Jane Seigler: From the Beaches to the Peaks: Maryland’s Horse Farms Flourish

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From its Atlantic beaches to the Appalachian peaks, Maryland offers a true wonderland for those who want to experience and appreciate its open spaces and beautiful landscapes. The Maryland horse industry is an important contributor to that aesthetic and environmental wealth, due to the 587,000 acres of land under the stewardship of horse owners and their farms - fully one quarter of Maryland’s agricultural land.

Our vast and beautiful Thoroughbred and Standardbred breeding farms easily come to mind when thinking along these lines. But there is another, perhaps less well-known, component of the industry that also contributes to the preservation of open space that benefits all Marylanders by keeping land in agricultural use, generating environmental benefits, preserving wildlife habitat and enhancing the viewshed. These are the small to medium sized lesson, boarding and training barns.

According to the Maryland Horse Industry Board, there are over 700 licensed lesson, boarding and rental stables, plus rescues and sanctuaries, located all over the state. (These are in addition to the hundreds of private farms where only the owner’s horses are kept.) The benefits these stables offer to the general public are very real, although often un- or under-appreciated.

Here are just a few:

  • Because lesson and boarding facilities rely on access to a large group of potential clients, they thrive in locations that are relatively close to populated areas, thereby preserving tracts of land (at private expense) that might otherwise fall to development as suburban areas spread ever outward from our cities.

  • Again, because of their proximity to suburban neighbors, these small to medium sized horse farms are usually very careful to preserve good neighborly relations, by maintaining the land and facilities in good condition, and by employing sound environmental practices.

  • Lesson and boarding farms provide their human clients with a wide range of social, emotional and psychological benefits, as anyone who has ever frequented one of these stables knows. These include: the chance to meet new people with similar interests, the chance to spend time in the outdoors enjoying fresh air and exercise, the chance to form bonds with one of nature’s most beautiful and entrancing animals to which humankind has been deeply attracted for thousands of years. These are real benefits that are increasingly hard to find for Maryland’s busy, hardworking families. As the former owner/operator of a large lesson, boarding and training facility in Montgomery County, I can attest to countless times that harried adults told me how their time on a horse was the best “de-stresser" they’d ever found; or occasions when parents told me how grateful they were for the impact the time at the barn had on their child. These “barn rats,” as they are affectionately called, spend every available hour at the barn (no hanging around at the mall for these kids), learning that no matter how hot, cold, or exhausted you are, the care of the horses comes first; learning to confront your fears, overcome your failures and build confidence; learning that you can’t throw a tantrum or be a bully and get your own way with a 1200 lb animal - that you have to find a way to communicate with the animal effectively but tactfully; learning how to interact respectfully with

people of all ages who share a common interest; and making friends that last a lifetime. Many of these parents told me that they had watched their child grow into a responsible, respectful, hardworking and confident adult, and they felt the the “barn time” was a big part of that.

It’s no secret that in the 21st century, more and more Marylanders are becoming increasingly removed from the land and the natural world. Horseback riding lesson and horse boarding barns offer an accessible portal back to that world. For that reason, Maryland’s horse farms - small, medium and large - are an invaluable and uniquely enhancing asset to Maryland’s quality of life.

 
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