January 2006

At press time, the Maryland Stadium Authority was still working on the feasibility study for a state Horse Park to be located in Gambrills, on an old dairy farm owned by the United States Navy Academy.

A small but voraciously vocal opposition group is aggressively using the local media to plant misinformation in order to create (or increase) hysteria and stoke the fires of opposition. The anti-Horse Park group, which seems to be dominated by neighbors afraid of change and friends of the tenant farmers, has been effective at attracting the media to its meetings with sensational claims. For example, what better way to scare residents and get more ink in the local paper than to raise an alarm about a horse park creating an avalanche of manure, overwhelming not only this natural green space, but area residents, the quality of water, etc.

A tenacious group of local horsemen and women, led by Jan Hardesty, Steuart Pittman and Vicki O’Hara, patiently counter each new outrageous claim by the “antis.” Unfortunately, providing comparative calculations of current manure waste from the dairy operation — which maintains 175 head of cattle — with the manure waste that would be produced by proposed Horse Park uses does not make for riveting reading. (For those who are interested, the current operation produces approximately 3,800 tons of manure each year, which remains on the property and is spread as fertilizer over the crop part of the farm. If Horse Park usage was maximized at capacity for number of days, number of horses, and number of people, that manure waste output — including that of the humans and the small 4-H dairy herd that would remain — would be 2,464 tons of waste, most of which would be removed from the property. The bottom line, boys and girls, is that even at capacity, the Horse Park would produce less muck than the current operation, and have even less of an impact on water quality.)

Also figuring in the debate is the definition of agriculture. Horse Park opponents claim that horses are not agriculture; of course, we say that not only are horses agriculture, they are critical to Maryland’s traditional agricultural infrastructure, providing markets for hay farmers, tractor supply companies, feed stores, etc. Without a federal or state definition of agriculture that includes horses, Horse Park supporters can only use federal and state governments’ implicit inclusion of horses in their oversight of agriculture (for example, horses are included in USDA & MDA health regulations for livestock, and the MDA regulates riding stables and horse auctions, etc.).

Horse Park opponents are attempting to turn various groups of horse people against the project by making claims that the park’s plan does not include things like trails. However, these rumors are quickly being neutralized by such active online groups as the Maryland Horse Council Trails & Greenways yahoo.com discussion forum.

What Happens Next

After a lively hearing on Dec. 5, the Anne Arundel county council gave its blessing to the Horse Park concept. The Navy Academy will accept “re-use” bids for its dairy farm until Dec. 19, as required by law any time a federal government property is put up for lease by outside entities (the current tenant farmers’ lease expires at the end of 2007). Around the first of the year, the Maryland Stadium Authority will release the results of the feasibility study.

If the study does indeed indicate that a Horse Park is economically feasible at that site, legislation will move forward in the 2006 session for approval for funding.

Contrary to rumors propagated by locals opposing the Horse Park, the funding for its creation would not come from state tax dollars, but from the Stadium Authority’s own little pot of gold: profits from Maryland’s various games of chance (Lottery, Mega-Millions, scratch-offs, etc.). And why shouldn’t profits from state-owned gambling go to benefit the equestrian community? After all, those state-owned games have reduced the money gambled on horse racing, so it seems only fair that some of those lost funds be redirected back into the horse industry.

And the beat goes on.