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From the Sustain Your Horse Parks Series

By Jennifer M. Keeler

Every weekend across the United States, equestrians gather at a variety of facilities for a show or event in their favorite discipline. But beyond the trophies and ribbons, many horse lovers may not consider the importance these public and private venues have in ensuring places are available for training and competition. What is most important regardless of how they are structured and managed, every equestrian has a stake in helping ensure their future.  “Without the active involvement of equestrians speaking up for these special places, and supporting them with their time, talent and treasure, these beautiful and vital competition venues may be lost forever,” notes Deb Balliet, CEO of the Equine Land Conservation Resource.  In this issue of The Resource and on our website, ELCR is profiling several horse parks around the country which demonstrate various organizational structures, community involvement, and efforts to ensure places are available for equine use. 

masterson sign credit Deb Balliet

Photo credit: Deb Balliet

Masterson Station Park, located in Lexington, KY, encompasses more than 650 acres of rolling Bluegrass land and is a rare example of land conservation for equestrian use.  Originally housing a federally-run center for the treatment of citizens addicted to narcotic drugs, in 1974 a portion of the land was transferred to the local government for recreational use, a gift which was given with the requirement that the land always be used for public open space.

Today, Masterson Station Park is a shining example of how equestrians, urban citizens, and city government can mutually benefit from a cooperative relationship.  Owned and operated by the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, the facility is located less than five miles from the city center.  Although increasingly surrounded by housing developments over the last two decades, Masterson serves as an oasis in the growing urban sprawl with amenities to enjoy for all local citizens, including a dog park, picnic shelters, playgrounds, hiking/bicycling trails, soccer fields, and is home to the annual Lexington Lions Bluegrass Fair.  In addition, Masterson includes expansive horse facilities, including an indoor and outdoor riding arena complex, stabling, cross-country course, and hundreds of acres of open riding space that is available to the public at little or no charge.  A variety of events and clinics for all disciplines are held throughout the year, and the park also features an equestrian program which introduces the public to the fundamentals of riding as well as general horsemanship.

Helping make the coexistence of urban living and equestrian lifestyle a success is the Masterson Equestrian Trust Foundation (MET).  Established in 2004 as a non-profit foundation dedicated to the preservation of Masterson Station Park and to the improvement and enhancement of facilities and services available equestrian public, the MET works closely with city government’s Parks & Recreation Department to maintain facilities and support park activities.   Lexington’s Sally Lockhart is President of the MET Board and also serves on the Masterson Station Park Advisory Board, which includes representatives from various sports and users of the park who work together to advise the city as to what may be best for the future of the property.  “It’s wonderful that the city owns and supports this park, but they do have limited funding available for maintenance, and this is our biggest challenge,” says Lockhart.  “And being a multi-use facility, there’s always pressure for access to the limited park space.  We work to be fair to everyone, but at the same time we strive to protect the land we have for horses.  We stress to the city that there is a tremendous amount of income generated for the community by horse activities here, such as lodging, gas, and food.”

cross country at masterson credit Becky Young smaller

Photo credit: Becky Young

Lockhart believes that Masterson has a great advantage by being a multi-use public facility with a strong connection to the community.  Each year, thousands of citizens are exposed to equestrian activities at the park, whether it is Western trail riders passing by family reunions gathered under picnic shelters or eventers schooling cross-country fences next to soccer fields.  “The general public is not necessarily aware of the need to protect the land, but once they see it and enjoy it and get more interested they do realize that the space needs to be preserved for equestrian use,” Lockhart explains.  “And if they decide to pursue learning more about horses, Masterson’s equestrian program is on-site to help nurture that interest.”

However, no amount of public exposure can replace the active involvement of equestrians themselves in helping to preserve facilities like Masterson.  With municipal resources being limited, the MET takes an active role in organizing volunteer activities which engage area horsemen and women to take a hands-on approach to help keep Masterson’s equine facilities in top-notch shape.  These annual “workdays” are led by board members and supported by local volunteers, who help to paint cross country fences, trim hedges, weed planters, and build new jumps.  “The city no longer has the manpower to do the ‘extras’,” notes Lockhart, “so it is up to those of us who ride here to help with the minor maintenance and cleanliness, so that people from around the region continue to have this wonderful, publicly available, riding place.”

Central Kentucky horse lovers consider themselves lucky to have a resource like Masterson Station Park available to them, and the facility’s popularity demonstrates how equestrians can become involved in preserving these horse-friendly spaces and ultimately give back to their entire community.  “Horse lovers need to support these parks in any way they can, whether it’s by attending shows, volunteering, or donating,” explains Lockhart.  “Some of our biggest supporters are from outside Lexington because they don’t have a place like this at home, and they really appreciate it.  Sometimes it’s easy to take what’s readily available in your backyard for granted.”