What will 2008 bring for Maryland’s equestrian community?

In 2007, we saw soaring fuel prices and soaring corn prices – thus soaring feed prices. The “corn rush” convinced many farmers to plow under their hay fields; this reduced hay production, coupled with fewer cuttings due to one of the worst droughts on record (which, interestingly, did not garner much media attention) sent Maryland equestrians into winter with limited hay supplies and has dealers scouring the countryside for affordable, quality hay. Maryland State lab fees for necropsy and disposal have sky rocketed.

The 2007 special legislative session, held in November, was yet another disappointment for the racing industry. Two bills were pushed through the legislature by the Governor and legislative leaders. One bill is an amendment to the Maryland Constitution to allow up to 15,000 slot machines in Maryland. This is the referendum bill that will require voter approval in next November’s election. The other bill contains the “nuts and bolts” and would go into effect only upon passage of the referendum bill.

The handling of these bills has left a bad taste in the mouths of many die hard slots supporters. Yes, we want slots, but we also want leadership that will lead and not push off this controversial issue onto the voters.

So in 2008, the racing and gaming industries will be gearing up for a huge public relations battle as they try to scrap and fi ght for each “ Joe Voter” on the street. We can expect plenty of alarmist rhetoric, plenty of Henny Pennies, plenty of moral hand wringing, high roads and low roads. How many will ask the simple question: if the State of Maryland already allows gambling in the form of lottery and pari-mutuel, why are slots really any different? Gambling is gambling. If the gaming industry is able to pull off a victory, and the general public votes for slots, there is no guarantee that the slots will be located at the race tracks.

Will slots save Maryland’s racing industry? Or is it too late?

In 2007, we saw major Thoroughbred breeding farms purchase land in neighboring states (that have slots) and announce plans to move their big stallions. The bredfunds in surrounding states are looking better and better, and mare owners are opting to drop their foals elsewhere. The December Fasig- Tipton sales in Timonium saw numerous Thoroughbreds go home due to “no bids.” A Carnivalay mare with over $170,000 in earnings herself, and whose get which have started are already earning in the $100,000s, and who is in foal to leading sire Two Punch, whose get have earned over $41 million, sold for only $18,500. Clearly, there were deals to be had at the December Timonium sales!

Magna Entertainment Corporation, the owners of the Maryland Jockey Club, has reduced the number of live racing days at Laurel and Pimlico from 220 to 140 a year, and there are rumors that those days could be reduced even further. Maryland became the mecca of U.S. racing because it was the first state to offer enough racing days that trainers could base their operations in Maryland, rather than lead gypsy lives following the seasons up and down the east coast. Trainers were able to settle down, buy homes and farms, which in turn fueled the business for vets, farriers, tack and feed stores. All of this has flat track trainers worried.

Penn National Gaming, a casino operation, backed out of their deal to purchase Rosecroft Raceway after the legislature cut them out as a potential slots location (despite the fact that they swore that the acquisition of Rosecroft was not contingent on slots – yeah, and I have a bridge to sell you). Rosecroft, like the Thoroughbred tracks, has also scaled back its number of live racing days.

So, is the horse industry doomed in Maryland?

Well, while the racing industries may be struggling, 2007 showed continual growth in the sport horse segments. Real estate has gone through a much needed market correction, and while sales may not be as insane as they were in recent years, values are holding steady and the good real estate agents are still closing deals. Instead of flipping their properties, farm owners are instead opting for improvements, and good barn builders found no shortage of jobs in 2007, and lending companies were still cranking out the loans for stables and indoors.

2007 saw ribbon cuttings for numerous new boarding, lesson and training barns in the sport & pleasure segments of Maryland, with no shortage of boarders. Maryland continues to attract more and more international level competitors and trainers, attracted to Maryland because of our accessibility to all the major east coast and mid west venues, and because of the ability to grow their businesses in our vibrant community of riders. There are so many new stables that it has stretched the resources of the Maryland State Stable Inspection Program to the point in which they had to change the stable license from one year to two years in order to have enough time to inspect all the facilities for re-licensing (alas, no money in the budget to just hire more inspectors).

Enrollment in Maryland’s various university and college equine studies programs continues to grow, and the schools are continuing to expand these programs in order to meet the demand. The Maryland Department of Agriculture is receiving tens of thousands of dollars in federal grants that will be funneled through to the owners of horse farms for pasture improvements, and Maryland’s Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation is exploring how they can more fully embrace horse farms in their programs. Plans are being laid for another Maryland Horse Industry Forum in 2009, and the Maryland Horse Park and an international import/export facility are still hot topics.

Horse World Expo vendor spaces sold out, and here at The Equiery,
advertising increased in 2007, despite the fact that – across the board
– print media ad revenues have nosedived. What does this mean? Th is
means that Maryland’s equestrian industry continues to grow – despite

So, all in all, 2008 looks to be very promising for the Maryland equestrian community! Happy New Year!