- The Washington Times - Monday, May 23, 2005

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — State officials are seeking a site to build a first-class venue for national and international equestrian events, modeled on the 1,200-acre Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.

That park pumped nearly $164 million into Kentucky’s economy in 2003 and annually draws about 900,000 visitors to its big horse show, its museum and its campground.

The Maryland Horse Park would sit on at least 500 acres. The complex would include a 5,000-seat arena, an outdoor amphitheater for competitions, up to 1,200 horse stalls, even a museum celebrating the history and traditions of horses in the state and perhaps a retirement home for famous racehorses.

?Essentially it’s a Disneyland for horses,? Rob Burk, executive director of the Maryland Horse Industry Board, told the Baltimore Sun.

In Maryland, 60 percent of horses are used for recreation and sports, according to the 2002 Maryland Equine Census, and horse enthusiasts say that segment is growing quickly.

Horse people spend a lot: on saddles and other equipment, food and medical care, big cars and then trailers to haul their animals to and from competitions.

?There’s a lot of money in horses, and people who show spend a considerable amount of money just in animals alone,? said Jackie Rosenthal, president of the Amateur Jousting Club of Maryland.

?It’s big bucks that are spent. They buy top-of-the-line animals. They employ trainers. They employ farriers.?

The Maryland Stadium Authority began asking for proposals for the project this month after several other state agencies embraced the idea.

The state is looking for a tract between 500 and 1,200 acres close to a major highway. Cecil and Harford counties, as well as Annapolis, have expressed interest in being the park’s home.

The state is spending $250,000 to look for a site and to do a feasibility study. Officials won’t say how much such a facility would cost. Building it would require General Assembly approval.

The Maryland Stadium Authority hopes to get a bond measure before the legislature next year and start design that July.

?The project will be an economic development tool for the state,? said Alison L. Asti, the Stadium Authority’s executive director. ?It’s economics. It’s open space. And it’s preserving the horse industry.

?Maryland has as much history in the horse industry as any other state, and we’re proud of it.?

For all the things the horse park is expected to be, it will not be a parlor for slot machines, which Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has pushed to help the racing industry and to keep dollars from flowing out to surrounding states that allow such gambling.

?It won’t be a racetrack, and it wouldn’t be a slots location or anything like that,? Mr. Burk said. ?This is completely unrelated.?

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, who has been critical of the governor’s approach to slots, said he supports the horse park idea.

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