A curious collection of horse lovers gathered in Great Falls last week to brainstorm ways to keep horses and riding active in Fairfax County.
After a new organization known as Fairfax 4 Horses (F4H) called the meeting at the Grange, which drew a strong response from fox hunters, combined eventers, Pony Club members and parents, reining horse competitors, therapeutic horseback riding professionals, barrel racers, stadium jumpers, trail riders, Paso Fino enthusiasts, and people who love horses but don’t ride them.
“We were really pleased by the support we got,” said co-chair Beverly Dickerson of Oakton. “It confirmed there is a ground swell of need. Now seems to be the right time to tap into it.”
F4H wants county officials to establish at least one public facility for horseback-riding instruction and some boarding for horses.
“We’ve got to decide what it is we really want,” said Colleen Zanin, president of Lift Me Up, the therapeutic horseback riding service in Great Falls. “We’ve been trying for 27 years” to find a permanent location for its program, she said.
“There have been several candidate locations mentioned [for a teaching barn],” Dickerson said. “We’d like to meet with the Fairfax County Park Authority and the supervisors to talk about them and see if they are feasible,” Dickerson said.
Horseback riding as a sport and leisure activity took a major hit last year in Fairfax County, when residential development claimed land used by the Great Falls Horse Center and Bay Ridge stable in southwest Fairfax County.
Between the two, as many as 1,000 riding lessons were taught weekly, estimated Fairfax 4 Horses organizers.
IT WOULD TAKE THREE riding centers with a total of about 100 horses to supplant that resource in the county, they said. They would need to be distributed to be accessible to the clientele they serve.
MARCIA HOUSE, a former instructor at the Great Falls Horse Center, said she drives 300 miles a day to reach her horse, now stabled in Nokesville, and teach lessons in Loudoun and Prince William counties.
“More than 25 people have stopped to ask if they can come ride Rosie, or stop and give her a carrot,” said Mary Ann Clancey, who bought one of the horses that had lived at the Great Falls Horse Center.
Its closing took away the only “school horses” in the area that were available for lessons, she said. Now, “It’s BYOH: Bring your own horse,” she said.
Cathy Mayes of Great Falls said horses help children develop trust with an animal. “I loved seeing the kids relate to the horses” at the Horse Center, she said.
But now, even private lessons are hard to schedule in Great Falls, she said.
THOSE WHO TEACH, especially beginning riding, are deluged with requests. One stable could no longer keep a waiting list because it got too long, said one speaker.
Lynn Tadlock, who was the first manager of the Grange and is now director of park development for the county Park Authority, described the process that establishes and develops parks. “No one person can whistle a symphony,” she said. “It takes an orchestra.”
She said open parkland is being developed at the Lorton site in southern Fairfax County. The Park Authority is “taking razor wire and creating recreation” on several thousands of acres that was once a federal prison, Tadlock said.
Fairfax County also owns parkland on Pleasant Valley Road near the Fairfax-Loudoun County line, and is looking at two tracts known as the Hunter-Hacor assemblage that would combine the 838-acre Hunter property, northwest of Cox Farms, and the 208-acre Hacor parcel, an extension of the Cub Run Stream Valley defined by Braddock Road, Old Lee Highway, Stone Road on the site that was once the Potomac Equitation Riding School.
“Lake Fairfax has a section of property that would be nice,” Dickerson said.
It is also adjacent to the Fairfax Hunt Club and a stream bed trail on Difficult Run that is used for trail rides from Oakton to Great Falls National Park.
Tadlock said a $20 million bond referendum, scheduled for a public vote on Nov. 5, would be used to acquire more parkland, with $15 million earmarked for land acquisition. The other $5 million would be used for “badly needed major maintenance” of park facilities.
All seven of the bond referendums presented to voters since 1959 have passed, raising a total of $288 million, Tadlock said.
The Park Authority acquired a total of 4,500 acres in the last four years.
Sally Ormsby of Park Partners said although this year’s bond referendum is intended to bridge larger bonds in 1998 and 2004, it will yield almost as much revenue for land acquisition as the 1998 bond, which provided $20 million. It was leveraged to $35 million, said Tadlock.
A $100 million bond referendum for parks could be presented to voters in 2004.
“THE PEOPLE REALLY do support parks and open space” in Fairfax County, Ormsby said. “We love the beauty.”
A riding ring and cross-country riding course for schooling young horses and developing riders are planned at The Turner Farm in Great Falls.
But no lessons will be offered to the public and no horses will reside at the park, said Ginger Nelson-Yale of the Turner Farm Team who is coordinating planning for the equestrian features.
Other public uses planned at The Turner Farm include a playground, astronomy observatory, picnic shelter and jogging area.
F4H is asking Fairfax County Supervisors and the Fairfax County Park Authority to find room in the county to establish a teaching barn where people who don’t own horses will be able to learn to ride on school horses.
Because of the escalating price of land, “It’s not almost too late. It is too late” to find room for a lesson barn in Great Falls, said Mayes.
“I’m part of the nostalgia night,” said Walt Schlie of Oakton, a member of Hunter Valley Riding Club.
“It’s a great idea, because fox hunting is still one of the sports you can enjoy with the Fairfax Hunt out in Loudoun County. Back in 1964, we actually hunted from Hunter Valley” on 600 acres that was known as the Wickens estate, he said.
It has since been developed by Renaissance Homes.
F4H plans a public campaign to locate sites for stables and educate county officials about the level of need that exists to support them.
It includes a small industry that supports retail stores such as Dominion Saddlery in Chantilly, Clifton Saddlery, the Saddlery in Great Falls, Booth Feed at Tysons Corner, Norman’s Farm Market in Reston and Southern States in Vienna.
The web address is www.Fairfax4Horses.org.