Horses and horse sports are a traditional and integral part of life in Maryland. We have so many ways to enjoy them – horseback riding, polo, flat track racing, pony races, steeplechasing and timber races – and it’s a great way to get outdoors. Even just a weekend riding around horse country, enjoying the beautiful countryside views of pastures, and fields of hay and grain, is a treat. I often say that so many people spend thousands of dollars to travel to Ireland or England for the scenery, and they actually have it 20 minutes away in any direction outside I695.
The women involved in the horse world of Maryland are down to earth, hardworking, energetic, practical, warm, and funny. They share two traits – a no-nonsense streak, that they definitely need to be able to work around 1200-pound animals with quirky minds of their own. And an unconditional, undying love of horses that they readily share with anyone who is interested.
So, enjoy a couple horse events coming up, and meet the women who run them and would love to share them with you:
BACKSTRETCH TOURS AT TIMONIUM FAIRGROUNDS
The Sunrise at Hilltop Tours during Preakness race week at Pimlico, led by Fran Burns, are a popular annual event. If you’ve never made it to one (maybe because they are at sunrise!), there is a new Backstretch Tour this year during the racing days at Timonium Fairgrounds.
On racing days – August 27, 28 and 29th, and September 3, 4, 5, and 6th – Fran will meet you at the Horseland tent, in front of the Grandstand, starting 1 ½ hours before the first post time. You will get a half hour, up close golf cart tour with stops at the Winner’s Circle, starting gates, and finish line. All of the horses that are entered in the Timonium races are stabled at Laurel or Pimlico Racetracks during the meet. They travel daily to Timonium by van shuttle, and the next stop on your tour is a meet and greet as the shuttle arrives with the day’s entries.
After a tour of the barns and paddock, you will meet Kaymarie Kreidel – a former race jockey, who is now the outrider for Timonium, Pimlico and Laurel. She has an important job, accompanying horses to the starting gate, helping the jockeys, and after the race, taking the winner to the Winner’s Circle. Outriders also catch loose racehorses, an incredibly demanding job that takes a lot of skill and determination. You may have seen pictures of Kaymarie when she captured Bodexpress, the runaway horse at the 2018 Preakness Stakes.
Next on the tour – shed row, where you will look over the horses, pick a winner, and have your picture taken with your hopeful. Later at the races, you can see how your pick does in his or her race.
Last stop – the track kitchen. Fran says the track kitchen has the best food at the fairgrounds. Anyone can go in, so you can enjoy lunch and soak up the atmosphere as horsemen and women come in and socialize.
To sign up, there is a dry erase board in the Horseland Tent – sign up for the tour you want on any of the 7 racing days. It’s free, but first come, first serve and space is very limited.
Besides giving the tours at Pimlico and Timonium, Fran is involved with horses every day, year-round. She owns Boxwood Farm in Monkton, where she boards and cares for OTTBs (Off-Track Thoroughbreds), retired from their racing careers. The average age on the farm is 20, which is really getting up there for a racehorse.
She is also a volunteer at Foxhall Equine Rehabilitation Clinic on Hess Road in Monkton, a new facility that specializes in rehabilitation of horses recovering from surgery, illness or injury. Foxhall is amazing – with state-of-the-art treatments available. A salt room where horses breathe salt mist helps them to clear lungs, helps open wounds heal, and treats skin conditions. In another room, horses with sore backs get infrared treatments. Horses that need gentle exercise can walk on an Aquacizer, an underwater treadmill, or get cold water and Epsom Salt treatments.
If you are interested in visiting Foxhall Equine Rehabilitation Clinic, contact them and Fran will give you a fascinating personal tour of the clinic. Perfect for scouts, 4H Clubs, and your kids who want to be vets someday.
Fran is also “officially the un-official Monkton” horse and farm animal catcher. No matter how hard horse and livestock owners try to keep animals from getting loose, it happens. Falling trees and stream overflows bring fences down, riding mishaps happen, and sometimes critters just decide the grass is greener over there. When someone is missing animals, or someone spots loose animals, they contact Fran, and she mobilizes her block captains to get help. Everyone pulls on their boots and heads out to round up animals and find the owners until all are safely at home.
US PONY RACING
In 2013, Regina Welsh founded US Pony Racing, the only youth racing program in the country. USPR is dedicated to bringing safe, educational pony racing, on the flat and over fences, to kids of all ages and abilities.
If you grew up riding, you know that, inevitably, kids bet each other on who has the fastest pony. And you know that even the tiniest Shetland ponies believe inside that they really are Secretariat and they are willing to run their little hearts out to prove it. US Pony Racing helps them live out the dream.
Pony racing teams up junior riders (who have not reached their 16th birthday by January 1st), and ponies who measure 14.2 hands (58”) or under for a series of races based on size, age and ability. It’s set up to be fun for everyone, regardless of speed – starting out on a slow pony is a great way to get experience. Riders as young as 6 participate in the open pony races, and children as young as 3 take part in the lead line classes, with someone running beside them on a lead line.
Rider and pony teams have to go through pre-screening to make sure they can safely enter a race. US Pony Racing hosts sessions where teams can show that the pony and the rider are appropriate for each other, the rider is in control, and they can safely gallop in company with other kids. Then it’s off to have fun at Pony Races held at sanctioned steeplechase meets or at the Maryland State Fair – and maybe win a trophy or a bag of goodies.
On August 28th and 29th, US Pony Racing is coming to the Maryland State Fair! The two days of Pony Flat Races and Shetland Pony Steeplechase Races are sponsored by the Maryland State Horse Breeders Association and Maryland Million, Ltd. Check the Maryland State Fair website for post times and the details.
A schedule of upcoming US Pony Races can be found on their website along with information on how to get involved in this sport.
Regina Welsh, from Butler, Maryland, is a licensed trainer of Thoroughbred steeplechasers and timber racers. But she is also the founder of US Pony Racing, and when you talk to her, it sounds like her greatest love and enthusiasm is for the kids and ponies that participate in her US Pony Racing events.
Her own almost 4-year-old daughter, Imogen, is a seasoned jockey, already winning her lead line races at Pimlico Race Track and the Penn National! And she is especially proud that some of the Pony Racing kids have gone on to professional careers with horses and riding. Charlie Marquez, now 18 years old, was a regular on the Pony Racing circuit before taking out his license as a professional jockey, and he ended 2020 as the leading apprentice rider in Maryland with 58 wins.
Regina conducts clinics that introduce kids to Pony Racing: mounted and unmounted sessions cover the fitness, the race start, how to manage your galloping pony, and race day protocol. They also discuss attire – nothing special in attire or equipment is required, but you can design and order race day silks if you want to.
She’d love to have you come to race meets, or volunteer to help in some way. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.