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By Michael Donovan

RISMEDIA, July 24, 2007–Equestrian communities ? and the specialized amenities that define them ? are a growing trend in the real estate market. They offer opportunities to develop a wide variety of properties that will attract today’s sustainability-minded buyers and provide an excellent return on investment dollars. Developers seeking a new market should consider the four unique characteristics of equestrian development:

Equestrian communities optimize the use of the natural environment. Effectively designed equestrian communities require minimal manipulation of the natural environment. Pasture areas typically utilize existing topography and are planted in grasses well suited to the natural conditions. Properly planned trail systems use natural features as gateways, anchors, and destinations. Furthermore, equestrian amenities are available for use by all residents of the community. Unlike golf, trails and paths created specifically for active amenity participants can serve the needs of non-participants as well. This is a tremendously valuable aspect of the equestrian amenity when one considers the active and environment-conscious nature of today’s buyer. In short, equestrian communities conserve the land and utilize the environment to its fullest.

Equestrian communities practice greater sustainability and are easier to entitle than traditional developments. As rural lands are replaced by high density subdivisions, the desire of the public and elected officials has grown dramatically to retain a connection to the historically agricultural nature of remaining land. While no one should argue that development is necessary to meet the needs of our growing population, the nature of that development can play a significant role in minimizing the difficulties encountered in the entitlement process.

Many developers find increased public support and acceptance due to the nature of an equestrian community. Equestrian communities represent a more sustainable, environmentally friendly, and conservationist form of development than other types of large amenity-based communities. These practices – often a key component of an equestrian community – include maintaining horses where they have previously (and often historically) existed, reserving large tracts of open space for pasture, riding trails, cross country courses and jumping fields, effectively managing the large turf areas for horse turn out, and providing appropriate, low-impact uses for sensitive and/or restricted use areas.

Compared with traditional developments, these communities are almost by definition of lower density. But don’t be a victim of the “density equals dollars” mentality. Buyers will pay a premium for a lot (and often a relatively small lot) that has access to significant natural open space and provides the opportunity to interact with horses. And compared to golf, equestrian amenities can be developed for a fraction of the cost, require less land, and require far less pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers to look their best.

Pent-up demand for effectively designed and executed equestrian communities is growing. While the equestrian community is not a new concept, it has often not been fully developed until now. Many communities feature equestrian amenities that appear to have been created simply as marketing efforts, without sufficient planning for the health and safety of horse or rider or towards viable riding opportunities. Equestrian enthusiasts consider their horses (in whom they have often have made a substantial financial investment) part of their families, and are quickly becoming more sophisticated in evaluating the true value of a community’s horse-oriented amenity.

Also consider that equestrian sports are one of the five fastest growing sports in the country* and that riders skew heavily towards the affluent end of the demographic spectrum. Providing an effectively planned (i.e., an interesting trail system and riding elements that target your prospective buyer) and properly executed and marketed amenity will provide you with a unique sales proposition that will bring value and buyers to your community.

Development that includes an equestrian amenity may occur on land that otherwise would not be financially feasible. In many regions of the country parcels of land are becoming harder to find. They are either significantly overpriced, have huge topographical, zoning and/or utility issues, or are simply in too rural of an area. An equestrian community project allows the developer to purchase a more remote property (equestrian buyers are often amenable to distant locations or long commutes) or one encumbered by open space easements, wetlands or floodplains. These constraints that may make a parcel financially unsuitable for a traditional community will add value to an equestrian community.

Also, many areas, generally of little or no commercial value, could be perfectly suited for pasture land and other non-structural aspects of an equestrian amenity. In many jurisdictions, equestrian amenities are classified as agricultural use, which provides increased value as well as density and conservation tax benefits not found in traditional communities or with other types of amenities. Equestrian amenities often permit a developer to include the acreage used by the amenity into the total acreage count for density purposes, allowing a project to achieve greater density than would be achieved with a golf course or other traditional amenities.

Excellent opportunities exist to bring valuable communities to market and the four points above provide key highlights of the equestrian community development process. The most important consideration in undertaking an equestrian development is to ensure the amenity is precisely programmed to the targeted buyer and rigorously executed – both on the ground and as marketed. Enlisting the assistance of equestrian planning professionals will greatly enhance the potential of satisfying the goals of the developer, the investor, and the community resident.

* Stat according to the American Horse Council Foundation (AHCF)

Michael Donovan is founder and principal of Equestrian Services, which provides turn-key equestrian amenities for communities, resorts and a few select municipal clients nationwide and designs and assists in creating efficient, aesthetically-pleasing, well-planned equestrian facilities. Equestrian Services is headquartered in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Reprint with permission by Equestrian Services, LLC, July 2007