The Million Acre Horse Park
January 15, 2015
If you were to ask your fellow equestrian what the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup have to do with developing a horse park, they would probably be at a loss for words or respond with a blank, and confused, stare. However, the State of Maryland has embraced a horse park development strategy that was born from Populous’ innovation in developing bids for these international events – and in the process are changing the way cities and states make use of their horse parks.
The conventional vision of a horse park is a conglomeration of facilities required to support the sport and recreation needs of many equine breeds and disciplines. We have developed many of these projects around the world on sites ranging from 120 to 2,000 acres in size and with an amazing array of facilities and capabilities. In most cases, these single-locale horse parks are needed to provide a central assembly of venues capable of serving both geographically widespread users with diverse needs and to host regional, national and international events where existing public facilities are not capable.
While creating a horse park development plan for the State of Maryland , we were given complete freedom to rethink what a horse park is and how a horse park would fit into the complex fabric of the Maryland equine industry. The region is unique in that it has a remarkably diverse and active equine industry, from polo and foxhunting to steeplechase and jousting (which happens to be the state sport), and everything in between. The region is also fairly evenly blanketed with equine activities and both public and private venues that serve the industry, some of which already host international events. With this in mind, we assisted the State in authoring and adopting the following mission statement that encompasses their goals and long-term vision:
Develop Maryland’s equine infrastructure to maximize awareness, growth and economic value of the state’s horse industry.
This will be accomplished by:
1. Improving and maximizing utilization of public venues with existing equine facilities
2. Programing the public facilities to complement privately-owned equestrian facilities and the broad interests of the state’s horse community
3. Co-branding of the public and interested private facilities to provide a uniform image and experience
In taking a step back and observing the environment in which we were to plan and design a horse park, we quickly realized that the notion of a single, central conglomeration of facilities would not achieve the mission and may actually damage the industry we are tasked with supporting and growing. Instead, we developed a strategy in many ways similar to the way our Populous event group approaches international Olympic and FIFA bids. In assembling these bids, it is not unusual to spread out the venues in a region, or even an entire country, in order to achieve more widespread participation, development and economic impact.
The Maryland Horse Park system development plan, which is currently being finalized, aligns closely with this proven strategy. Following an objective process, we have selected three existing core public venues spread across the state to fulfill the requirements of international-caliber field, horse show/exposition and education/culture/experience venues. For each of these venues, we have prepared strategic re-investment plans designed to maximize event activity, revenue generation and economic impact across the state. Secondary public and private venues will be considered for re-investment once the primary venues are completed.
At the same time, the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s Horse Industry Board has begun the process of certifying and branding privately-owned horse experience centers (equestrian centers and riding stables) across the state and has launched a new PR campaign with the slogan “Find a Horse, Find a Friend.” This effort has been remarkably successful, with more than 55 certified experience centers and over 2,000 Facebook followers in the first six months.
Our preliminary economic feasibility of this development strategy is indicating that the capital investment in the Horse Park System will be less than half that of the single horse park concept explored by the state some eight years ago, with greater and more widespread incremental economic benefits to the state and the horse industry. Another added benefit of this strategy is much greater public exposure to equestrian pursuits and the prospect of long-term growth in the number of Maryland equestrians. By rethinking the traditional horse park experience, we have created an alternative that is both economically viable and maximizes the impact on the community and region.