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Horse Tales: New Maryland horse trail program will chronicle equine history and boost state tourism

Jun 10, 2015 10:26AM ● By Cate Reynolds
By Ellen Moyer

In 2013, the Maryland Horse Industry Board (MHIB) created a marketing committee to bring the stories of the state’s horse industry front and center to the citizens of Maryland. After all, Maryland had a proud history with horse racing. The Seabiscuit/War Admiral challenge occurred here. Race week in Annapolis, in the 1700s, was the social event of Colonial America. The horses brought to Maryland from the Kings stables in England, bred to the Godolphin Arabian Line, were the foundation horses for America’s racing greats, such as Man o’ War. Annapolis boasted competitive racing as far back as 1719. Out of this competition The Maryland Jockey Club, the oldest association of its kind in America, was formed. Maryland, more than any other state, indeed boasts a long and prestigious history for thoroughbred contests.

But that wasn’t all. The horse was the main means of transportation. It carried a nation west. It transported goods to markets in cities and towns delivering economic security to many and food for survival. And the horse pulled the first railroad cars for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the nation’s oldest commercial railroad. Without the horse, Paul Revere would never have become famous. Messages from tavern to tavern were carried by patriots on the backs of the horse. Without the horse would there have been the War for Independence?

In 2013, the MHIB Marketing Committee went to task listing a number of activities and stories to tell about the horse in Maryland’s history. One activity was to design a historic horse trail, an auto trail that, in stretches, was also a walking, biking, kayaking, and equestrian trail, across the state identifying historic places of significance for celebrating our equine pals.
Three committee members—businesswoman Angela Reynolds, author Margaret Worrall, and former Annapolis Mayor Ellen Moyer—took on the challenge of modeling the historic horse trail in one Maryland county. The committee chose Worcester County, Angela’s home, near Ocean City, Assateague National Seashore, and Berlin, known as “America’s Coolest Small Town.” At the time, there was no seed money, tepid interest at best from the state tourism agency, and no blueprint to follow. And though they didn’t even know each other, over the course of the year they became a team and created the web site “Horses at the Beach.” In November 2014, they even received an award from the Tourism Council for the work produced.

The website, supported by a grant from MHIB, records the sites chosen, the stories that were researched and written, and the pictures selected. It can be viewed at Horsesatthebeach.mdhistorichorsetrails.com  Eventually each site along the trail will have a posted sign that can be accessed from one’s smart phone. Interestingly, the site was picked up by a teacher in Canada connected to “Math for Horse Lovers” and, you guessed it, math problems were developed for school kids using stories from Horses at the Beach. Maryland Historic Horse Trails is now viewed internationally and nationally.

Sam Riddle and Man o’ War

Early in the 1900s the train came to Berlin with a cargo of horses. Off loaded, the horses walked five miles to the Glen Riddle Farm. Man o’ War, Americas number one racing thoroughbred, walked down Baker street, where years later Richard Gere and Julia Roberts would film “Runaway Bride,” to the Riddle Farm.

Until his death in 1951, Sam Riddle’s farm, Glen Riddle in Worcester County, was America’s number one thoroughbred training center. The farm stabled 60 of America’s most famous horses, housed 25 jockeys, two training tracks, and a historic house that was the center of Maryland’s most glorious social events.
Sam Riddle was the third Sam. His father emigrated from Ireland and the town of Glen Riddle and started a textile mill near Philadelphia by that name, which produced a fortune for the Riddle family. Sam was a rich kid who enjoyed fox hunting, appreciated fine horses, and gained a reputation as a sportsman. His Maryland land was purchased to support his passion.

On a fluke in 1918, he purchased a young colt for $5,000 that August Belmont, Jr. was selling at a Saratoga yearling sale. That colt was Man o’ War, named so for Belmont who, at the age of 65, joined the U.S. Army to fight in WWI. The young colt would become horse of the year, a leading sire, U.S. Hall of Famer, and Sports Illustrated’s number one Greatest Horse in Racing History.

A horse that had the longest stride of any horse, then or now, made history for Riddle by winning 20 races by multiple lengths and carrying as much as 138 pounds. The weight factor convinced Riddle to retire the world record setting Man o’ War. At stud he produced champion horses including Triple Crown Winner War Admiral and War Relic, all trained in Worcester County on the Glen Riddle Farm.

A Legacy Remembered

The Glen Riddle Farm is gone now. Man o’ War died in 1947, Sam Riddle four years later in 1951. Abandoned, the once famous farm was overcome with weeds and the buildings deteriorated. After 50 years, the fame of the site and its athletic champions was all but forgotten. Some call it a sacrilege that such a famous place was developed into golf courses and upscale houses. The barn that stabled the famous horses, however, remains. Restored, it is the home to Ruth’s Chris Steak House and the golf course pro shop. It is featured as one of the 11 horse sites on the Worcester County historic horse trail.

Memorabilia from the Riddle Farm can be seen at the Calvin B. Taylor House Museum in Berlin at the corner of Baker Street, near the hoof prints of the famous horses that passed by from the railroad station that is no more. Built in 1832, the home records the history of the small town and of a different era, when horse drawn carriages carried people to the Atlantic beaches.

A few miles away, Rackliffe Plantation House built in 1742, and restored in 2012, is believed to be the only property of its kind along the Mid-Atlantic coast. Located on Sinepuxent Bay, the plantation conveys the story of the merchant-planter supplying ships visiting the seaport estate with salt, shingles, and ocean bounty from gill nets pulled by horses. A hurricane in 1818 closed the waterway forever to large sailing merchant ships. A mile away, along the Historic Post Road, stage coaches carried passengers from the Delmarva towns to Philadelphia and carried Rackliffe goods to inland markets.

Today equestrians can ride horses along the Atlantic coastline at the State Park of Assateague, where horses once accompanied men searching for distress signals of shipwrecked vessels. In times of emergency, the companion horse supplied the speed to coast guard stations calling out men to save shipwrecked souls. Assateague is famous for its wild horses, the offspring of shipwrecked cargo.

The award winning Historic Horse Trails template created in Worcester County is now being used by new marketing committees in other Maryland counties and locales: Southern Maryland with Revolutionary War skirmishes and an Amish foothold; Baltimore City’s mounted police, horse cart venders, and the Preakness; and Anne Arundel County thoroughbred race horses have very different stories to tell about equine history. These county historic horse trails should be completed in 2015–16. Others will follow. Stay posted as the stories of the horse—which for thousands of years has provided our transportation, been an economic angel, war machine, and sports and leisure time pal—emerge from across the state.