Maryland's rich equestrian heritage evokes a variety of traditions
Events run gamut from racing to jousting to show jumping
Maryland gallops into full stride with a rich equestrian culture on full display. The most visible tradition might be the Preakness Stakes, but horse enthusiasts can enjoy a wide offering of events and activities.
Steeplechase, dressage competitions, polo, and even jousting, all have strong identities in the state. And, for recreational equestrians, nothing beats a refreshing jaunt down one of Maryland's many riding trails. The Maryland Horse Industry Board and the publication, The Equiery, are great directories for rental stables and guided trail rides, riding and boarding stables, spectator events, summer riding programs, and equestrian-related associations.
Here are some of the highlights from around the state:
Marylanders love their horse racing and few tracks are as storied as Pimlico. The day before the middle jewel of the Triple Crown, is Black-Eyed Susan. This race for fillies dates back to 1919, and features the People's Pink Party in partnership with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure's Maryland affiliate.
Then it's on to the legendary Preakness Stakes, the race that shaped the legacies of champion horses like Seabiscuit. This year's event boasts fun-filled infield events featuring great live music.
Originating in the United Kingdom as a cross-country race from church steeple to church steeple, Maryland has enjoyed this exciting sport for more than 100 years. Expect plenty of tailgating at the annual Potomac Hunt Races in May. Gates open at 11 a.m. at the Kiplinger estate in Poolesville (Montgomery County) with activities begining at noon. Tickets are $30 and are available online.
The Fair Hill Races have been held on the 5,600-acre former estate of William duPont Jr. since 1934. This annual Elkton (Cecil County) race is the only U.S. steeplechase event with parimutuel betting, a wagering system in which payoffs are deteremined after the betting pool closes. General admission is $15 in advance, $20 at the gate.
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Traveling equine entertainment
Having played before European audiences during the past decade, Apassionata now tours North America, too. Directed by a Broadway creative team, it showcases more than 40 horses and equine stunts in a theatrical extravaganza. The show runs June 8-10 at the first Mariner Arena in Baltimore. Tickets are available online.
Horse trials and shows
Maryland Combined Training Association (MCTA) Horse Trials, May 5-6, Cockeysville (Baltimore County) – Held at Shawan Downs (Shawan and Falls roads), this nationally-recognized event – one of the oldest in the U.S. – marks its 40th anniversary this year. It features novice through advanced levels of competition that showcase endurance, dressage and jumping
Fair Hill Recognized Horse Trials, May, Elkton (Cecil County) – Held at Saw Mill Field by the county fairgrounds (off Route 273), this "triathlon for horses" is a competition that spans three phases: dressage; cross-country; and stadium jumping. (Dressage refers to a horse's capacity for precision moves and communication with the rider.) Admission is free. Approximately 200 horses, mainly from the mid-Atlantic region, compete in an event recognized by the U.S. Equestrian Federation. Olympic equestrians Phillip Dutton and Boyd Martin are expected to participate.
Capitol Polo Club, Poolesville (Montgomery County) – Located on nearly 600 acres in the Montgomery County Agricultural Reserve, the club has three full-sized polo fields, an outdoor and indoor arenas, and a grandstand. The Polo Academy offers a full range of instruction, and the Development League allows Academy graduates to continue their progress in learning how to play. Weekend matches are open the public.
Maryland Polo Club, Monkton (Harford County) – Games are held Fridays at 6 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m., starting June and running through the summer. The field is near Ladew Gardens. Tailgating is a popular way for visitors to watch the matches. This club was formed in 1972.
Over fifty years ago, in 1962, Maryland designated jousting as the state's official sport. Two upcoming tournaments on the Maryland Jousting Tournament Association schedule are: Double Header Joust, May 5 in Glen Arm (Baltimore County), and the Founder's Day Joust, in June, at the same location. Call 717-382-4589 for details.
Assateague Island National Seashore (Maryland portion in Worcester County) – Assateague's wild horses are descendants of domestic animals that have reverted to a wild state. Their ancestors are likely horses brought from the mainland to barrier islands such as Assateague in the late 1600s. It was a way for owners of these horses to avoid fencing laws and livestock taxation. Visitors to this scenic natural habitat, a short distance from Ocean City, should view these horses from a distance.
Belair Mansion and Stable Museum, Bowie (Prince George's County) – Built in 1907, the stable is where Belair Stud operated until 1957. Between 1923 and 1953, Belair Stud horses won 631 races. (Five of these horses are in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.) Samuel Ogle, a provincial governor or Maryland, established Belair Stud as an American Thoroughbred horse-racing stable and breeding farm in 1747. He is credited with introducing organized Thoroughbred racing in North America.
Days End Farm Horse Rescue (DEFHR), Woodbine (Howard County) – This nonprofit rescue and rehabilitation center shelters 50 to 70 horses at any given time. It has taken in more than 1,750 horses since its founding in 1989; 94 percent of those horses were eventually adopted and moved to permanent homes. DEFHR uses volunteer adult and youth trainers to help with the rehabilitation of horses on-site, and in some instances, off-site. Horses available for adoption are listed on the DEFHR web site.View more Insiders Guides