Take in the Old Line State from horseback
One of the best ways to see Maryland is on horseback. At the Holly Ridge Farm in rural Willards, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, riding through a shaded trail with farm owner Anne Luke serves as both a lesson in basic horsemanship and a storytelling session. Luke is a local example of the horse industry leaders in Maryland: knowledgeable, passionate, and full of love for her horses, many of whom she has rescued.
“These are not old, tired, bored horses,” she says, carefully selecting each horse for its rider, then offering a rudimentary lesson in riding to small groups before they hit the trails. A circle or two around the indoor arena, and riders are ready to go.
The trails loop along the Pocomoke River and, in the woods, the temperature always feels cooler, even on a typical humid Maryland summer day. Pines and cypress trees ring the trail, and Luke offers riding tips as she goes along, also explaining horse behavior: why horses swat at flies; why they rarely fall, even on rocky trails; what a snort means; or why a rider doesn’t have to let her horse snatch a snack from a nearby tree.
Depending on your taste and your riding experience, Luke has riding packages with just about any theme, from a romantic riverside wine-and-dine to birthday parties. “We’ve even had a bachelorette party here,” said Luke.
For kids too young for trail riding, Luke offers an educational tour that allows young people to learn about the farm and visit with dogs, cats, and chickens that live there with the horses, plus a “hoof beats through history” segment that offers on an on-foot or on-horseback glimpse at the Maryland horse industry’s past.
In the summer, try a ride at dusk for a new view of the woods, or join a twilight wine and cheese ride. Come fall, there are rides themed off of the harvest moon, pumpkin carving, and even an applesauce ride featuring a traditional Delmarva apple cooking demonstration.
Finally, don’t overlook winter riding options, including a special holiday wreath-making ride, and snowy adventures on the trails.
For those who don’t like the cold, Holly Ridge offers a “Fit for Fun” winter program in its indoor arena.
About a half hour’s drive from Ocean City, Willards is a tiny farming community, and a great place to take a break from the beach. Try coffee or lunch at the Iron Horse Coffee House and Eatery on the corner of Market and Main streets. The restaurant opened in 2015 in a building that once was a train station, then a post office.
Maryland has 35 Horse Discovery Centers
Holly Ridge Farm has been designated a Horse Discovery Center, one of a network of 35 such centers in 16 Maryland counties.
The Maryland Horse Industry Board launched the network in 2015, selecting stables that welcome people of all ages and experience levels into their barns to learn about horses in a friendly and knowledgeable environment.
“We started the Horse Discovery Center network as a volunteer certification program for our licensed stables that are committed to educating the general public about horses. We want any citizen of Maryland to have access to horses in a friendly and knowledgeable environment,” said Ross Peddicord, director of the Horse Industry Board.
Visiting the Horse Discovery Centers website is a good way to find a stable that suits your sense of adventure.
From trail-riding centers to western riding operations, there are stables offering summer camps, English equitation, and Civil War reenactments. For those interested in horse rescue sites, the Days End Farm Horse Rescue in Woodbine is a moving place to watch the difference that a caring stable can make in a troubled horse’s life.
For the kids, visit Clark’s Elioak Farm in Clarksville, where a petting zoo rounds out a day on the farm for the little ones.
Maryland is horse-watching country
Home to Pimlico and the Preakness Stakes, and nearly 300 years of horse racing tradition for both thoroughbreds and standard breds, Maryland is a great state for horse racing fans.
Each year, the Preakness — the second jewel of the annual Triple Crown — brings horse racing fans into Baltimore from across the world to watch the famous flat thoroughbred race held on the third Saturday in May.
Another long-time horse racing venue in Maryland is Laurel Park, an American thoroughbred racetrack that opened in 1911. The track, just a little over a mile in circumference, is also the main home for the Maryland Million Classic, an American thoroughbred horse race held annually in October.
Steeplechase is an interesting spectator sport in Maryland. The season runs from March through May, with a concluding race in September.
Eleven of the races make up the Maryland Governor’s Cup Series, and the races are run on courses in large, wooded and hilly fields, ranging in length from 2 to 4 miles. Riders and horses jump over hedges or timber fences of varying heights.
Md. Horse Industry Board: mda.maryland.gov/horseboard