(first appeared in the January 2015 issue of The Equiery)
by Ross Peddicord

Hardly a day goes by that the Maryland Horse Industry Board (MHIB) doesn’t get a call or email concerning the welfare of a horse or horses somewhere in our state.

Although all of Maryland’s 23 counties have some kind of animal control or humane society that is charged with protecting animals, none of them is horse specific, except MHIB, which is mandated by State law to look out for “the humane treatment of horses and safety of horse riders.”

Maryland is a horse legacy state, where the horse has been venerated and respected for nearly 400 years. Our state leads the way in helping to ensure that these animals that we care so much about are treated decently and humanely.

This respect and deep sense of caring led to the formation of the State Board of Inspection of Horse Riding Stables nearly 50 years ago. That program, once under the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (DLLR), has evolved into the current licensing system, operated by the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) and MHIB. Today, All stables which offer boarding, lessons, the rental of horses or which provide rescue or sanctuary operations must be licensed.

According to the 2010 Maryland Horse Census, conducted by MHIB in conjunction with the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, there are 16,000 places in Maryland where horses are kept. These range from large training establishments to the backyard owner with one or two horses. Most of these are privately owned farms or stables and/or are devoted to racing, which has its own licensing system operating under the auspices of the Maryland Racing Commission and DLLR.

MHIB currently licenses over 750 stables. These are the stables that we inspect and which are held accountable to State law.

All stables which offer boarding, lessons, the rental of horses or which provide rescue or sanctuary operations must be licensed.

Ensuring the Welfare of MD Horses
“At first, the impetus came from concern over the condition of some of the horses used in Baltimore City that pulled the produce wagons,” said Bev Raymond, long-time stable inspector (now retired) and current MHIB member. “Then that morphed into concern for the rental stables or what used to be called ‘hack stables’ or ‘riding academies.’ These were places where anyone from the public could pay a minimum fee and take a ride on a horse. This is how many folks were first introduced to horses.” [Editor’s note: this is how many people still are first introduced to horses, we just no longer use the term “hack stable.”]

But, as many folks still recall, there were many hack stables and the so-called riding academies were populated with a mixed bag of sour trail horses, broken down former racehorses, and animals one step away from being sent to the knackers. Not only was this dreadful for the horses, it gave the horse industry a bad name.

Everyone agreed: “someone” needed to look out for the care and welfare of these horses, as well as the reputation of the horse industry. In 1968, that “someone” became the State of Maryland. Interestingly, not only was Maryland the first state in the U.S. to require licensing, we are still the only state to require that these stables be licensed.

“Over the years, as our horse industry became more sophisticated, many of these stables closed and went out of business or turned into the current high quality lesson, trail riding and boarding barns that we know today,” Raymond said.

These stables still cater to the public, and when money changes hands, both the horse and consumer can benefit from a layer of oversight from a regulatory body that ensures that the minimum standard of care, as required by law, are being upheld by stable operators.

Today, Maryland’s modern licensed stables are showcase facilities that are among the finest in the world. This is evidenced by the number of top quality riders and horses that we produce out in all types of national and international competitions, from hunter/jumper, dressage, reining, mounted games and jousting, to name a few – or just the number of folks that they educate to keep and enjoy horses and make them part of their everyday lives.

Who must be licensed?
According to Maryland law, if you own or operate a stable and you board even one horse, or you give lessons, or you rent or lease horses, or you give guided trail rides or provide pony rides, or you provide carriage rides or carriage services, or you provide sanctuary or rescue services (with or without compensation), then you must be licensed.

What happens if you are not licensed?
According to Maryland law, as of July 2014, if you operate a stable that conducts any of the above activities (regardless if the business is for-profit or a not-for-profit), and you are not licensed, the penalties are as follows: 
• A minimum $500 fine
• Non-payment of fine will result in collection through the State Collections Office;
• Refusal to renew or failure to pass inspections may result in revocation of stable license and/or other civil penalties.

Individuals notified of non-compliance will have an opportunity for a hearing before the Maryland Horse Industry Board pursuant to the Maryland Administrative Law Act. Civil fine monetary penalties for non-compliance:
• 1st violation: not less than $500, not more than $1,000
• 2nd violation: not less than $1,000, not more than $1,500
• 3rd and subsequent violations: not less than $1,500, not more than $2,000

Good Housekeeping™ Seal of Approval
A license is a badge of honor, or, if you will, a Good Housekeeping ™ Seal of Approval. It shows that the operator is interested in your horse’s well-being by meeting state regulations regarding care of his/her (and your) animals; and that he/she cares about the safety of his/her customers.

A stable license demonstrates to clients and potential clients that the stable is a bona fide, responsible equine establishment abiding by regulations that have long been approved and upheld by their fellow horsemen and women, and that the stable operation is an upstanding member of Maryland’s horse community. A license establishes a level of trust and confidence with clients that the stable is fully licensed by the state, is subject to unannounced inspections, and abides by state laws. There are a growing number of people who will NOT do business with an unlicensed equine establishment.

Marketing Opportunities to Grow Your Business
In 2013, MHIB launched the first comprehensive Official Guide to Maryland’s Licensed Stables. An updated version is set to be published in Spring 2015. The guide is available for free, in print and online (www.mda.maryland.gov/horseboard). Stop by the Maryland Horse Industry Board booth at Horse World Expo to pick up a free copy!

Licensed stables are eligible to be a certified Horse Discovery Center. MHIB and the State of Maryland are developing a marketing program, that will work in conjunction with tourism, local school districts and more, to market Horse Discovery Centers as certified and approved “entry level” programs for people new to horses. Horse Discovery Centers are not just facilities that provide lessons or guided trail rides. Some provide unique “equine experience” programs that do not actually involve riding.

These are stables committed to educating the general public about horses in a knowledgeable and friendly way, to give newcomers and re-entry folks positive first experiences with horses, and to serve as distribution and referral outlets for horse industry programs and materials. The program is just getting under way and is developing plans to be incorporated into MDA’s “Farm To School” program, which would include an equine component in the state school system’s agricultural education programs. But to be eligible to participate in this business-building program, stables must first be licensed!

Qualifying for $$$
By being licensed, stables could be eligible for certain local, state and federal cost-sharing programs to improve their facilities and for annual grants by MHIB.

To Learn More
During 2015 Horse World Expo, there will be two seminars devoted to the new Horse Discovery Center program: one on Friday, Jan. 16, at 3 p.m. in the Cow Palace (sponsored by The Equiery) and one on Saturday, Jan. 17, presented by MHIB member Kathleen Tabor at 1 p.m. Ms. Tabor will also conduct a program devoted to the MHIB licensing program on Sunday, Jan. 18, at noon.

Myths & Facts About Licensing

MYTH: I only board one or two horses for friends–do I don’t need a license, right? WRONG
FACT: If you accept a board payment for even one horse, you must be licensed.

MYTH: But I am not really making any money; the board just helps to offset costs, so I am not really a business, so I don’t need a license, right? WRONG
FACT: If you are accepting payment in exchange for goods or services, you are engaged in an act of commerce, and the law can regulate that. So even if your boarding business is not profitable, it must still be licensed.

MYTH: But I am private, and I don’t want my contact information to be listed on any website or in any printed publication as a boarding stable. I only want friends keeping their horses at my barn, so I don’t need to be licensed, right? WRONG
FACT: You still have to be licensed, but you can opt out of being publically listed.

MYTH: I am not a boarding stable; I only take horses in for training. So I don’t need to be licensed, right? WRONG
FACT: If the horse is residing on property you manage or control, you need a license.

MYTH: I only provide pony rides, and not on my own property. So I don’t need to be licensed, right? WRONG
FACT: If you are providing a horse, pony, mule or donkey to the general public for a riding lesson, for a guided trail ride, or for a pony ride, you need to be licensed.

MYTH: I am a non-profit and I only rescue horses, so I don’t need to be licensed, right? WRONG
FACT: A non-profit horse rescue that accepts donations (of money or of goods) is still a horse business, and still must be licensed.

Ross Peddicord is the executive director of the Maryland Horse Industry Board. In his prior lives, he was an award winning race writer for The Baltimore Sun, a regular contributor to The Equiery, and the one-time publisher of the erstwhile Maryland Life magazine.