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Towson

Riding high: Maryland Horse Breeders Association farm tour highlights group’s 90th birthday

Cricket Goodall’s love of horses shined through at an early age — and still sparkles today.

Growing up in Ruxton, she began riding as a 10-year-old with Evelyn Shade, who taught riding at a property near the corner of Bellona Avenue and Rolandvue Road.

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“That’s when I got the bug,” Goodall said, noting that she also rode at Bacon Hall Farm on Cold Bottom Road in Sparks and other local sites before riding at Foxcroft School in Virginia during her high school years.

After returning to Baltimore, she began her career helping to prepare horse auction sales, then handling a variety of tasks at Pimlico and Timonium racetracks.

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The Butler resident was subsequently hired as an assistant to the executive director of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association in 1986 and helped to coordinate the inaugural Maryland Million Day, which is held annually in the fall at Laurel Park for entrants conceived in Maryland by a nominated stallion.

For the past 16 years, she has been the executive director of the MHBA, a Towson-based organization that will celebrate its 90th birthday this spring by giving a present to those who want to learn more about the horse industry in the state.

The gift, a free tour of local horse farms, will be available for any and all interested parties to visit select farms in Baltimore, Cecil, Harford, Carroll and Frederick counties on May 11, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The closest tour destinations to the Baltimore area will be GreenMount Farm in Reisterstown, Merryland Farm in Hydes, Sagamore Farm in Glyndon and Willowdale Farm in Butler, the latter of which is owned by Loyola High School alumnus Michael Harrison.

Like Goodall, Harrison has had a lifelong relationship with the horses and the horse breeding industry, considering that he moved with his family to 188-acre Willowdale Farm in 1962 when it was an even larger property.

This spring, as the president of the MHBA board of directors, a busy veterinarian and owner of a working farm in the middle of its most productive time of the year foaling “about 20” mares, Harrison is practically consumed with the animals he loves and the way of life they afford those who attend to them.

And the typically large properties required for horse farms have another benefit: saving the land from development, he said.

“We need to preserve our agricultural land,” Harrison said. “And breeding and raising horses are a big part of that. Plus, the horse industry has a huge economic impact on the state.” Estimates put the economic impact at $2.1 billion.

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With approximately 88,000 of the state’s 705,000 agricultural acres having already been preserved in perpetuity for equine activity, there are positive environmental impacts on the Chesapeake Bay Watershed area to consider, Goodall said.

“The horse industry is one of the largest components of the agricultural industry in the state,” Goodall said. “Preserved land is the second-best filter (to forests) for the bay. And farmers and horse farm owners are great caretakers of the land. Horse farming is good for Maryland and good for the bay.”

At this time year especially, days begin early — or really anytime mares are giving birth during the foaling season, which runs from mid-February until late June or so.

That’s when all members of the farm’s staff drop what they’re doing to make sure the birth happens with as few complications as possible.

Thanks to the latest technology, most of a farm’s staff will be alerted to an impending birth by a device attached to the mare.

“A lot of people associate what they consider to be bad things from horse racing, like gambling, with what we do,” said Sabrina Moore, part owner and manager of GreenMount Farm, which her grandfather bought in 2007. “But we sacrifice a lot for these horses, caring for them and doing everything we can for them. We live and breathe horses.”

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Moore said that one time when she and her boyfriend, two-time Maryland Hunt Cup champion rider Eric Poretz, were vacationing in Mexico, they were more anxious to get back to their horses rather than spending more time on a beach.

Harrison and Moore said they are looking forward to showing some of the more than 500 people who have registered for the MHBA tour what a working farm looks like in the middle of foaling season.

Visitors will be able to watch mares and foals romping on the rolling hills or view horses feeding in their stalls.

Bonita Farm, Murmer Farm and Country Life Farm, all in Harford County, which are also part of the tour, are also relatively close destinations for those inclined to visit, as is Carroll County’s Shamrock Farm in Woodbine.

Horse sense

The MHBA, which has been located on the Goucher College campus since December 2016 after a 20-year stint on Padonia Road, “exists to encourage, promote, protect and improve the horse breeding industry in Maryland,” according to the organization’s strategic planning paper published in 2017.

Its approximately 500 members include owners, breeders, people from related industries and just plain-old aficionados of the more than 100,000 horses in the state.

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The MHBA endorses all sports related to the use of horses, including steeplechase and flat-track racing, therapy programs, events, rodeos, polo and fox chasing, among 35 such disciplines in a state that boasts 16,000 horse farms and stables.

Since its inception in 1929, a key MHBA function is to register Maryland-bred thoroughbreds in order to determine eligibility for state-bred races and bonuses.

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In addition, the organization publishes the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred, a magazine with a distribution of between 10,000 and 11,000 copies per month.

Goodall, who was hired by the board of directors, is charged with carrying out its directives and implementing its programs, such as managing the Jim McKay Maryland Million Day, running an annual yearling show and advocating for the industry.

Although she is quick to point out that she is not a registered lobbyist, she will meet with legislators in Annapolis when the need arises, which is “a critical function that is vital to the future of thoroughbred and standardbred horses as the only organization representing the entire industry” in the state, according to the strategic planning paper.

With so much depending on breeding and foaling, the good news is that the percentage of Maryland-bred horses is back on the rise after a precipitous drop in 2011 and 2012.

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The reason for the recent upswing is simple.

Since 2010, a portion of the money raised from slots at off-track casinos is being used to bolster race purses and bonuses that attract better horses, which Goodall calls “incentive funds” that encourage horse owners to race, raise, breed and buy locally and to lure owners from other states to do business in Maryland.

“We have a rich horse history in Maryland,” said Goodall, who has a staff of nine who help run an organization with a $1 million operating budget. “We have everything here a horse breeder or owner could want.”


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