The equestrian industry has an estimated $50 billion impact on the U.S. economy annually, according to Gitnux Marketdata Report 2023. The news is also positive in the rodeo ring. Each year, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) sanctions more than 650 rodeos across North America, and in 2022 the total payout to competitors was $50 million. It all bodes well for destinations that are continuing to invest in venues for horse-centric events.
Aiken, South Carolina
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 field and offers six all-weather rings and three schooling arenas, plus 624 permanent stalls. One of the South’s foremost equestrian venues is the Black Forest Equestrian Center, a 500-acre complex that includes 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.
Stable View, founded in 2010, hosts competitions ranging from schooling shows to USEA, USEF and USDF sanctioned events, horse shows and hunter trials. The property spans 1,000 acres and provides five arenas, two cross-country courses, plus stalls for 350-plus horses. The 74-acre Highlands Event Center boasts four all-weather rings, a grass jumper field, a derby field, a large open-air pavilion and four permanent stabling barns.
Polo is a huge draw in Aiken, too, and one of the main venues is Whitney Field, the oldest polo field in continuous use in the U.S. Another prime site is La Bourgogne Club de Polo, known for its grand polo events with the latest being 20-goal This event marks the first time in 20 years that such a match, typically hosted in larger locales, has been held in Aiken. Other polo settings include Winthrop Polo Field, Newbridge Polo & Country Club and Wagener Polo Club.
“I am truly amazed at what a city of 32,000 residents can offer,” says Eric Gordon, Tourism Manager, Visit Aiken. “Aiken has equine events year-round, including thoroughbred horse training on the 80-year-old Aiken Training Track. What is also fantastic is you do not have to be an equestrian to enjoy the lifestyle. All events are open to spectators and this adds a very unique offering to our area of South Carolina.”
Anderson, South Carolina
The T. Ed Garrison Arena and Expo Center at Clemson University is the largest livestock showcase facility in South Carolina. The main arena is enclosed and encompasses two acres and includes seating for 3,000 spectators. An additional 45,000-square-foot covered open-air arena serves as a second show ring or warm-up area. The complex also provides two all-weather outdoor rings and four barns with 440 permanent horse stalls. The 42,000-square-foot multi-purpose Cattle Complex covered area and 43,000-square-foot Expo Center are also on offer.
The broad array of competitions held in Anderson have included events for Saddlebred, Walking Horse and Paso Fino, roping, rodeo, bull riding, barrel racing, quarter horse, dressage/hunter/jumper and team penning and ranch sorting.
“Both youth and college shows are held here, as are summer youth camp and a state 4-H Horse Show,” says Marie Bolt, Director of Events, T. Ed Garrison Arena and Expo Center. “We host 20-plus equestrian and rodeo events per year and are in discussions to add a quarter horse circuit and cutting horse shows.”
Bolt adds that more than half of participants come from outside of a 50-mile radius, and horse events have drawn more than 50,000 visitors.
The Edmond Round Up Club, formed in 1938, is a key player in this city. The ERUC offers an Edmond Jr. Rodeo summer buckle series, and during Liberty Fest, hosts an IPRA (International Pro Rodeo Association) and Open Rodeo. The venue is also utilized for educational clinics that give outreach to 4-H and FFA members and other youth events.
ERUC features a large outdoor rodeo arena with lights, metal grandstands, a warm-up area, bucking chutes, rough stock pens, roping box, announcer stand, an office with pay window and two concession stands.
Sixteen rodeos are currently offered through the ERUC, and more may be added. The Liberty Fest IPRA and Open Rodeo host about 2,500 spectators. This two-night pro rodeo draws contestants from across the U.S. Meanwhile, the Edmond Jr. Rodeo often attracts more than 260 entries per night and 700 to 900 spectators.
“Edmond Round Up Club is the best-kept secret in Edmond and builds young equestrians,” notes Jennifer Thornton, Tourism Director, Visit Edmond.
Situated on 1,224 acres in Lexington, the Kentucky Horse Park is a year-round hub for equestrian competitions including hunter/jumper, eventing and dressage. The venue is owned and operated by the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and each year welcomes more than 500,000 visitors from around the globe. On offer are several arenas, with the two largest being the 7,000-seat outdoor Rolex Arena and the 5,500-seat indoor Alltech Arena. The facility also has 1,200 permanent stalls.
Signature events include the internationally renowned Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event, designated as one of the world’s premier 5-Star eventing competitions and attracting about 80,000 people. The National Horse Show is the oldest continually held horse show in the U.S. and takes place in late-October/early-November. Kentucky Horse Park also hosts the USEA American Eventing Championships, the US Dressage Finals, and BreyerFest, a celebration of Breyer horses that typically draws 30,000 attendees. On the rodeo side, the Park hosts Bulls, Bands & Barrels at the Alltech Arena.
“The Park attracts guests from all 50 states as well as internationally to compete,” says Lee Carter, President, Kentucky Horse Park. “It’s a fabulous venue and is open to everyone. We’re always looking to add events and other new things such as polo competitions, team roping and cutting events. We’ll continue to seek opportunities to grow and expand.”
Loudoun County has a rich equestrian history and the 1,000-acre Morven Park International Equestrian Center in Leesburg plays a key role. This premier competition venue provides three large outdoor arenas and one indoor arena, as well as an extensive cross-country course.
Morven Park hosts multiple disciplines such as hunter/jumper shows, dressage competitions and driving, as well as the Morven Park Spring Horse Trials and the Morven Park International & Fall Horse Trials. Events run all year; highlights are the Loudoun Hunt Point to Point and Middleburg Spring Races, Polo in the Park at Morven Park, the Virginia Fall Races and the International & Fall Horse Trials.
“We average 300 to 350 participants each at Spring Horse Trials and the Morven Park International & Fall Horse Trials, with approximately 60 percent of our participants originating out of state,” says Stacey Metcalfe, Executive Director/CEO, Westmoreland Davis Memorial Foundation/Morven Park. “In 2023, we are celebrating the milestone of 50 years of eventing at Morven Park. As one of six venues in the U.S. to hold a CCI4*-L competition, we invite competitors and spectators to enjoy the exciting, multi-phase discipline of eventing at all levels.”
“Not only do we have beautiful equestrian facilities that host some of the world’s top riders, but Loudoun boasts more than 15,000 horses in our rolling pastures,” says Beth Erickson, Visit Loudoun President & CEO. “Because of our rich equestrian history, with Middleburg, Virginia calling itself the Nation’s Horse and Hunt Capital, the Loudoun community understands the industry and truly welcomes horse enthusiasts and equestrian events year-round.”
Situated in North-Central Florida, Ocala/Marion County 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 World Equestrian Center-Ocala, considered to be the largest indoor-outdoor equestrian facility in the world.
WEC-Ocala offers two exposition centers and five climate-controlled indoor arenas with more than 700,000 square feet of flexible space. The 378-acre facility also includes 18 outdoor arenas, warm-up and lunging rings, plus 25 climate-controlled barns with 3,000 permanent stalls. Under construction are a sixth indoor arena and five additional outdoor rings for schooling and exhibition to serve FEI-level dressage exhibitors, along with a nearly 400-suite pet-friendly hotel, event center and outdoor shopping venue.
“We host USEF and FEI-level hunter/jumper and dressage shows, as well as Western shows and outside events that include all breeds and associations,” says Christy Baxter, Director of Equestrian Operations, WEC-Ocala.
Most recently, WEC-Ocala was chosen by the FEI as the only North American site of the Longines League of Nations qualifier for 2024 through 2027 (one of only four events in the world as part of the Longines League of Nations), to be held in March 2024 as part of the CSIO5* internationally rated competition week during the 2024 Winter Spectacular Show Series.
The venue is also hosting the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup-North American League for the 2024/25, 2025/26, 2026/27 and 2027/28 seasons. Eventing and polo are earmarked for future plans at the former Ocala Jockey Club property, now known as the World Equestrian Jockey Club.
Now celebrating its 40th anniversary, Fox Lea Farm in Venice, Florida, is a nationally recognized horse show venue with indoor and outdoor facilities. With more than 42 events annually, the economic impact of Fox Lea Farm makes it one of the top three contributors to Sarasota County.
The venue has hosted numerous USHJA Zone 4 Finals and produces 20 Grands Prix annually. Fox Lea Farm, an affiliate of the United States Hunter Jumper Association, also produces 12 National rated shows, eight Regional rated shows, and eight unrated hunter/jumper shows throughout the year. The Venice Equestrian Tour Hunter/Jumper Circuit has been running since 2016 and attracts horses and riders from throughout the U.S. and North America.
In fact, the 2023 Venice Equestrian Tour, a winner in the SDM Champions of Economic Impact awards program, experienced 40 percent growth from 2022 to 2023 and had a total economic impact exceeding $12 million.
“The Venice Equestrian Tour attracts Olympic riders all the way down to the local resident. It gives the average person a chance to meet celebrity riders, Olympic contenders and riders who have competed in the World Equestrian Games,” states Melissa Street, Administration and Sponsorship, Fox Lea Farm. “Each year, we attract more and more locals who enjoy bringing their families from out of state to experience a front row seat to a world-class event.”
The historic Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration Grounds in Shelbyville is a 100-plus-acre site with seven event venues, 45 barns and 1,100 horse stalls. It hosts the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, an 11-night Walking Horse World Grand Championship event that had 116,000 ticket sales this year and welcomed fans from more than 40 states. The competition had an estimated $38 million impact on the local economy.
The Celebration’s three premier venues are the Celebration Arena, Copper Steel Arena and Champions Arena. The 30,000-seat outdoor Celebration Arena features more than 45,000 square feet of field area along with a track and a permanent center ring. The Copper Steel Arena, a heated and ventilated indoor facility, has an interior volume of 125,000 square feet and a total capacity of 7,000 spectators. Champions Arena is a large covered and lighted stadium that can accommodate daytime and evening events.
“We currently host more than 20 equestrian events per year and we’d like to expand,” says Warren Wells, CEO of Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration. “At the Celebration, we are excited about our future. We recently worked with Kiser Arena Specialist to replace all of our footing in the Cooper Steel Arena and Champions Arena. We are currently undergoing a multi-million-dollar renovation that includes renovated bathrooms, a new façade and renovated bathhouses for our three RV parks.” SDM