Walking through the stables at the Wicomico Equestrian Center at Winterplace Park, it’s easy still to get a sense of the old grandeur—lantern chandeliers light the halls and separate lines of stalls set in rich wood and cast iron bars. What’s less easy to get, is a sense of the transformation imposed on the once-great barn by the nonprofit Wicomico Equestrian Center board and membership.
In the heady 1980s, the center was an absolute palace. Originally built as a monument to the upscale equestrian set, the 81-acre park boasted the finest barns, the most state-of-the-art facilities, and even a wading pool for horse relaxation and rehabilitation during events. Eventually, though, the park fell upon hard times and its glory faded. With the exception of the occasional stall rental, which did more damage than revenue production, the park fell into disuse and disrepair.
Meanwhile, Rand Thaw and some other members of the board of directors of the Wicomico Equestrian Center were looking for a home. The group had a regular rotation for their events, mostly at the stables and show ring of a group member, but had an audacious plan to start up a small, independent central show and event facility. They’d been raising money for the project for some time when the county showed interest in taking control of Winterplace Park.
A Place for Horses and Competition
As part of a larger development deal, the county got 18 acres of parkland and the Wicomico Equestrian Center were given 18 acres with the understanding that the county would help support the park at cost. County employees would still be responsible for park maintenance, but the nonprofit would reimburse the county for their time and supplies. Although they were close to building their own facility, both nostalgia and practicality led the WEC board to accept the terms and take over the facility. They envisioned a return to greatness for at least part of the facility.
If you’ve never walked into a horse barn that’s been abandoned for a few years, consider yourself fortunate. As Rand looked around he understood the only way to get things done was to plan an event. They set a date for the grand opening and announced it.
“Once you’ve got a date on the calendar, you make things happen,” Rand said.
The restoration never could have occurred without the help and donations of committed members. The stalls alone required three commercial power washings before the work even could begin. Once it did, the show rings and jumps needed complete replacement, and an infrastructure for a maintenance regimen needed to be established. Once all of the work was complete, however, the Wicomico Equestrian Center clearly was a quality facility.
The Mission Behind the Wicomico Equestrian Center
Since its opening, the WEC has taken immense pride in maintaining its independence. By coordinating between various horse farms and organizations, the WEC is able to generate enough revenue that the board can maintain its self-sufficiency, while improving and maintaining the facility to the standards participants have come to expect.
The WEC can set up for English events, the kind featuring white pants and black riding caps; Western events with cowboy-type saddles; and Dressage, or horse-dancing. Kim Briele, current board president, is an expert on all three. She has been both a client, renting the facility to put on her own events, and a director, earning fees for the WEC by helping execute the events that generate so much of their operational income.
Kim understands that helping make sure people continue to hold events at the center benefits more than just the WEC. Events there are part of a larger tourism bump that, while small, is not insignificant. Attendees often spend the nights in hotels and eat in local restaurants. The WEC tries to support LORA (the Local Restaurant Owners Association), by providing a list of local eateries to attendees.
Beyond working to increase the number of regional competitive events, Kim and the current board have been working to make certain the trails surrounding the facility are maintained and helping support local nonprofits who incorporate riding therapy into programs for the disabled.
Additionally, the board has tasked itself with trying to generate more community interest in the various riding events, even among those who don’t ride. The WEC encourages spectators (there is no entrance or parking fee for spectators) to spend an afternoon watching any of the various shows.