As the pandemic continues to ease, equestrian and rodeo athletes are eagerly getting back on their mounts, which is great news for destinations that host an ever-broadening array of horse-centric events and competitions.
On the equestrian side, US Equestrian reports that competition and participation made a big comeback in 2021. Last year there were 2,159 competitions with 79,221 members participating as riders, owners and/or trainers, up from 1,367 competitions and 61,896 members in 2020. In fact, US Equestrian’s membership jumped to 200,000 in 2021 (an all-time high) and revenues exceeded expectations and, in some cases, surpassed pre-pandemic levels.
In the rodeo ring, the news is also positive. According to industry estimates, more than 7,500 contestants compete for more than $30 million at 650 rodeos annually. Women’s barrel racing, sanctioned by the WRPA, has taken place at most of these rodeos. Moreover, professional rodeo ranks seventh in overall attendance for major sporting events, ahead of golf and tennis, with about 30 million fans. Enthusiasts also follow the action year-round on a variety of TV and cable networks as well as other media outlets.
Here is a roundup of top destinations that are willing and able to help event owners and organizers make any equestrian or rodeo event a galloping success.
Aiken, South Carolina
This locale is a magnet for equestrian events and several sites are equipped to handle the action. Nestled in the heart of Aiken’s historic district is Bruce’s Field at the Aiken Horse Park. The facility sits on 66 acres of grass fields and offers six all-weather rings and three schooling arenas, all featuring GGT Footing, 624 permanent stalls, and space for additional temporary stabling. One of the South’s foremost equestrian venues is the Black Forest Equestrian Center, a 500-acre complex that boasts 150 acres of large turnout paddocks, 350 acres of woods, miles of trails, plus a lighted and covered riding arena, an outdoor riding arena, a fenced training arena, jumping forest, and a cross country course.
Other options include the 74-acre Highlands Event Center that includes four all-weather rings, a grass jumper field, a derby field, a large open-air pavilion and four permanent stabling barns. And Stable View, founded in 2010, is one of the East Coast’s finest equestrian training facilities and hosts a variety of competitions ranging from schooling shows to USEA, USEF and USDF sanctioned events, horse shows and hunter trials.
Polo is also a huge draw in Aiken, having arrived in 1882, just six years after the game was introduced on this side of the Atlantic. One of the main venues is Whitney Field, the oldest polo field in continuous use in the U.S. Other polo settings include Winthrop Polo Field, Newbridge Polo & Country Club, and Wagener Polo Club.
“We seem to have equine events every day,” exclaims Eric Gordon, Tourism Manager, Visit Aiken. “Aiken is one of the only locations in the U.S. with two polo seasons, and there are two major steeplechase events. There are national and international competitions all year, along with shows and auctions.”
There’s no doubt that rodeo rules in Beaumont. The foremost venue is Ford Park Entertainment Complex, a 221-acre multi-purpose park that includes an 8,500-seat arena, exhibit hall, Ag barns, midway, pavilion and baseball fields. The arena boasts contiguous exhibit space available for rodeos, livestock shows, concerts, conventions and exhibitions, and includes production offices, dressing rooms, meeting rooms, a VIP Club, plus a party patio, concession stands and restrooms.
Recent key events held in Beaumont include the 2022 United Bull Riders Invitational Appreciation for Industry Professional Bull Riding, the PBR Smokeless Tobacco Challenger Tour, the American Brahman Breeders Association’s All-American National Junior Show, and the International Junior Brangus Breeders Association’s National Junior Brangus Show. The Cowboy Pro Rodeo Association also showcases many of the country’s top cowboys and cowgirls at the YMBL South Texas State Fair and Rodeo every year.
“The Ford Park Entertainment Complex is a home base for equine, livestock, bull riding, and rodeo events. It is also a favorite venue for youth sporting competitions, motocross, and monster truck events,” says Freddie Willard, Director of Sales, Beaumont CVB. “Ford Park has just what you need to host your overnight agriculture and livestock events. Contact the Beaumont CVB Convention Sales Staff to coordinate your overnight sleeping room needs as well as facilitate the booking of the venue.”
Maryland has more horses per square mile than any other state in America, according to the Maryland Horse Industry Board. It is therefore no surprise that the venues offered here are top-notch.
The sport of equestrian Eventing is showcased in Cecil County at the Fair Hill Special Event Zone, home of the MARS Maryland 5 Star presented by Brown Advisory, as well as the Fair Hill Races. It is the first equestrian center in the world to include a thoroughbred training center, a one-mile irrigated turf course for flat and jump racing, regulation competition arenas for show jumping and dressage, an international CC15* Eventing venue, 5,000 acres of public trails and fields, and more. The center runs six equestrian events annually and there are plans to add others to the roster.
Prince George’s County, meanwhile, offers The Prince George’s Equestrian Center & Showplace Arena (Home of the Washington International Horse Show CSI-W 5* presented by MARS Equestrian), which hosts professional and amateur events throughout the year. The facility is also home to the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo which celebrates Black cowboys and cowgirls and their contributions to traditional Western/Cowboy culture.
“Here at the Maryland Sports Commission, we are always working with our marketing collective, TEAM Maryland, as well as state government partner agencies, to identify new or existing events which have the potential to have a positive impact on Maryland both from an economic impact standpoint and in the lives of the residents who live here,” says Terrence Hasseltine, Executive Director, Maryland Sports.
Chester County, Pennsylvania
In the lush countryside of Philadelphia, Chester County’s Brandywine Valley has a rich history of equestrian traditions dating back to the nineteenth century. The region is part of the Main Line, a collection of affluent towns along the main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad, where wealthy families summered and a legacy of equine celebrations originated.
Chester County is home to a variety of equestrian facilities. The Willowdale Steeplechase, a world-class amphitheater-style 1.2-mile steeplechase course, features the only water jump in North America, and the venue will host the 30th running of the Willowdale Steeplechase in May 2023. The Devon Horse Show and Country Fair Grounds offers two outdoor arenas and five covered grandstands with seating for 3,000 spectators. It hosts a variety of events, including the fair itself, which is one of the oldest and largest outdoor multi-breed competitions in the United States.
Ludwig’s Corner Horse Show Grounds combines a country fair atmosphere with games, vendors and equine competitions at the annual Ludwig’s Corner Horse Show & Country Fair, while Plantation Field in Unionville hosts the Plantation Field International Horse Trials each September. Brandywine Polo Grounds, a 122-acre wooded property, is home to one of the oldest polo clubs on the East Coast.
“We welcome all types of new equestrian events to join some of the world’s most famous in the Brandywine Valley,” says Travis Geiser, Sports and Events Sales Manager for the Chester County CVB. “And we certainly have the facilities to accommodate! Non-equestrian events can utilize our equestrian facilities for adaptable multi-purpose space.” He adds, “Our diverse and historic equestrian venues provide a unique experience for both spectators and athletes. There is an amazing collaboration between the venues, local hotels, shops, attractions and restaurants that support each other.”
When it comes to hosting rodeo and equestrian events, Edmond doesn’t horse around. The premier venue is the Lazy E Arena that hosts more than 35 equestrian events in a typical year, most of which take place from March through November. The venue features a climate controlled Main Arena with a floor measuring 160’ x 440’, and the adjoining Reliance covered arena measures 150’ x 300’. The Main Arena provides one of the largest competition floor spaces in the nation and can seat 7,400. The Reliance Arena patio provides casual style seating and has hosted parties of up to 600. The property also boasts 584 permanent stalls, 770 RV hookups and the Roper’s Cantina.
“Edmond is a natural hub for equestrian events because of its proximity to Arcadia Lake, and we welcome all horse lovers,” says Jessica Johnson, Lazy E Arena’s director of events. “Most of the equestrian events held at the Lazy E are in the Western riding disciplines but it does host some English dressage and hunter-jumper events. The variety includes roping, versatility ranch horse, working cowhorse, trail inside and in the adjoining paddocks, penning, sorting, Western dressage, pleasure, barrel racing, mounted shooting and more.”
Johnson also notes that the facility can adapt the arena size to meet specific needs, allowing the promoter to determine the ideal size to host a particular discipline, and the staff is always open to include new events where the schedule permits.
Here in the Cowboy State, CAM-PLEX is the premier multi-use event facility, encompassing more than 1,000 acres. For rodeo events, CAM-PLEX offers Morningside Park, a 3,000-seat outdoor arena for rough stock and timed events, encircled by a 7/8-mile horseracing track. The East Pavilion provides a 52,500-square-foot indoor arena with bleacher seating for up to 1,375 people, and the Central Pavilion has a 42,000-square-foot open activity area with seating for up to 5,000 spectators. There is also the outdoor Wrangler Arena and the adjacent Little Levi Arena, as well as Barn 3 that can accommodate portable bleachers, panels and stalls.
CAM-PLEX hosts a variety of rodeo competitions including the 2021 National High School Finals Rodeo, which had 6,000 attendees and an estimated economic impact of $10 million. The event continued in 2022 and will also be held in 2023, as will the NRCA Finals Rodeo and the National Junior High School Finals Rodeo. The annual Energy Capital Junior Rodeo and the annual Little Levi Rodeo remain on the docket, too.
“Over 18 rodeo events are estimated to take place at CAM-PLEX each year and our staff prides itself on having year-round rodeo competition and entertainment,” says Keith Howard, Senior Sales Manager, CAM-PLEX Event Facility. “We have the expertise to produce high-quality events of almost any size and scope.”
Ocala/Marion County, situated in North- Central Florida, is internationally renowned as the “Horse Capital of the World,” and is home to more horses and ponies than any other county in the U.S. At the center of the action is the World Equestrian Center-Ocala, considered to be the largest indoor-outdoor equestrian facility in the world.
WEC-Ocala opened in January 2021 and offers two exposition centers and five climate-controlled arenas with more than 700,000 square feet of flexible indoor space. The 378-acre facility also includes 16 outdoor arenas with all-weather footing, warm-up and lunging rings, plus 25 climate-controlled barns that provide nearly 3,000 permanent stalls.
Of course, WEC-Ocala holds numerous events. “We host 36 of our own equestrian events that include hunter/jumper and dressage shows. We host outside events that include all breeds, associations and a myriad of disciplines,” says Candace FitzGerald, Director of Marketing, WEC-Ocala. “We are also the host for the National Collegiate Equestrian Association which features top collegiate athletes from around the country.” She also reports that there are plans to add eventing and polo at the Ocala Jockey Club property that WEC acquired in August 2021, and that facility, now known as the World Equestrian Jockey Club, will be renovated and rebranded in the future. SDM