When area residents talk about the need for a public equestrian center in Fairfax County, they're not horsing around. And now Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) has asked the county Park Authority to see if one could be built on Centreville's Hunter-Hacor property.
The county owns almost 1,800 acres near the intersection of Pleasant Valley and Braddock roads, and it's currently creating a master plan for this land. The 838-acre Hunter property is just northwest of Cox Farms, and the 208-acre Hacor parcel is an extension of the Cub Run Stream Valley.
Until last year, people wanting to rent horses and learn to ride could go to stables in both Great Falls and Centreville. When both closed, nothing existed to fill the vacuum — but that didn't stop the demand.
"When Bay Ridge Stables [87 acres on Bull Run Post Office Road] closed this summer, I got a bunch of letters and calls asking, 'Why doesn't the county have a [riding] facility?'" said Frey. "Bay Ridge was the only one that offered large-volume stabling and riding lessons in our area."
Then, at National Trails Day in June, he met a group of Oakton horse enthusiasts, plus a riding instructor from Great Falls, who asked him the same question. He now has the Park Authority investigating the possibility.
"It's still very conceptual — we'd have to determine demand, cost and opportunity," said Frey. "It certainly ties in with the stable uses on Bull Run Post Office Road and would let them [connect] the horse trails out there."
Although the county could consider building a facility itself, Frey said he'd prefer that it leased the operation and let a private entity build and run it. And because the county is already in the process of master-planning the Hunter-Hacor property, he said now's the time to find out if an equestrian center there is feasible. He hopes to get an answer in a couple months.
Toward that end, Lynn Tadlock, the Park Authority's director of Planning and Development, will discuss the matter this Thursday, Oct. 3, from 8-10 p.m., at the Great Falls Grange Hall, 9818 Georgetown Pike, with the Fairfax4Horses group. The public is welcome.
"We're certainly listening, but there's no commitment, at this point," said Park Authority spokeswoman Judy Pedersen. "We're also looking at some other existing facilities in surrounding communities to see what might be out there and what has possibilities."
Fairfax4Horses formed in May, after the two stables closed, and has close to 1,000 families, countywide, on its e-mail list. "Many are parents whose children want to ride, but have no place to do it," said spokeswoman Linda Byrne of Vienna. "Montgomery County has three public riding facilities and Fairfax County has none, so I really applaud Michael for putting this forward."
"Residential and commercial development is gobbling up equestrian lands," explained Fairfax4Horses member Renny Martin. "For those who do not own a horse, there is no public facility that offers lessons."
Without it, said fellow member Marcia House, a former riding instructor, children and adults are deprived of experiencing "the joyful companionship of a horse, or the self-confidence and personal growth that can result from learning to ride. Children with disabilities, as well as at-risk youth, have benefited from horseback riding."
Byrne said an equestrian facility would require 20 acres or more for just a small riding school with some 20 horses and a few boarders. But ideally, she said, 50-100 acres would be best. Then it could also contain stables with more horses, a dressage area, riding and jumping rings, a round pen, an indoor riding arena and cross-country courses.
Emmi Holmes, a member of the Clifton Horse Society, said having a nearby equestrian center would be great. "We need something like that out here," she said. "We need a lot more area for horses, in general — and, in particular, for young people and those new to riding — where they can take lessons that are affordable."
She said it's difficult for people to get private lessons, especially when they have no horses of their own. So if the county is thinking of filling this need, she said, "It would be wonderful." And she, too, would like the center to have its own stable and horses.
The Clifton Horse Society is comprised of 300-400 families, including residents of Clifton and Fairfax Station, as well as people outside the county and even out-of-state. Holmes said its members would "definitely" use an equestrian facility in Centreville. As it is, lots of them already ride on the trails in Bull Run Regional Park and in the Manassas National Battlefield Park.
"More and more people are coming out of the woodwork to join the cause," said Byrne. To best serve the several thousand people who'd use them, she said, equestrian centers are also needed in the Reston/Vienna and Lorton areas, as well as in Centreville. That way, said Byrne, "You keep people off the road and avoid congestion."