Making Horse S¢ents

Indoor arena proposal may get new life

Kentucky, Indiana regional tourism
could benefit from a facility, officials say

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

(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.

June 2005 KY Cover

June 2005
KY Edition Cover

2002 Horse Arena Feasibility Study Results

Following 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 shows.
• 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 and shops.
• 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 facility’s 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 priced.
• 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 Cornell’s Cantering Crew 4-H Horse Club and winter academies. Children’s 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 to fruition.
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 County’s 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.

Jo Cornell

Photo by Don Ward

Jo 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 Morgan’s 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 sites.
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

Howard Rea

Photo by Don Ward

Veteran 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. It’s 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. “We’re 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.

Duane Murner

Duane Murner

“We soon learned that our estimate of about $1 million wasn’t even close,” Murner said. “It was more like $5 million – and that didn’t even include the cost of buying the land. But if you do it on the cheap, you’re 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 Murner’s fellow politicians. “It’s 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 Horseman’s 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 county’s 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.
“It’s either that or an occupational tax of some kind, and no one is interested in that,” he said.

Lakeside Arena

Photo by Helen E. McKinney

Many 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, Ind., farm.
She has had to travel long distances to compete in shows over the past decade.
“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.
Indiana’s 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 county’s 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

Photo provided

The Hoosier Horse Park, located south of Indianapolis in Edinburgh, is a county-owned facility with 100 show days a year.

Davis doesn’t 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 doesn’t 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 year’s time, up to $280,000 goes back into the county for upgrades and maintenance. That leaves Hoosier Horse Park’s net income at around $55,000.
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 arena’s 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 shows.
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 Brown.
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, “it’s tough from an economic standpoint,” he said.

Diane Polsgrove

Diana Polsgrove

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, said Brown.
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 that’s 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.

Back to June 2005 Articles.



Copyright 1999-2015, Kentuckiana Publishing, Inc.

Pick-Up Locations Subscribe Staff Advertise Contact Submit A Story Our Advertisers Columnists Archive Area Links Area Events Search our Site Home Monthly Articles Calendar of Events Kentucky Speedway Madison Chautauqua Madison Ribberfest Madison Regatta