Thanks to the recent Kentucky Derby and Saturday's Preakness, nearly all the talk about horses in recent weeks centered on Thoroughbreds.
But, according to some Carroll County stable owners, the economy has not been easy for horse lovers in the last few years.
Still, they agree, the passion is there and things are looking brighter.
"There is a huge interest in horses," said Yonah Schulman, owner of Skyline Training Stables in Hampstead. "Carroll County still has some open spaces here not taken up by development. There are a lot of horses. A variety of different horses, too."
Schulman has offered lessons and training at Skyline for the last two years and had looked at other areas to purchase a farm before moving to Hampstead.
"To get what we have here, we would have had to double the amount," Schulman said. "I love Carroll County. There are plenty of places to go (ride)."
With her farm located near Piney Run Park, Elizabeth Patrick, owner of Waters Edge Farm, has plenty of opportunities to take her horses on rides through the park or nearby Morgan Run.
"Carroll County is very horse friendly and fairly affordable," Patrick said. "I love it."
At Waters Edge Farm, Patrick focuses on eventing — which requires horse and rider to compete in dressage, cross country and show jumping — as well as breeding.
In the past, she did boarding, but the economy put an end to that.
"For a lot of people in the area … it became unaffordable," Patrick said. "People had to sell their horses."
Patrick said it could cost up to $700 a month to board a horse.
For those who have their own barn, it still costs an average of $250 or more a month, according to Judy Reinke, owner of Misty Manor Riding Stables in Marriottsville.
She cited the cost of feed, veterinarian bills, farrier bills and farm upkeep as factors that can mean $3,000 or more a year in expenses.
"You have to love it. If you don't, you shouldn't be near a horse," Reinke said. "It is a whole lot of work. If you don't love them, you shouldn't be near them."
Reinke falls in the love category. She works hard to keep her business afloat by offering daily trail rides, boarding and lessons.
She also offers an animal rescue for those who can no longer keep their animals.
"There are seniors who want to keep their horse but can't feed it," Reinke said, "or, it is time for a horse to be put down, and they can't afford to do it."
This past winter was hard on many, as the cold weather and storms caused stables to go through their feed supply.
"For me personally, this past winter was hard," Schulman said. "Feed … was very expensive."
"This winter … I paid top dollar for good hay and straw," said Jim Steele, manager of Shamrock Farm, a thoroughbred breeding farm, in Woodbine. "The horse industry lives off of other income. The economy was in the dumps the last few years. There was an abundance of horses, but a lack of owners."
The tide is slowly turning, especially for racing, Steele said, with money from slots leading the way.
"When Maryland did not have slots and Pennsylvania did, it was like the Baltimore Colts," Steele said, referring to the exodus of Baltimore's previous NFL team. "All the mares went off in vans to Pennsylvania."
Now, with the income from slots and an improving economy, the industry is in need of more horses.
"In general, there is a need for sound race horses," Steele said.
Still, he said, he does not think the horse industry will ever be what it used to be.
"There is so much demand for people's time," Steele said. "Families are getting further and further away from the farm."
"There are so many things kids can get into. We're fighting against other interests," echoed Roxy Baldwin, owner and manager of Sweet Rock Stables in Manchester.
While Baldwin raises Morgan horses, Sweet Rock Stables also offers boarding, a youth group and hosts various horse shows, including a "Hunger Games" ride today — a trail ride with obstacles.
"We definitely see a rise in interest compared to what it has been the last two years," Baldwin said. "We're a little bit on the up."
Many farms offer leasing programs for horses or provide horses for lessons or shows.
But the Carroll County Western Circuit offers something for all types of horse riders. The diverse club for children and adults has English riding, jumping, hunting, barrel racing, pole racing, mini horses and more, according to Tammy Waddell, vice president of the club, which regularly hosts shows at Carroll County Equestrian Center.
The shows can have as many as 800 entries. The next one, scheduled for June 1, is the first of three that are on the schedule at the Mount Airy facility that month.
At the end of the season banquet, all youth receive a ribbon, no matter what their final score, said Waddell, on the reward for coming to shows and doing their best.
"Kids are our future," Waddell said. "We want to encourage them to come again and try again."
A person doesn't even have to ride to feel the benefits of a horse, some said.
"The teenage years are a tough time of life for anyone," Schulman said. "Coming from high school, some get to the barn in a bad mood. By the time they have the horse groomed, the equipment on and ready to ride, they are light-hearted and ready to ride."
"The best thing after a bad day is to walk in and put your arms around a horse," Waddell said. "The sense of security that comes from the animal, it's amazing."
"You meet a lot of good people in the horse world," Reinke said. "We need to keep Carroll County active. It brings in a lot of nice people and is a wonderful lifestyle."