(first published in the June 2023 Equiery)

Summer is peak season for active Marylanders and horse people are no exception. Many of us train, compete, teach, and ride at a slightly more frenetic pace than usual when the weather is warm. We conducted a survey over the last month to get a sense of which disciplines our training, boarding, and lesson facilities focus on; which disciplines are the most prevalent in which counties; and which breeds our sport horse breeders produce. 161 stables responded.

This data may appear dry to some, but they tell a terrific story: Maryland is indeed horse country; Maryland horse country is indeed an important economic driver in our state; and the Maryland horse industry is indeed an economic sector we need to preserve. Data like these make an impression on your representatives and on government officials and can help explain why horse issues are serious issues.

As a result, we owe a big thank you to each of you who took the survey – there is power in numbers and a “somebody else will do it” mindset sets the whole industry back. With that in mind, please take this opportunity to respond to the 2023 American Horse Council Economic Impact Survey. There will be a Maryland specific analysis of those survey data which will be exceptionally helpful to our work representing the industry in Annapolis and will also help each of you secure project funding and potential sponsorships. You can find the AHC survey links here: https://horsecouncil.org/economic-impact-study/

Our Respondents
Almost two-thirds (57.8%) of our respondents were boarding and lesson barns open to the public as opposed to private operations. Thirty-eight percent of the boarding operations are small businesses and board fewer than 5 horses. Twenty-two percent are large operations boarding 15 or more horses.

Of the lesson barns, almost half (46.6%) have more than 15 students and a little over a quarter (28.5%) have fewer than 5. Half of the lesson barns give lessons on both school-owned and privately-owned horses. A fifth of the barns use school horses only, and 23.6% give lessons to students on their own horses only.

A majority of our training barn respondents (63.5%) have fewer than 5 horses in training at any given time. A fifth of them (20.3%) have 5-10 horses at any given time. Nine-and-a-half percent have between 11 and 15 horses in training, and 6.8% are large operations with 15 or more horses in training at any given time.

Our Disciplines
Across the state, more of our stables cater to show hunters or eventing than any other discipline. Almost a third (29.8%) of our respondents said they were show hunter barns (48), and about another third (28%) said they were eventing barns (45).

About a fifth (21.7%) of our respondents identified themselves as field Hunters/foxchasing barns (35). Another fifth of our respondents (20.5%) cater to equitation with an identical number catering to classical dressage.

Fifteen percent of our respondents focus specifically on show jumping. About 14% of barns offer hunter paces/paper chases (22), and just over 11% of our barns said they are pony clubs (18).
Smaller percentages of our respondents cater to the following: judged trail riding (9.3%); 4-H (6.2%); Pleasure driving (6.2%); Thoroughbred flat racing (6.2%); and working equitation (5.6%).

The amazing variety of equestrian experiences available in Maryland is demonstrated by our respondents who cater to these disciplines: gymkhana (4.3%); steeplechases and point-to-points (3.7%); Western dressage (3.7%); endurance (3%); mounted archery (2.5%); para-equestrian (2.5%); ranch riding (2.5%); Western show (2.5%); western speed (2.5%); combined driving (1.8%); reining (1.8%); rodeo (1.8%); cowboy mounted shooting (1.3%); jousting (1.3%); saddle seat (1.3%); vaulting (1.3%); polo (1.3%); pony racing (.62%), polocrosse (.62%), and gaited dressage (.62%).

Our Geographic Distribution
While every county in Maryland is a horse county, the counties with the highest percentage of respondents were, not surprisingly, the counties with the highest density of horses. Montgomery County residents accounted for 16.1% of the respondents, followed by Howard County (14.9%), Anne Arundel County (11.2%), and Frederick County (9.3%). Just below 9 percent of the respondents were from Baltimore County, Carroll County, Harford County, and Prince George’s County, each accounting for 7.5% of the respondents.

Eventing was the most popular discipline among barns in Montgomery County – a full 50 percent of the respondents said they cater to that discipline. A third of the Montgomery County respondents (34.6%) cater to show hunters, 31.% cater to show jumpers, and 23% picked equitation. Just under a fifth (19.7%) selected each field hunter/foxchasing, and another fifth (19.7%) selected classical dressage.

Over a third of our Howard County respondents focus on show hunters (37.5%), while 30% of them focus on equitation, eventing, or field hunter/foxchasing. In Anne Arundel, 41% of the respondents cater to eventing and 35% focus on show hunters (35%). A third of the Frederick County respondents focus on eventing.
More of our Baltimore County respondents cater to field hunters/foxchasing and hunter pacing (35% each) than any other discipline. Fifty percent of our Harford County respondents said they are show hunter barns. A third of our Carroll County respondents (33.33%) cater to show jumping.

In Southern Maryland, Calvert County accounted for 3.1% of the respondents, St. Mary’s County for 1.9%, and Charles County for 1.2%. The most frequently selected discipline was a tie – between equitation (40%) and show hunters (40%).

In Western Maryland, Washington County had the most respondents (2.5%) while Garrett County represented .6% of the respondents. Sixty percent of the respondents in Western Maryland said they cater to the Western disciplines: reining, ranch riding, Western/Cowboy Dressage, and Western Show.

On the Eastern Shore, Worcester County was the most represented with 3.1% of the responses, followed by Cecil County (1.9%), Talbot County (1.9%), and Kent County (1.2%). Each of Caroline, Dorchester, Queen Anne, Somerset, and Wicomico counties represented 0.06% of the survey respondents. The most frequently selected discipline on the Eastern Shore was a tie between eventing (40% of respondents) and show hunters (40%).

Our Breeders
Of our 36 respondents who are breeders, more of them (16%) breed Hanoverians than any other breed. Of the rest, 13.8% breed Thoroughbreds, 8.3% breed Morgans, 8.3% breed Warmbloods, 5.5% breed Irish Sport Horses, 5.5% breed Holsteiners, 5.5% breed Welsh Ponies, and 5.5% breed Highland Ponies. We also had one respondent for each of Andalusians, Carolina Marsh Tackies, Clydesdales, Draft Crosses, Friesians, Iberians, Oldenburgs, Paints, Percherons, Quarter Horses, and Trakheners.

Our Clinics and Competitions
An impressive 37.9% or our respondents offer clinics, including with outside trainers, to their boarders and students as well as to those wishing to trailer in. Another 18.6% host schooling competitions on their properties. And 7.5% of our stables undertake that substantial additional expense and effort to host licensed or sanctioned competitions.

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The depth and strength of our sport horse barns are impressive when one considers that the number of properties suitable for boarding, training, and competition is dwindling. That is why we encouraged Howard County to repair the drainage and fix the footing at Schooley Mill Park. That is why we are encouraging Anne Arundel County to restore equestrian access to the Bacon Ridge trail system. That is why we encourage DNR to keep equestrian trail safety in mind, and why our members volunteer at venues and in the parks.

Preserving our opportunities, especially opportunities for equestrian participants in more suburban areas, requires vigilance. As one respondent said: “My farm is too small for clinics and competitions. We need public facilities available to rent for clubs and groups to use. Keep Bowie racetrack for these types of equestrian sport use as a ‘stadium’ use.”

That is certainly a project we can all work on together.