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Public Lands Increasingly Important as Competition Venues


Difficult Run jumping at Frying Pan Park credit Lee Rouse

Photo credit: Lee Rouse

Once upon a time, private farms hosted the premier competitions in the United States.  As large farms give way to development, public lands are playing an increasingly important role as venues for local, national and even international competitions.  These facilities are run by local parks authorities, state park systems and a range of federal agencies.  This article highlights a few models for competition venues on public lands.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ 5,613 acre Fair Hill Natural Resources Management area is home to the Fair Hill International three-star Three Day Event, the Foxcatcher Endurance Rides, and the Elk Creek Combined Driving Championship in October of each year.  These premier equestrian events are combined with a country fair and activities that engage the surrounding community as well as the competitors who travel from across the country to compete at Fair Hill.  In addition, the facility hosts more than 145 other recognized and unrecognized equine events throughout the year and offers regular cross country schooling days.  Fair Hill also offers training facilities for race horses and a turf course for flat and steeple chase racing.  Fair Hill is a multi-use facility, hosting canine events, Civil War reenactments, hiking, mountain biking and fishing.  The equestrian events at the facility are organized by independent groups working with the Department of Natural Resources to manage the impact the events have on the land.

Owned and operated by the City of Conyers, Georgia, The 1,400 acre Georgia International Horse Park was created to host the 1996 Olympic Games.  The facility boasts an outdoor arena with seating for 8,000 spectators and ten smaller outdoor rings.  The indoor arena seats 2,500 and the property is also home to a steeplechase field, a glen for polo matches and facilities for regional horse trials. The property hosts about 50 equestrian events a year as well as foot and cycling races, and canine events.  The park has continued to develop as a regional attraction and generate revenue by hosting a range of events like weddings and conferences in addition to the more traditional park-related gatherings.

Frying Pan Park credit Lee Rouse smaller

Photo credit: Lee Rouse

A partnership between the nonprofit Horse Lovers Management Corporation and the city of Phoenix, Arizona created a vibrant equestrian facility in the midst of rapid urban expansion.  The park provides space for casual riding and hosts a range of equestrian events, including hunter/jumper shows, youth events, and cutting and roping competitions.  The nonprofit operates the city-owned park, enabling continuing equestrian access and usage without requiring the county to acquire the expertise needed to successfully run a horse-focused facility.

In Virginia, Fairfax County’s Frying Farm Pan Park hosts horse shows, riding lessons and a therapeutic riding program.  In addition, the facility is home to a model farm, a day care and wildlife areas.  Frying Pan is home to horse shows, a 4-H program and provides an accessible, low-cost training venue for a range of disciplines.  The cross country course at the facility is maintained by a local pony club and the park is overseen by a group of committed volunteers, Friends of Frying Pan Park.

The Washington State Horse Park occupies 112 acres of gently sloping terrain.  The park is devoted to serving a range of disciplines and hosts large horse events as well as small-to-mediums sized shows.  The Washington Horse Park is the premier facility in the region for breed shows and discipline shows.  The facility hosts combined driving, three-day events, competitive trail riding, and western competitions.   The Horse Park also hosts informal activities like trail riding and back country packing.  The park is overseen by a volunteer committee made up of equestrians, community leaders and legislators.

Public parks will play an increasingly important role in the future of competitive equestrian sports.  As we rely more and more on public facilities to host our events, we will need to begin to organize around our need for shared space and to understand how these spaces are created and maintained.