Fresh air, lush grass and majestic horses await when 13 farms across central Maryland open their gates on May 11 to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association in true winning style — with a horse farm tour.
Willowdale, owned by Dr. Michael Harrison, the association’s president, is one farm that is part of the celebration. The farm covers 188 acres in Butler in Northern Baltimore County, or as some call it, Maryland’s horse country.
Along scenic Black Rock Road, Willowdale is home to a farmhouse, stables and acres of meadow encompassed by a blanched fence line, where Harrison boards, foals and raises horses for clients. It’s also home to beef cattle, garden crops from blueberries to asparagus, many dogs and a soon-to-open brewery.
East of Willowdale is Bonita Farm in Darlington. Spread over 400 acres, this thorough-bred operation sprawls across rolling green hills with 235 acres of pasture, a 5/8-mile dirt track, a half-mile turf course, steeplechase jumps, an indoor track and a turf course encircling the entire farm. Bonita was once the home of 1983 Preakness winner Deputed Testimony; he is now buried on the property. This farm is a tour must-see for race fans; stallions standing at Bonita are Alliance, Dortmund and Kobe’s Back.
In Carroll County, guests can visit the historical Shamrock Farm, established in 1948 by the late Art Rooney, former owner of the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers. Two adjacent farms were eventually purchased, increasing Shamrock’s size to roughly 640 acres. The farm encompasses a six-horse stallion barn with attached breeding shed, a foaling barn and numerous outbuildings and lush green pastures that stretch through the southwest corner of the county.
Development is not far away in nearby Mount Airy, Damascus and other once-quiet burgs. But this farm is an oasis — and another destination of interest to racing fans. When it came time to retire the stakes-winning colt, Christopher R, he came to Shamrock Farm.
According to Harrison, the tour is a way for the public to see thoroughbred breeding and racing farms firsthand. It is also a way to support agri-tourism by visiting agricultural businesses in the areas close to the farms. In Baltimore County, for example, Boordy Vineyards will have special wine tastings for tour goers; at Willowdale, Farmacy Brewing will offer guests their new microbrews.
In Maryland, farmers are allowed to produce their own brew provided that a percent-age of the crops raised on their farm are incorporated into their beer, Harrison says, adding “We’re excited for people to stop by and see it.”
The MHBA, founded in 1929, encourages and promotes the state’s horse breeding industry. It represents nearly 1,000 breeder-owner members, which include thoroughbred breeders, owners of racehorses, steeplechase and hunt enthusiasts and others involved in the industry, including equine therapists, who are becoming more established and popular.
A tour highlighting all of this is the perfect way to honor the occasion, Harrison says. “This is our 90th anniversary, so it’s a big deal.”
And, there is the fact that people love horses. “There is something special about horses that give people tremendous amounts of satisfaction and pleasure just by being around them and working with them,” Harrison says.
Horse farms open for the tour are in Baltimore, Harford, Frederick, Cecil and Carroll counties. For a complete list of farms, visit marylandthoroughbred.com. Tour hours are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.