Planned Lorton Equestrian Center to Fill Void for Riding Lessons

By Timothy Dwyer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 29, 2006

A public riding facility is planned for Laurel Hill Park, on the site of the former Lorton prison, under an agreement between the Fairfax County Park Authority and Fairfax4Horses, a nonprofit organization.

The plans call for a 60-stall barn, a large indoor arena, at least one outdoor arena and riding trails, said Beverly Dickerson, vice president of Fairfax4Horses. In addition, there are plans for a second barn and indoor arena that would be used for therapeutic riding programs serving disadvantaged children.

"Essentially we are providing the land, and we are also providing development guidance," said Judy Pedersen, spokeswoman for the Park Authority. "And what we are asking for Fairfax4Horses to do is to raise money and to develop a constituency for the equestrian center. They would also have input into the design."

Frying Pan Park and Turner Farm have equestrian facilities that the county operates with other vendors, Pedersen said. She said that the Laurel Hill Park facility would be the county's first partnership with Fairfax4Horses, which was founded three years ago after two large lesson facilities closed because land had been lost to development.

"We consider them to be terrific partners," Pedersen said.

The agreement was signed June 14; now the focus will be on fundraising, Dickerson said.

"Initially, we are going to try to raise $4 million to get the first phase off the ground," she said. "That would get us the large indoor arena and the barn, fencing and the pasture."

Once the first phase of the project is completed, horseback riding lessons could be offered, and the revenue, along with money from additional fundraising, could generate the $10 million to $12 million needed to complete the project, Dickerson said. Fairfax4Horses would solicit individual and corporate donors, she said.

"It is an ideal location for an equestrian center," Dickerson said. "The old prison dairy barn was in the location, and there is a fairly flat area that is appropriate for the barn and outdoor arena. And then there is an area that is hilly and will be great for a pasture but not appropriate for field sports."

She said that the equestrian center would fill a void in the region for riding lessons.

"This is really designed for people who don't own a horse but want to try" riding, she said.

The equestrian group's plan calls for enough space in the barn to board about 10 horses. Part of the plan is to provide a break on the cost of boarding in exchange for allowing the horses to be used for riding lessons.

Dickerson said that the cost of riding lessons in the region runs from $35 to $90 an hour and that she expected the rate at Laurel Hill Park to be "on the lower end of the scale" -- comparable to the cost of ice skating lessons or a round of golf.

If the fundraising goes well, she said, the equestrian center could open in 18 months to two years.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company