For longer than the U.S. has been a nation, Marylanders have been horse people.
George Washington raced thoroughbred horses in Annapolis in the 1750s, 100 years after the animals were first introduced to the area. A statue of Casimir Pulaski, a Polish soldier who assisted in the founding of the American cavalry during the Revolutionary War, stands in Patterson Park. The Preakness Stakes has been run since 1875. In the 1900s, lifeguards patrolled the shores of Ocean City on horseback, looking for shipwrecks and lost swimmers.
To highlight the state's equine history, the Department of Agriculture's Horse Industry Board and the Maryland Historical Society have created a free 11-part history tour centered on the southern Eastern Shore. The original idea was for it to be statewide, but Angela Reynolds, a volunteer on the board's Horse History Committee, said the committee decided to start small with hopes of expanding into Baltimore and other areas around the state, based on the reception of the first 11-part section.
"I'm hoping for thousands," Reynolds said. "Within the horse industry in the state of Maryland, there are wonderful markets for us to go into."
The Historic Horse Trails, unveiled Sunday, begin on Assateague Island, one of the only places in the nation where people can view wild horses in their habitat. Tourists also can see the stables at Glen Riddle Farms, where renowned thoroughbreds Man O'War and War Admiral trained. The Ocean City Life-Saving Museum tells stories of horses used in beach rescues and the fishing industry. The steeds at the century-old Atlantic Hotel became known as "drummers" because businessmen often drummed up deals in their saddles.
"The history of horses in Maryland mirrors the history of the state," said Ross Peddicord, executive director of the Horse Industry Board.
The self-guided tours will soon be augmented by an interactive app that will provide additional information at each site. The trails sites are spread far enough that people could spend a whole summer seeing the various spots. Among the attractions are the Calvin B. Taylor House Museum, the Ocean Downs harness racing track, Rackliffe Plantation, Union Station, Wicomico Hunt Club, Pocomoke River State Park and Holly Ridge Farm.
Reynolds said each site she has approached has been excited to be added to the tour.
"There's been a tremendous interest level," she said.
The trails will serve as an inventory of the historic sites that remind people how important horses have been in the state, Peddicord said.
"This state is very unique and has this amazing horse history to it," he said. "We don't want to lose that."
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