If you love horses you’ve come to the right place. Our area’s love affair with all things equine began in the 1600s when colonists brought the first English stock to this country. Ultimately, historians believe it was the introduction of the bloodlines from these early animals that resulted in the American Quarter Horse.
Today’s horse enthusiasts include those who enjoy leisurely trail riding on weekends and individuals who engage in fox hunting, racing and dressage. Horses are also big business for entrepreneurs involved in all manner of breeding, training and caring for these special animals.
Our area’s natural beauty, plus rich pastures and easy availability of equine goods and services, are three main reasons home buyers come to our area looking for horse properties. Meanwhile, the rest of us benefit from the horse economy, which includes revenues from events like the Foxfield Races and other similar competitions and events. Add to this the sale of goods and services such as feed, tack, or riding lessons and the annual revenue from horses exceeds $1 billion providing over 16,000 jobs and generating $65.3 million in state and local taxes.
Horse lovers also help boost our real estate market as local REALTOS® have much to offer equine enthusiasts who seek properties that will comfortably house them and their animals. The result is a steady demand for properties that can accommodate horses as well as for residential areas that have easy access to horse boarding and other related services.
What Makes For a Good Horse Property?
“It’s the topography of the land that is important,” said Bunny French with Loring Woodriff Real Estate Associates. She added that horse buyers want rolling rather than steep hills with flat and open areas with lots of grass.
Pam Dent with Gayle Harvey Real Estate Inc. agrees, stressing that “a serious horse person” will have to be satisfied that the land will work first before even looking at the house. Common concerns of these buyers include the quality of the pasture and whether or not there is enough of it for the number of horses they have she explained. Gently rolling hills are important because if they are too steep there is less land for pasture. Good water is also an essential asset and high on the list of desirable features for a horse property.
Another area of interest is a property’s fencing and barns. “Horses are very delicate,” French said, which means barbed wire fencing is not the best because the animals can get caught in it. She explained the type of horse could also impact the owner’s choice of fencing noting that “high strung thoroughbreds” are more likely to get in trouble than draft horses which she described as “gentle giants.”
French expressed a personal preference for four board fencing which she described as safer with more aesthetic value than the alternatives. “It makes such a statement,” she said while acknowledging it does require some maintenance.
Jim Bonner, a former blacksmith and now a REALTOR® at Roy Wheeler Realty Co. expressed a similar sentiment when he said, “bucolic scenes of horses grazing in beautiful pastures with solid board fences and some pretty impressive barns…make the landscape pleasing to the eye and much more appealing than commercial and residential development which could well be an alternative.”
Horse lovers are also concerned about equine support services such as good farriers and feed and tack stores. Bonner emphasized as well the importance of and availability of excellent veterinarians along with convenient emergency services.
Another consideration is the barn, however, “the owners’ activity defines the type of barn and if they even want one,” French said. A run in shed may be sufficient for someone who is a fox hunter, however, “people who have show horses prefer individual stalls with a central aisle,” she added stating this is often also true for those who participate in dressage.
Dent added that people who want a barn are often very interested not only in the number of stalls but also their size. They will also question whether there is sufficient space for hay storage and how close the barn is to the pasture. People who have show horses will want a ring as well which, Dent said, “is big enough for jumps and appropriate for dressage.” The footing is critical here as well in that it needs to be soft enough to protect the horses’ feet.
Horse lovers participate in different kinds of activities and these help determine what part of our area makes the most sense for them to locate. Fox hunters will want to be near hunt country while trail riders will want access to nearby trails and/or farms that allow others to ride there. Dent explained that most rural property owners are generous about giving permission to equestrians who want to ride across their property.
Bonner expressed a similar sentiment saying, “being able to ride right off the property rather than trailering horses to other destinations is meaningful and having so many large, protected natural areas to ride makes this ideal horse country.”
The Market for Horse Properties
French described the market for horse properties as “getting better” with more movement than a year ago. She is starting to get calls and believes “the market is coming back around.” Lately she is hearing from people in places like the northeast or Michigan who like the idea of “venturing to a more temperate climate.” One of these was a professional horse trainer from the northeast. Another recent call came from a retiree for whom horses are a hobby and a sport.
Dent described the market as good. “It has picked up lately,” she said indicating that she is hearing from a lot of people with inquiries. “There are definitely more people out there looking,” she said. Inventory is a problem at the moment with not so many “turnkey or horse ready properties” available such as small 10 to 25 acre farms with nice facilities.
Horse Property Buyers
There are as many different kinds of buyers as there are horse enthusiasts. For example, some are people who have previously boarded their animals and are now ready to purchase a property where they can keep them close by. This could be a small farm or a community that allows horses and provides trails in the common areas. Another possibility is the Glenmore community in Keswick, which has an adjoining equestrian center with boarding facilities and teachers.
Home buyers in the horse business may need a larger spread, while still others want or need multi-million dollar properties to accommodate their animals and their desire for privacy.
Dent is seeing some activity from out of state buyers, primarily the northeast and the west, who recognize our area as “horse country,” and want to move here for that reason. Of course the scenery and access to all of the amenities in Charlottesville are added attractions that make our area a popular choice.
Some of the buyers are active retirees “who have a dream of having their horses at home,” Dent said. However, she also sees younger buyers, people in their thirties who want to own horse property. Affordability makes it more difficult to find the right situation for these buyers, however options are available for some of them if they are willing to move further out Dent explained.
Marketing Real Estate to Horse Owners
When it comes to selling equine property or finding the perfect home for horses and their owners it helps to have a REALTOR® who shares their clients’ interests and understands their special needs. For these reasons many agents who specialize in this market are horse owners themselves or have participated in the industry in some significant way.
When Dent lists a horse property she features pictures of the fields and barns first, the house second because that’s what buyers of these properties are most interested in. Also, “it’s important for agents searching the MLS to be able to tell if it is a horse property,” she said, which means they need to know if the property has horse amenities like a stream or open land. The property’s proximity to horse events and other related equine activities are also important when marketing these properties.
When working with a horse property buyer, “we don’t look at the house first,” Dent added. Instead they check out the barn and the fields and if these are right, then she shows them the house.
Another part of marketing is getting the word out to broader markets than just locally. French targets areas such as DC and the northeast and advertises in national equestrian magazines with a message of the many advantages of being in Virginia. A big benefit is that these buyers can typically get a lot more property for a much lower price here than in many other places.
The Equine Economy and the Foxfield Races
A recent study found that the horse industry in Virginia contributes at least $1.2 billion annually to our economy. The impact on the real estate industry is also substantial as the number of horse farms continues to grow while the state’s total number of farms is declining.
Virginia has the 12th largest equine population in the country. Owners spend an average of over $4,000 annually per animal including boarding, feed, training and tack contributing over $873 million in total revenue to our economy.
Another big revenue stream is horse events, such as the upcoming Foxfield Races, which together bring more than $25 million in annual revenue into the state.
Foxfield is a bi-annual event and one of Virginia’s biggest races. Always the last Saturday in April and the last Sunday in September, it got started in 1977 when Albemarle resident, Mariann de Tejeda, provided funds for the purchase of the property. Dent was actively involved at that time helping to paint the fence for the first race.
Foxfield is a well-known steeplechase course, a sport that got its start in Ireland in 1752 when two friends settled a bet about who had the best horse. According to legend they raced to and through a local church where, as it happened, a funeral was in progress. Over time, steeplechase became popular spreading first to England and then to the United States. It is an event that requires “strategy, speed and stamina,” Dent said.
This year’s spring race is on Saturday April 25th. “It’s a great social outing,” French said, “which brings the community together.” Visit the Foxfield Races website (www.foxfieldraces.com) for more information and to purchase tickets.
If you are a horse owner you will find what you need in the Charlottesville area including great properties, equine related goods and services, and many events including the Foxfield Races. You will also find experienced agents who love horses as much as you do and can help you find the perfect property. Give them a call today.
By Celeste M. Smucker, Ph.D.
Celeste Smucker is a writer, blogger and author who lives near Charlottesville.