arena proposal may get new life
Indiana regional tourism
could benefit from a facility, officials say
Helen E. McKinney
(June 2005) Jo Cornell knows her horses. During her 46 years
as a trainer, she has come to know what type of facility best suits
the equine industry in her area. She would love to see Oldham County
develop its own horse park. Such a facility could have an economic impact,
especially in the tourism industry, as far away as southern Indiana
and north central Kentucky.
KY Edition Cover
Horse Arena Feasibility Study Results
is a brief summary of the 2002 Feasibility Study for an Equestrian
Facility in Oldham County, Ky., which was commissioned by Oldham
County Fiscal Court. The study was conducted by University of
Louisville equine researchers to evaluate the potential financial
performance of such a facility and the amount of investment necessary
to build and support it.
On average, such facilities are located 7.5 miles from
an interstate highway.
Facilities are very competitive, with an average of 5.3
within a 100-mile radius.
Indoor arenas are important to provide year-round, all-weather
Facility rental fees are price competitive and are relatively
low. They range from $300 to $2,000 a day and average $703 per
day. The most common are $300-$400 per day.
The majority of facilities (11 of 14 responding to the
survey) report that they fail to earn enough revenue to cover
operating expenses. However, such losses are often offset by the
economic impact generated in the region via hotels, restaurants
The current 150-mile market of competing facilities range
from county fairs that had only one or two days of shows to the
Hoosier Horse Park in Edinburgh, Ind., with 100 annual show days.
Other major facilities include Lakeside Arena in Versailles, Ky.,
with 86 show days and the L.D. Brown Ag. Expo Center in Bowling
Green with 69 show days. There are 10 facilities within 100 miles
with sanctioned show days, including the Kentucky Fair & Exposition
Center in Louisville and Turfway Race Course in Florence, Ky.
There appears to be a niche for a mid-sized facility with lower
facility rental costs than the KFEC but with better show facilities
than a county fairground.
Oldham County and neighboring counties provide a high population
of horses, and the local horse population could provide substantial
support for a locally constructed equestrian facility.
The financial analysis says a critical element to a facilitys
financial success is the generation of stall rental income, which
in turn, is dependent on multiple day events that attract the
greatest number of horses. Stall rental rates must be competitively
In every scenario studied, multiple day shows enhance the
probability of recovering operating costs.
The management of such a facility would likely require
the hiring of a manager, an assistant, a secretary and hired labor
that can be adjusted to meet the need for maintenance and events.
These employees would report to a county committee.
The capital investment necessary is substantial to either
create new shows or capturing existing shows from other venues.
The scope and quality of facilities are critical in attracting
large events. It would need to be designed to hold both English
and Western equestrian disciplines without costly modifications
or set-up. The study recommends building a completely enclosed
facility of at least 150 feet in width. Construction of the type
and size of facility recommended is estimated to cost up to $5
million. This price does not include the cost to buy the land.
The projected economic impact to the region is substantial.
Based on date and assumptions in the study, such a facility could
generate $4.9 million in expenditures and induce 83 full-time
equivalent jobs with a payroll of $1.5 million. Because such an
investment is risky, it is not likely to be made by the private
sector but would need investment by the county or state. This
suggests that the county or state would have to make the investment
if these economic impacts are to be generated.
Several other potential impacts beyond financial should
be considered: Would this investment and operation stimulate growth
and development of horse breeding and training? Would this facility
indirectly provide alternatives for existing tobacco growers and
others in agriculture? Would such a facility add to the quality
of life and attract even more families to the county? Would the
facility drive tourism and make Oldham County a destination for
horse enthusiasts or other industries holding shows there?
As owner of Jo Cornell Stables near Brownsboro Ky., Cornell
and her staff teach Saddle Seat Equitation and provide 75 lessons a
week. She has worked with many youth through Cornells Cantering
Crew 4-H Horse Club and winter academies. Childrens participation
in the sport is important to this horsewoman.
She believes that a horse park facility would be fantastic for Oldham
County. Cornell, who has shown all over the world, has a covered indoor
arena on her property. But a bigger facility that could be used by the
entire county and surrounding counties would be a boost to those in
the equine industry, she says.
About 15 years ago, Cornell and fellow Oldham Countians David Gleason
and Carol Powell developed a plan for just such a facility. Cornell
designed a barn, and the three added amenities they knew would be required.
Although it was a good idea, the plan was never implemented.
Many agree with Cornell that a horse park would be a boon to the county.
Oldham County Magistrate Duane Murner, who also owns horses, has backed
a similar plan for the last several years. He would love to see it come
Murner said that a facility with a covered arena that is well run would
be popular and help generate tourism, which the county currently lacks
despite the hiring of a tourism director a year ago. He envisions a
private-public venture in which a private arena operator experienced
in horse shows could enjoy the tax-break benefits of a county-owned
facility. A covered, enclosed arena is a must for year-round, multi-day
shows, he says. He envisions a facility that is close in proximity to
hotels and I-71. Approximately 75-acres would be needed to make
it work reasonably well financially, said Murner.
With Oldham Countys history with horses, the inmate labor
that is available here, and our close proximity to Louisville and southern
Indiana, it seems like a natural to me, Murner said. Oldham
County already has all kinds of horses Arabians, Saddlebreds,
Quarter Horses, Apaloosas, Morgans, Miniatures and Paints.
The lack of money and finding and obtaining an appropriate location
have stalled any real efforts to pursue the plan, however.
by Don Ward
Cornell, who operates a horse training center near Prospect, has
48 horses at her facility, where she trains horses and riders.
When Garnett Morgan Jr. in 2000 opened a series of riding
trails near Westport, Ky., called Little Big Horse Trails, Murner had
hopes that a horse park would connect with these trails. Then in 2003
the county received money from the Kentucky Heritage Conservation Fund
to buy Morgans property and create a 227-acre Conservation Park
on Hwy. 524 just north of La Grange. But the stipulations prevented
the land to be developed into a horse park or other facility that would
be damaging to the land. Instead, the new Morgan Conservation
Park, named for its former owner, will feature an outdoor education
and welcome center, hiking trails, picnic areas and primitive camping
Murner now sees the ideal location for a horse arena as either in Crestwood
or La Grange, but definitely close to I-71. Such a facility might not
cater only to the equine industry but other large gatherings, such as
high school graduations or large assembly-type meetings, Murner said.
Oldham County is the third largest horse producing county in Kentucky,
said Oldham County Tourism Director Diana Polsgrove. She was hired a
year ago to manage tourism activities.
With enough interest from the county, equine-related clinics and practices
could also be held at such a facility, she notes. Day or evening shows
could be held in a facility that had both covered and outdoor arenas,
up to 500 stalls, RV parking and riding trails.
Trails are a real draw for every aspect of horses, said
Cornell, from western riding groups to hunter-jumper clubs. And horse
owners are really particular about their horses not being lame, she
said. An arena floor has to be composed of something that drains well,
such as sand and limestone, she said.
Arena idea appeals to many
by Don Ward
horse show judge Howard Rea of Prospect, Ky., travels the world
for shows held year-round.
Diana Sharber, a resident of neighboring Trimble County,
is a member of the Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse Association. She said
plenty of level parking is necessary for the big rigs with which most
horse people travel. Easy access is needed for her 40-foot trailer,
which rides behind her 10-foot-long truck. Its hard for big rigs
to travel on narrow back roads to get to an event, said Sharber.
Having a horse show so close to home would be great, Sharber
said. It would also cut down on the expenses needed to attend
the big shows.
Even though this project has been an ongoing one for the past several
years, Polsgrove said the community still needs to be educated about
it. A lot of people are not aware of it, said Polsgrove.
Many years ago, the Oldham County Fairgrounds played host to large horse
shows as part of its annual fair. This was a big draw for the county,
but that run ended when the fair board began holding demolition derbies
and truck pulls in the same ring. That rendered the ring unusable because
they left behind glass embedded in the dirt. Horse owners would not
take their valuable horses back into that ring.
A new horse ring is now being built at the Oldham County Fairgrounds
for use in staging 4-H shows, but it is no where near the size or scope
needed for big indoor shows the type that drive tourism dollars
into the county, Murner said.
You have to think big, he said. Were talking
about a first-class facility that would put Oldham County on the map,
in terms of horse shows.
He points to a $35,000 study commissioned in 2002 by Oldham County Fiscal
Court to explore the potential economic impact and financial feasibility
of building such an arena. The study was written by Robert G. Lawrence,
Richard D. Morgan and J. Shannon Neibergs, all from the Department of
Equine Business at the University of Louisville. Their study results
became a wake-up call for county officials, who initially had expected
an overall investment of about
$5 million to get the project moving.
We soon learned that our estimate of about $1 million
wasnt even close, Murner said. It was more like $5
million and that didnt even include the cost of buying
the land. But if you do it on the cheap, youre not going to make
the money you need to keep it going.
But the sticker shock projected in the study deemed necessary to pursue
the project caused a lack of interest among Murners fellow politicians.
Its basically dead right now, he said.
Shelby Co. ahead of the game
Polsgrove noted that the annual Shelbyville Horse Show in nearby Shelby
County has been really successful. This annual event, scheduled
this year for Aug. 3-6 at the Shelby County Fairgrounds, is the last
leg before the World Championship Horse Show in Louisville. The event
attracts national and world attention with more than 500 horses participating.
The Shelbyville Horse Show has something to offer everyone socializing
and dinner at the Horsemans Tent, and shopping the booths at the
three-day event. The entire community is invited to participate in festivities
that begin the previous week, known as the
Shelbyville Horse Show Jubilee. Activities include a kickoff breakfast,
Jazz on Main, art shows and a golf scramble.
A comparable county horse show would be an ideal tourist attraction
for Oldham County, said Murner, who has shown horses for the past
20 years. A year-round horse park facility would make the county a destination
point, he said.
Such an attraction would contribute greatly to the economy of the county,
Murner says. A significant portion of the countys tax base is
residential, and Murner feels that a more commercial tax base is needed.
With two-thirds of the county residents working outside of the county,
an economically viable tourist attraction is needed to persuade them
to spend their time and money closer to home.
Its either that or an occupational tax of some kind, and
no one is interested in that, he said.
by Helen E. McKinney
horse owners in the region now travel to the privately owned and
operated Lakeside Arena near Versailles, Ky., to compete in shows.
Cornell is among a group of five horse clubs from Crestwood
that use an arena at the Shelby County Fairgrounds for winter shows.
If such a facility existed in Oldham County, I would use it instead
of driving to Shelbyville, said Cornell.
In fact, such a facility would have widespread appeal to horse enthusiasts
within a 100-mile radius, the study said. Leigh Koehler of Madison,
Ind., said she would like to see a nice facility closer to home. She
owns 11 horses and stables and trains horses at her Jefferson County,
She has had to travel long distances to compete in shows over the past
It sounds great, if it were to ever be built, she said.
Oldham County would need to build an arena based on the size of the
Shelby County model, which Cornell said was ideal. An insulated arena
with good footing is key to having a successful arena.
Indianas Hoosier Horse Park is busy year-round
One county-owned facility Murner cited as a top model is the Hoosier
Horse Park in Edinburgh, Ind. This 220-acre facility is part of the
600-acre Johnson County Park, built specifically for equestrian events
in the 1987 Pan-American Games. The facility consists of a covered arena,
350 stalls, three dressage arenas, two large stadiums, jumping arenas
and two outdoor practice arenas.
Murner has shown horses for the last 10 years at this park, which can
accommodate more than 3,000 people. It affords the spaciousness to
do what you need to do, said Murner.
Its success lies partly in the fact that we make
it affordable, said park superintendent Tim Davis. We keep
it very clean and treat people well, like family.
There are lots of horse facilities around the country, said Davis. But
such parks as the Kentucky Horse Park cater to big shows and Hoosier
Horse Park is the exact opposite, catering many times to local clubs
and 4-H shows.
Davis said that in the 11 years he has been there, the horse park has
went from booking 35 to nearly 70 shows a year. Most of the money earned
goes into the countys General Fund, except for bedding and camping
fees. Davis estimated that $1.2 million has been put back into the county
since the horse park has employed him.
Hoosier Horse Park, located south of Indianapolis in Edinburgh,
is a county-owned facility with 100 show days a year.
Davis doesnt believe the facility would be as profitable
if it were privately owned. Its existence would be dictated by profit-
versus a service-oriented business. Davis doesnt have to worry
about losing money as much as a private owner would. He can concentrate
more on upkeeping the facility and pleasing patrons because he knows
there are seven alternate facilities people can go to in Indiana.
Davis cuts operating costs by hiring a crew from a nearby prison to
clean stalls, an idea Murner shares for an Oldham County facility, if
built. Davis can then concentrate on operating costs, such as staff,
utilities and arena materials (topsoil, stone, sand, bedding and straw).
If Oldham County is considering such a facility, then they are looking
at a substantial investment, said Davis. Of the total amount made in
a years time, up to $280,000 goes back into the county for upgrades
and maintenance. That leaves Hoosier Horse Parks net income at
Lakeside Arena in Versailles a popular spot
Another horse arena that Murner favors is the privately owned Lakeside
Arena in Versailles, Ky. Bruce and Connie Brown own and manage a 130x227-foot,
heated indoor arena, which includes 120 indoor stalls. Their facility
also includes feed, shavings and camper hookups. Connie, an equine veterinarian,
is always on call and works mainly in the nearby Paris and Versailles.
The most positive quality about Lakeside is that a function can
be held regardless of the weather, said Bruce Brown. Beginning
with the arenas first show in May 1999, Brown has stayed heavily
booked for events. Also in the thoroughbred business, he and his wife
both grew up showing horses and know what it takes to run a successful
business in the industry.
Lakeside Arena plays host to a variety of events, such as tractor and
horse pulls, horseshoeing contests, lawn and garden shows, and alpaca
Lakeside Arena remains diverse so that no one group dominates the facility.
The Browns built their facility because we felt there was a need
for an all-weather facility in the central Kentucky area, said
With no stalls at the county fairgrounds site, if it rained, then
your show was ruined, he said. More guarantees were needed when
event organizers had to pay judges to fly in for shows and for awards
to be presented. People will travel farther if a show is not dependent
upon the weather, he said.
Brown said he must stay constantly booked to turn a profit. Due to its
size and amenities, Lakeside Arena is comparable to the Lexington Horse
Park or the Kentucky State Fairgrounds. But with no county or state
aid, its tough from an economic standpoint, he said.
In the early stages of construction of Lakeside Arena,
Brown tried to get county involvement, but the county was more interested
in funding sports related recreational sites, he said. At the time,
the Browns were part of a local group of horse owners who needed such
a facility for related events. Had he enjoyed the backing of the Franklin
County Fiscal Court, his plan would have been more financially feasible,
The key to developing such a multi-purpose facility is to not only hire
a knowledgeable person to construct it, but to hire someone who can
make it function efficiently and turn a profit, said Brown.
Howard and Barbara Rea, who own and train horses and riders at
their 14-acre farm near Prospect, Ky., not only compete in shows, Howard
is paid to travel and judge shows worldwide, while Barbara works with
the American Quarter Horse Association in planning them.
They see the potential for a horse arena in Oldham County, especially
with what they term as a lack of interest by the Kentucky State Fair
& Exposition Center to cater to horse people. As a result, many
horse owners no longer compete in Louisville, Howard says.
Just think of the money it would bring to the local hotels and
restaurants, he said.
Barbara added, It would have to be a big enough facility to hold
big shows. This is an expensive sport, and these people are competing
for points, so when they get there, they want to see a lot of horses
because the bigger the shows, the more points they can win.
The couple also noted the potential for holding shows for various breeds.
The American Quarter Horse Association, for instance has 60 shows a
year with an average of 400-plus entries per show. And thats
just one breed, Barbara said.
She said the Shelbyville facility is almost always full, so there
is definitely demand for another facility in this area.
Cornell agreed that having the right horse-oriented person to manage
a horse park facility is the key to its success. What is needed now
is a financial backer to put the plan into action.
It could still work, Murner said. But a private-public
venture like this would take someone stepping up to the plate by offering
land or money. Or both.
Editor Don Ward contributed to this report.
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