first published in the August 2021 Equiery

by Ross Peddicord, MHIB Executive Director

The 2020 Maryland State Fair, which due to COVID-19 restrictions was closed to the general public and only able to host live-streamed youth and open livestock shows, will return with a full calendar of equestrian events from August 26 to September 6, 2021. Returning favorites include Thoroughbred racing, rodeo, horse pulls, horse shows, pony racing, a therapeutic riding show and, new this year, a competition of six-horse draft teams held on the racetrack infield.

There is also the return of Horseland to look forward to this year!

For the entire 12 days of the Fair, folks who want to pet a horse, learn about horses, find out where they can volunteer, take riding lessons or be taught how to place a $2 bet, can visit the Horseland exhibition under a big tent located next to “Kiddie Land” and the racetrack. There they are greeted by volunteers from riding stables and the racetrack who introduce them to the wonderful world of horses, Maryland style.

The main sponsors of Horseland are The Maryland State Fair and the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association in conjunction with the Maryland Jockey Club, Maryland Horse Breeders Association, Maryland Million, Maryland Horse Council, Maryland Saddlery, Wellspring of Life Farm, and the Maryland Horse Industry Board.

For the six years since its inception in 2015, Baltimore County horsewoman and saddlery store owner Hope Birsh has coordinated the Horseland event and seen over 250,000 people pass through its tent. “It is so cool. People can come in and relax and be introduced to horses in a very pleasant way,” she said.

“Sometimes newcomers can feel intimidated when they go to a horse show or a racetrack because they don’t know what to do or what’s going on. But at Horseland, knowledgeable people who love horses welcome and explain to them the nuances of horses and horse events in a very friendly environment. Fairs and community shows offer this opportunity.”

Dawn Leung, from Wellspring of Life Farm in Monkton, has been enlisted as Horseland program coordinator this year and stated, “Not only has Horseland returned, but it’s going to be spectacular!”

As of press, Leung had lined up stables and organizations such as The City Ranch, Days End Horse Farm Rescue, Rolling Hills Ranch, TROT, Molly Hill Farm, and GAIT Rescue to bring horses as well as Mike Reuter’s ever popular pair of minis.

At the racing community’s exhibit, folks can ride a race riding simulator named “Bucky,” meet a jockey, see racing equipment and silks, learn how to bet, and have the services of an on-site handicapper. On racing days, State Fair board member Fran Burns will offer backstretch tours and set up a pop-up booth next to the paddock to offer racing insights.

Leung said unmounted activities such as cleaning tack, grooming, braiding, natural horsemanship methods, and demonstrations by veterinarians and farriers are being arranged, as well as a miniature show jumping course for children. Brian Silva, the former Air Force pilot who was profiled on MPT’s show Farm and Harvest will also be on hand to demonstrate therapeutic lessons from Wellspring of Life Farm.

Birsh’s favorite activity is the stick horse-making station which will return to Horseland this year. “We see a lot of the same kids every year,” she said. “They make stick horses and many take them home and keep them year after year.”

On Friday night, September 3, Leung will get the Labor Day weekend off to a rousing start with a Military and First Responders Appreciation showcase in the main horse show arena. The celebration will feature a tableau of horses’ interaction with humans throughout the ages in war, work, transportation, and sport.

Invited guests include George W. Owings III, Maryland Secretary of Veterans Affairs; Col. Orville Hughes, a centenarian and decorated war veteran; former Staff Sgt. Amy Andrews, who assisted in 9-11 rescue efforts; Master Sgt. Theresa Harris, who will sing the national anthem on horseback, and a performance by the 229th Army Band.

Active military and first responders are offered free admission to the Fair that day. Leung is expecting a big turnout of veterans, American Legion members, military personnel, first responders, and their friends and families. The event will be capped off by an “At Liberty and Roman Riding” performance by Sadie Fisher of Unbridled Equine of Millerstown, Pennsylvania.

We hope to see you at the Fair! Come join us at Horseland!