Creature Comforts

Tammy Beardsley watches her daughter Jenna, 8, as she takes a horseback-riding lesson at the Clairvaux Equestrian Center, part of the Beacon Hill community in Leesburg.
Tammy Beardsley watches her daughter Jenna, 8, as she takes a horseback-riding lesson at the Clairvaux Equestrian Center, part of the Beacon Hill community in Leesburg. (By Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)

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By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 20, 2006

Developers across the Washington region are building extravagant equestrian centers in their subdivisions to lure buyers of luxury homes in the hope that horses are the new golf.

Three developments with horse centers are being built in the suburbs, which could double the number of area equestrian sites that are combined with residential communities.

The builders are attracting such buyers as American University associate professor Rick Gibson, who never knew much about horses except that his daughter was enchanted by them.

She started riding at age 5. At 7, she petitioned her family's Laurel homeowners association to allow her to keep a horse; the association refused. Now she's 10, and her parents drive her to a stable 10 miles away in Columbia each week for lessons.

But unlike most young girls who dream of one day owning horses, Sarah could see her equestrian fantasies fulfilled next year when her family moves to Marlboro Ridge, a new community in Upper Marlboro with luxury townhouses, single-family homes and its own equestrian center.

In recent years, some builders across the country have been banking on affluent home buyers' trading in their golf clubs for -- or at least supplementing them with -- saddles. Developers in the Washington suburbs are joining in.

Toll Brothers Inc. has sold more than 50 of the 1,058 homes and townhouses that eventually will be built at Marlboro Ridge. Two similar communities are being planned for Loudoun County, where polo, fox hunting and other equestrian activities have long been associated with the gentry in and around the quaint town of Middleburg.

Loudoun already has at least one subdivision with an equestrian theme, the Beacon Hill neighborhood in Leesburg, where homes in eyeshot of the Clairvaux stables can be had for $1.5 million to $2 million. Chesapeake Ranch Estates, a large planned community in Lusby in Southern Maryland, offers stables in addition to a private airport.

"It's gotten to the point where developers are asking themselves, 'Well, what can we add to make us attractive and different?' " said Damon DeVito, managing director of Affinity Golf Management, a Charlottesville company that manages clubhouses and golf courses in luxury communities and resorts. "When you look at it that way, equestrian becomes a very interesting option."

Horseback riding is among the fastest-growing sports in the country, said Jennifer Donovan, co-founder of Equestrian Services, the company designing the equestrian center at Marlboro Ridge, as well as several other communities across the country. The firm promotes equestrian sports by connecting its projects with celebrity riders in the way golf courses boast the Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer brand.

Horses also have an appeal for home buyers who have no interest in riding them, Donovan said.

"People want to feel like they have a connection to the earth, to nature and animals," Donovan said. "Many of these people may not ever touch the horses or ride them, but just to see them grazing brings them pleasure."


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