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Pinellas Park boosters turn to horse sense

Housh Ghovaee, head of the Pinellas Park/Gateway Chamber of Commerce, greets Bear at the Erie Equestrian Center during a tour of horse facilities in Pinellas Park recently.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Housh Ghovaee, head of the Pinellas Park/Gateway Chamber of Commerce, greets Bear at the Erie Equestrian Center during a tour of horse facilities in Pinellas Park recently.

PINELLAS PARK

The solitude is broken only by the rhythmic beat of a horse's hooves crushing the sandy soil.

The rural scene is so tranquil that it's hard to realize that the setting is in one of the most developed and densely populated counties in the state and mere yards from a busy road with traffic whizzing by.

The chance to step away from a harried, crowded world and connect with nature is one of the hallmarks of Pinellas Park's little- known horse community. It's one of the reasons the community endures despite the encroachment of civilization. It's also something the city's businesses want to market as a way to attract visitors to the city.

"We need to capitalize on this asset Pinellas Park has that very few people know about," City Council member Jerry Mullins said. "My end goal is to see major horse shows come here."

Housh Ghovaee, head of the Pinellas Park/Gateway Chamber of Commerce, said the city could have a site that would support shows, demonstrations and other equine-related activities. If the site had stables, the events could last more than one day. The influx of people would benefit hotels, restaurants and area businesses.

It's a scenario that seems to be working in Lexington, Ky., which built a horse park several years ago. The popular venue allows tourists to visit the horse museum and exhibits and attend the many horse-related events there.

But the park's real money comes from the overnight stabling. By one estimate, the park brings in $4-million annually from renting 1,100 stalls and 250 RV lots. Officials expect a windfall in 2010 during the World Equestrian Games, the first time the event will be held in the United States.

Colorado, New Jersey and South Carolina have jumped onboard by building horse parks. Closer to home, the town of Wellington, on Florida's east coast, is a popular spot during polo season and the Winter Equestrian Festival. The festival's last two weeks are held at the fairgrounds in Tampa.

Even closer, Ocala, known worldwide for its thoroughbred horse breeding operations, is the site of Horse Shows in the Sun, which runs for several weeks at the beginning of each year. A horse park opened near Ocala a few years ago.

There is talk of creating a winter equestrian festival in Manatee County.

Then there's Pinellas Park, in a prime position to capitalize on its horse community, Ghovaee said.

A recent tour of Pinellas Park barns, the equestrian trail system and the horse facilities at Helen Howarth Park confirmed that the city could tap into the lucrative side of the horse industry.

The trails, he said, would give riders a peaceful place for horses to unwind from the show, while the beaches and other attractions could appeal to the riders and owners.

Patti Johnson, who helped lead the horse tour, said Pinellas Park has a ways to go before the city could attract major events.

"We have to have something to draw other riders to come here," said Johnson, who owns Amber Glen stables and the Amber Glen feed store. That would include overnight stabling and an arena with good footing so horses' legs are not damaged.

As a start, a one-day show is tentatively planned for the fall at Helen Howarth Park. It will not be the first in the park, but it would be the first from a collaborative effort of the horse and business communities.

If successful, that show could be the start of something much bigger.

by the numbers

9.2-million horses in the U.S. 500,000 horses in Florida. More than 60 percent are involved in showing.

4.6-million people involved in the horse industry in the U.S.

440,000 Floridians involved in the horse industry as owners, employees, volunteers and service providers

$102-billion impact of the horse industry on the U.S. economy*

$5.1-billion impact of the horse industry on the Florida economy*

750 horses living in Pinellas Park

200 Acres that horses occupy in Pinellas Park

9.6 miles Length of Pinellas Park's equestrian trail

Pinellas Park boosters turn to horse sense 07/08/08 [Last modified: Friday, July 11, 2008 8:13pm]
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