Maryland’s newest heritage trail is just a hoofbeat away

Conni Leigh James

The De La Brooke Hunt Club maintains an equestrian tradition.

Since the first settlers set foot here in the early 1600s, horses have been a part of life in Southern Maryland. Hoofbeats Through History: The Southern Maryland Historic Horse Trail, the region’s new heritage trail, is a network of destinations highlighting the important role horses played in the area’s culture and heritage.

The project encompasses sites where the cavalry camped during the Civil War, stops along an early stagecoach route, and a path of the Pony Express, plus plantations and manor houses dating back to Colonial days, when horses pulled carriages and plowed fields.

Several sites exemplify Southern Maryland’s role in the thoroughbred racing industry, and others showcase Maryland’s state sport (jousting) and the long tradition of the fox chase. At several destinations, visitors can even examine centuries-old equine-related artifacts unearthed in the area.

The De La Brooke Hunt Club maintains an equestrian tradition.
The De La Brooke Hunt Club maintains an equestrian tradition.

The trail website includes descriptions, stories, photos, and directions for the key sites, online galleries of documents and articles, and an interactive map.


Only ghosts and stories remain

Bowie Racetrack was once a pioneer of winter horseracing and a destination for dignitaries and die-hard fans of the sport. Aside from a rare covered horse bridge that led from the stables to the track, only ghosts and stories remain.

Visitors, including dignitaries such as President Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover and celebrities such as Lorne Greene of Bonanza fame, made the guest list and added to its panache.

The “Sites and Stories” section of the Southern Maryland Historic Horse Trail website keeps these anecdotes alive, and serves as an archive for some of the interesting images and ephemera that remain.

Unlike Bowie Race Track, many of the sites along the trails are still in existence and open to visitors today. On May 2, 1692, the first royal governor of Maryland, Sir Lionel Copley, rode into St. Mary’s City upon his magnificent white horse, Draggon, to meet with the legislature for the first time. The moment is immortalized in a mural near the reconstructed Van Sweringen Council Chamber Inn on the grounds of Historic St. Mary’s City.

The first horse to arrive in the Maryland Colony (most likely from Virginia), disembarked here in the 1600s, the earliest of many to become a part of daily life in Lord Baltimore’s capital.

Today, Historic St. Mary’s City is a lively combination of exhibits, tours, costumed docents, and tucked-away places to discover and explore. The horse history here, including artifacts unearthed on the premises, is just a part of the overall charm for visitors of all ages.

With funding from the Maryland Horse Industry Board, the Southern Maryland Trail is the second regional trail to be completed as part of the board’s Maryland Historic Horse Trails project, a network of heritage trails across the state. Photos, anecdotes, and other historic information collected for this regional trail will become part of a statewide archive of equine history.


Horses still reign today

Horses continue to play a role in the region’s culture and heritage, and the website honors this role with a special section on horses today. The section contains a list of the area’s Horse Discovery Centers, carefully selected, licensed stables that welcome people of all ages and experience levels into their barns to learn about horses in a friendly and knowledgeable environment. It also lists horseback riding trails and a summary of active working horse farms, stables, and equine-related events that encourage visitors to enjoy some modern-day horse fun.

“The Southern Maryland Historic Horse Trail supports the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission’s ongoing mission to promote the horse industry in Southern Maryland, as well as all farms throughout the region,” said the commission’s Susan McQuilkin.

“We expect this newest Historic Horse Trail will draw visitors from across the state and beyond,” said the Horse Industry Board’s Ross Peddicord. “Maryland has this great horse history, going way back to the 1600s, and it was all just slipping away. The Historic Horse Trail is an attempt to document that history and make it easy for visitors to access it and enjoy it, and maybe introduce them to the active horse culture we have today.”

While the Southern Maryland Historic Horse Trail website is the key tool for navigating the trail, a new edition of “For Your Horse: The Southern Maryland Equine Guide,” due out this summer, will feature a summarized version of the trail, plus a directory of regional horse stables and other equine-related resources.


Learn more:

Southern Md. Agricultural Development Commission:


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