Guest Blog: Ross Peddicord On Connecting the Equestrian Industry in Maryland
August 20, 2015
Ross Peddicord, as executive director of the Maryland Horse Industry Board, has a unique front seat to the evolution of the horse industry. As part of the Maryland Department of Agriculture, the board is one of the most interesting entities in the industry. It’s a public agency that was started to support and promote the use and development of horses in the state in a cohesive fashion. As such, Ross has been key to developing the equestrian industry in the state and connecting a network of stables, trails and commercial horse operations in what many see as a forward-looking approach to facilities in Maryland that could change how other states view.
Horses play a critical role in our history and in our future. To understand this fully, you have to understand our history. We have a series of horse trails and sites that date back to 1633, and by the early 1700’s, we already had more than 100 racetracks in the state. In fact, we were colonized by English gentry who brought race horses and sporting traditions with them. The very first horse race in America was run here, in Annapolis, in 1721 and at present, we have more horses per square mile than any other state. It’s remarkable when you realize how much of our state, culture, land and tradition was developed around horses.
The Maryland Horse Industry Board, therefore, is a completely unique entity with a very meaningful role. We were created in 1998 and focus our efforts on two main areas:
By regulatory, we mean the licensing of horses for trail rides and carriage rides. It’s astounding how many stables we have in our state… last year alone, we licensed 770 stables, more than one stable for every town or village in Maryland. We’re in constant contact with these folks, providing them opportunities for educational sessions and seminars on topics like business practices, and guiding them through the licensing process.
Our other main function is to promote awareness of and market the horse industry in the state. This is complex and there are many layers to what this looks like – some of which we are in the process of developing.
As we aim to promote the industry, we really get to be creative as we find ways to make the horse industry as interconnected and as thriving as ever. We’ve done this in a variety of ways:
- Interactive Map: We developed a horse club for kids and adults who want to ride, but aren’t sure where to go. As the industry and technology evolves, we knew we needed to have an interactive guide with all the stables available online so our community can easily look and find the type of stable they are looking for, the location of the stable and the opportunities available to them there to ride.
- Events and Activities: As another aspect of this, we understand that regular events and activities further connect people to the horses themselves. We’ve started with regular activities – such as meet and greets with the Clydesdales – that allow our residents to really learn and experience the power and majesty of horses.
- Horse Discovery Network: Another initiative, which I’m particularly proud of, is a Horse Discovery Network of volunteer stables, or stables that are welcoming to anyone, of any knowledge level, who want to know and spend time around horses. As a volunteer program, we have 35 stables in 15 counties. To promote this, we launched a scavenger hunt and had more than 300 people register, as each individual sought to visit the 35 stables and complete simple but educational tasks. For example, they did things like learn to put a halter on a horse and received prizes like summer camps for kids to regular riding lessons. Our winner drove 1,463 miles and really had a deep, personal understanding of the far reaching nature of the horse industry in our state in turn.
- Educational Opportunities: I’ve also encouraged that content be incorporated into our public school system. Through the Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation, we’ve developed curriculum for public schools and recruited a team of highly knowledgeable teachers who are certified Horse Discovery Teachers. It’s a big undertaking, but it’s one that will go a long way in connecting people and horses throughout the state.
At the end of the day, programs like those in our public schools, or our Horse Discovery Network, are a really unique aspect of my role. I’m able to watch, firsthand, as folks develop an affinity for horses and share with others the history and opportunities we see in modern society for integrating and educating others on horses.
Beyond educating, another important part of my role is to evaluate and provide perspective on our facilities, trails and sites. While there are plenty of opportunities for us to further develop these, most immediately, I see tremendous opportunity to connect those historic horse sites. By further developing 16 historic trails that range from paths down by the ocean to discovery centers, we can provide incredible places for people to explore equine history through self-guided site visits featuring educational information referencing locations where significant horse events took place. Eventually, we hope to have up to a dozen of these horse history self-guided car trails all over the state.
In addition, we continue to explore the idea of one, central horse park system, something we’ve studied with Populous’ help. We wanted to look at our horse park system in a much more complete, visionary way. We have many facilities, hundreds of stables and historic trails, so in many ways, it’s like an Olympic master plan in that we’re tying together a dozen venues spanning tens of thousands of acres and figuring out how to tell a bigger story. What has been interesting to see is that because of the efforts we have made to educate citizens on the value of horses in society, we’ve found overwhelming support for renovating and keeping these facilities up from legislative leaders and the public alike. Our community knows and understands why the horse industry flourishing is good for everyone.
As we look to the future, we think that the state of Maryland is in a unique position to shape how other states and regions approach their horse park systems and facilities. Our master plan, for example, which was completed by Populous in 2011, was read by folks across the world and became the impetus for a development in Inner Mongolia. We recognize that we can do something very special within the industry with our approach – that people are watching and listening. I couldn’t be more excited to share our heritage and passion with future generations through our facilities and programming.