Virginia is for horses.
Maybe that’s not how you’ve heard it, but considering the equine industry’s economic impact in the Old Dominion, it might as well be rote.
In the mid-90’s, however, the big business of horses in Virginia was misunderstood and underappreciated. Politicians and developers dismissed the horse industry as elitist, niche, and old-fashioned. But when a slew of horse studies began emerging — first in Maryland and then in Virginia — reporting the remarkable economic contributions of equine-related activities to a state’s revenue stream, the media began to take notice.
In these surveys, CFFC saw an enormous opportunity to help the public understand how integral farms are to Fauquier County’s economy. Residents still thought of horses merely as instruments of highly-specialized interests like fox hunting and dressage; many had no idea the impact the animals — as well as their care, their boarding, and their appeal — had on the county’s economic well-being.
In her 1994 letter to the approximately 2,000 horse owners in the county, Hope Porter praised the horse industry for being a “clean” one that “enhanced the region’s popularity and contributed to an attractive, unique place to live and visit.” She then implored local horse owners to provide the kind of detailed and personal information that would make a difference in conservation outreach.
The results of the survey were hard to ignore. The value of the horses alone in Fauquier County approached 30 million dollars. The horse industry as a whole contributed 20 million dollars to the county’s economy, approximately the same amount as the highly-touted tourism sector. Some 300 people relied on the equine business for employment.
Clearly, the equine industry was worth preserving. And if that was the case, the land vital to the industry was worth preserving, too.
“The horse study was really instrumental in that it provided the momentum for the PDR program,” says Yak Lubowsky, current CFFC board member and former president.
Fauquier County established the Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) Program in 2002, after much convincing by CFFC. The initiative is a voluntary program that pays landowners to protect the farmland, the natural resources, and the agrarian way of life. In this program, landowners sell the development potential of their property to the county, while maintaining the right to own and utilize the land. The purpose of the PDR program is preserve the large swaths of farmland necessary — including land to raise and board horses — to protect the county’s agricultural industry from invasive pockets of residential development.
To date, the PDR program has protected more than 12,000 acres of land that will never be developed. Not now. Not ever.
A program like this would have been a hard sell without the powerful statistics of CFFC’s horse survey.
In 1997, North Wales — the property that spawned the first iteration of CFFC — was sold to a horse enthusiast and owner. That the land would be used for raising horses and not for building houses was a reason to celebrate, and thanks to CFFC, everyone knew why.