first published in the January 2023 Equiery
According to the Maryland Horse Industry Board’s latest available horse industry statistics, there are over 101,000 horses in Maryland with an average of 10.5 horses per square mile. These horses live at 16,000 horse farms and stables and represent at least 40 different breeds. MHIB also boasts that 35 different equine disciplines are represented within the state, with the competition sector of the horse industry having a $270 million economic impact supporting 3,346 jobs.
To kick off the New Year, The Equiery surveyed its readers to find out which sports they participate in competitively here in Maryland. Over 230 people took our survey with 90.3% of those living within Maryland. Other states represented by our survey were Pennsylvania (4.2%), Virginia (2.9%), Delaware (0.8%) and West Virginia (0.4%). We also had one person from Nevada and another from New York who reported traveling to Maryland to compete.
Below are the top 10 most popular horse sports in Maryland according to our survey.
#1 Eventing/Combined Training
The sport of Eventing, sometimes called Combined Training, is a three-phase competition involving dressage, show jumping and cross-country jumping. It is one of eight sports recognized by the International Federation of Equestrian Sports (FEI) and is one of three Olympic equestrian disciplines.
According to The Equiery’s database, there are nearly 3,000 people who participate in this sport in Maryland. Eighty-five of the people who took our survey stated they participated in Eventing, making it the most popular sport according to the survey.
The sport of Eventing developed after the Second World War as a way for the cavalry to use their military skills in friendly competition. The dressage phase replicates the precision and control needed for military parades, cross-country replicates the speed and endurance needed during battle, and the show jumping replicates the strength needed to maneuver over obstacles after strenuous exertion.
Maryland offers both licensed competitions and “starter,” or “schooling,” events at many locations throughout the state. In addition, there are countless combined tests (dressage and show jumping), derbies (cross-country) and schooling opportunities, making this sport available to riders from leadline through the international levels.
Maryland is home to the Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill, which is one of only seven five-star events in the world and one of only two in the United States. The five-star is the highest level of Eventing competition.
#2 Classical Dressage
Classical Dressage was the second most popular sport in Maryland based on our survey with 69 people stating they participate. The French word “dressage” most commonly translates to mean “training,” which is what the sport is all about. The technique dates as far back as Classical Greece with On Horsemanship by Xenophon. Dressage competitions present an opportunity for riders to show off their horse’s level of training from walk/trot tests all the way up to international levels of Grand Prix. Dressage is also an FEI and Olympic sport.
There are currently three dressage organizations in Maryland: Potomac Valley Dressage Association (PVDA), Frederick Area Dressage Shows (FADS) and Maryland Dressage Association (MDA). These organizations offer schooling dressage shows, with PVDA also offering U.S. Equestrian Federation (USEF) licensed, and US Dressage Federation (USDF) recognized shows.
One of the most popular dressage shows in Maryland is PVDA’s annual Ride for Life competition, held at the Prince George’s Equestrian Center each summer. This show raises funds for breast cancer research.
#3 Show Hunters
Hunters and Jumpers often go hand in hand, with classes in both disciplines often offered at the same shows. They are different sports, however! Our survey results revealed that Show Hunters were a tad more popular than Show Jumpers with 64 people participating in Show Hunters and 63 in Show Jumpers. Thirty-seven people reported that they participate in both.
Show Hunters, also called Hunt Seat, was developed in North America and is an English style of riding. The sport originated from foxchasing, giving foxchasers something to do with their field hunters during the off season. The sport includes both under saddle flat classes and jumping classes.
Here in Maryland, there are shows that are “rated” according to the level of competition under USEF rules and U.S. Hunter/Jumper Association programs, and many schooling shows. Maryland offers many hunter show series and competition organizations, including the Maryland Horse Shows Association, which is the oldest hunter organization in the state.
#4 Show Jumpers
Where Show Hunters are judged on style, Show Jumpers are judged on speed and fault-free riding, with the fastest clean round winning. Show Jumping is an FEI and Olympic sport. Jumpers can offer a variety of class types including Power & Speed, Puissance, and Grand Prix, which is the highest level of international competition.
Many of the same organizations in Maryland that offer Show Hunter classes offer Show Jumping classes, with the Washington International Horse Show being the highest rated show in the state, an FEI five-star. WIHS returned to the Prince George’s Equestrian Center in October 2022.
#5 Hunter Pace/Paper Chase
Hunter Paces and Paper Chases also stem from the sport of fox chasing but are open to all types of riders and can be ridden in Western or English tack. This makes the sport very popular here in Maryland with 52 survey responders stating they participate in this style of competition. This is a team sport open to all levels of riders.
Technically, Hunter Paces and Paper Chases are slightly different in terms of their rules and how the courses are marked, but both are similar in that the overall goal is to follow a marked trail in a pre-determined time. The objective it so simulate the pace and way of going of an average fox chase. Some Hunter Paces will also have a “fast” class where the winner is the fastest team to finish the course. Often there are jumping and flat course options.
While many farms throughout the state offer Hunter Paces and/or Paper Chases, the Maryland Hunter Pace Circuit offers a spring and fall series with year-end team awards. These Hunter Paces are run by various fox chasing clubs in Maryland.
Equitation is similar to Show Hunters in style, however the focus is on the rider more than the horse. Forty-nine survey takers said they participate in Equitation shows.
There are several national Equitation leagues including the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (for college age riders) and Interscholastic Equitation Association (for middle and high school age riders). Riders do not have to own their own horses to participate in these leagues because the host facility provides the horses. To keep things fair, riders pick a horse from a hat and “catch” ride during the competition. For a list of schools and barns in Maryland that offer Hunt Seat Equitation teams, see https://equiery.com/a-guide-to-riding-at-school/
Although Equitation is traditionally an English style sport, several other disciplines have started offering Equitation classes such as Dressage Seat Equitation and even Western Equitation classes at American Quarter Horse Association shows.
#7 Trail Competitions
Trail riding is one of the most popular horse activity here in Maryland and for those who want to compete in trail style competitions, there is a huge variety to choose from. Forty-one survey responders reported participating in some sort of trails competition. Many of these competitions can be done in Western or English tack and have classes for all level of riders.
Trail competitions include judged trail rides, mountain trail obstacle courses, competitive trail riding and more! For a full list of trail competitions in Maryland, see The Equiery’s 2021 article “Hitting the Trails… Competitions!” on equiery.com. https://equiery.com/hitting-the-trails-competitions/
#8 Fox Chasing
Fox Chasing takes the number eight spot on our list with 37 survey responders stating they participate in this sport. Contrary to popular belief, the goal in U.S. hunt clubs is to chase the fox, not to kill the fox. Some clubs chase coyote as well. This is a winter sport that runs from November through mid-March here in Maryland.
There are currently nine clubs in Maryland that are recognized through the Masters of Foxhounds Association of America as well as many unrecognized “private” clubs.
Fox chasing has deep roots here in Maryland. George Washington is known to have hunted in what is now Howard County with foxhounds given to him by the Marquis de Lafayette. The Green Spring Valley Hounds is one of Maryland’s oldest clubs, dating back to 1892.
Clubs hunt with Foxhounds, mostly American and Penn-Marydel varieties.
#9 Breed Specific Shows & Jousting
Our survey showed a tie between Breed Specific Shows and Jousting for the number nine spot on our list of most popular horse sports in Maryland.
According to MHIB, there are 40 breeds represented in Maryland… not to mention all the various cross-breeds that are possible too! Many of these breeds have national breed associations with breed specific shows offered here in Maryland such as the Maryland Pony Breeder’s annual show. The Maryland Pony Breeders, Inc. was founded in 1953 and is the oldest pony breeder organization in the U.S.
Maryland also offers American Quarter Horse Association shows as well as various Warmblood, Draft and Thoroughbred shows. These shows tend to have in-hand and under saddle classes.
Jousting is Maryland’s official state sport! The sport stems from the medieval joust in which two knights would charge each other with a lance, scoring points for where they hit their opponent. Although the joust can still be seen recreated at the Maryland Renaissance Festival and Medieval Times, the modern sport of Jousting replaces the human opponent with hanging rings that are speared by the rider’s lance.
The Maryland Jousting Tournament Association is the governing body of modern day jousting here in Maryland. The sport is open to all ages and levels of riders. Many Maryland jousters have gone on to be national champions.
#10 Thoroughbred Flat Track Racing
Rounding out the top ten most popular horse sports in Maryland is Thoroughbred racing, specifically flat track racing, (as opposed to steeplechase racing).
Maryland’s biggest racing day is Preakness Day, which hosts the second leg of the Triple Crown Races, the Preakness Stakes. The Jim McKay Maryland Million Day is the state’s second biggest racing day and highlights Maryland-bred and Maryland-sired horses.
Maryland’s Thoroughbred racing is governed by the Maryland Racing Commission with live racing held mainly at Laurel Park. There is also live racing at Pimlico Racecourse for the two weeks surrounding the Preakness, as well as a short summer race meet that is held at Timonium during the Maryland State Fair.
Additional Horse Sports
There were 24 other horse sports represented in our survey including the FEI sports of Vaulting and Endurance, and some unique sports such as Mounted Archery, Cowboy Mounted Shooting and Working Equitation. Ranch and Rodeo competitions were also popular as well as Western Speed and Western Show classes. Below is the full list of survey results.
- Eventing – 35.7%
- Classical Dressage – 29%
- Show Hunters – 26.9%
- Show Jumpers – 26.5%
- Hunter Pace/Paper Chase – 21.8%
- Equitation – 20.6%
- Trail Competitions – 17.2%
- Fox Chasing – 15.5%
- Breed Specific Shows + Jousting (tie) – 8%
- Thoroughbred Flat Track Racing – 7.6%
- Western Speed Shows – 6.7%
- Ranch Riding + Endurance (tie) – 6.3%
- Western Show Classes + Working Equitation (tie) – 5%
- Pony Club Rallies – 4.6%
- Western Dressage – 4.2%
- 4-H Shows + Steeplechase/Point-to-Point (tie) – 3.8%
- Gymkana/Mounted Games + Mounted Archery (tie) – 2.9%
- Rodeo + Polo (tie) – 2.5%
- Polocross + Vaulting (tie) – 2.1%
- Combined Driving + Pleasure Driving (tie) – 1.7%
- Harness Racing – 1.3%
- Cowboy Mounted Shooting + Para-Equitation + Reining + Saddle Seat (tie) – 0.8%
- Draft Shows – 0.4%