, a number that has been growing steadily since before the COVID-19 pandemic. Riding schools are the bedrock of our sport, and they are where it all begins for our $2.9 billion industry. Lesson barns produce the next generation of trail riders, amateur competitors. trainers, jockeys, exercise riders, grooms, and professional competition riders; and they can kindle the interest of young people in careers as farriers, veterinarians and veterinary technicians, forage specialists, farm stewardship professionals, horse and pony breeders, and so much more.

Our lesson barns, and especially our trained lesson horses, are also how we introduce the non-horse owning public and students of all socio-economic backgrounds and interests to the benefits of riding. Our saintly lesson horses teach many people how to ride over the course of their careers, which means any given lesson horse has touched the lives of dozens if not hundreds of students.

Lesson horses teach new riders much more than just how to post the trot. Lesson horses teach children self-confidence, body awareness, respect, and problem solving techniques. Lesson horses teach young people patience, empathy, and compassion. Horses make us learn to be independent thinkers. Lesson horses teach all us the joys of inter-species communication, the value of kindness, and the satisfaction of dedication.

Riding schools are an oasis for many young people, an escape from social cliques and unhealthy school dynamics. A teenager learning how to ride once told me that “horses just listen. I can tell my horse anything and she won’t judge me. She won’t call me uncool. She accepts me for who I am.”

To all the lesson barns out there, thank you. And to all the irreplaceable lesson horses, we owe you more than we can ever say.

Lesson horses come in all shapes and sizes. We polled lesson stable owners and managers to find out which breeds are the most popular breeds for lesson horses in our state.

Top 10 Lesson Horse Breeds
1 tie – American Paint
1 tie – Crossbred
1 tie – Thoroughbred

4 – American Quarter Horse
5 – Welsh Pony/Cob

6 tie – Appaloosa
6 tie – Dutch Warmblood

8 tie – Arabian
8 tie – Shetland Pony

10 tie – Halflinger
10 tie – Miniature Horse

Others in descending order:
12 – Morgan
13 – Hanoverian

14 tie – Belgian Warmblood
14 tie – Tennessee Walking Horse

16 – Pony of the Americas

17 tie – Oldenburg
17 tie – Trakehner

19 tie – Friesian
19 tie – Gypsy Vanner
19 tie – Holsteiner
19 tie – Icelandic
19 tie – Mustang
19 tie – Percheron