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Horse park lands first state economic grant
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Just summarizing the drastic increase in activities held at the Mississippi Horse Park over its 19-year history does not do justice to the uniqueness of this facility and the challenges it has faced.
The Mississippi Horse Park, which grew from 23 events in 1999 to 100 in 2017, is a Mississippi State University facility operated in partnership with the city of Starkville and Oktibbeha County. It generates all the funds needed to support its operations.
Bricklee Miller, horse park director, said the facility recently received its first grant from the Mississippi Development Authority to advance its activities.
“The MDA grant will support a barrel racing event on Memorial Day weekend,” Miller said. “Mississippi ranks fourth in the nation in barrel racing members, so it makes sense to host these types of events at the horse park.”
As the name of the facility suggests, many events do cater to horse owners, but the park strives to serve the interests of the areas entire population, she said.
“One of the things that makes us popular is the non-horse events we host,” Miller said. “Through the years, we have changed our dynamics to meet the current needs.”
Steve Martin, associate director of the MSU Extension Service, which operates the facility, praised the excellent job horse park staff members have done to increase participants and spectators at these events. The property is also used for educational purposes.
“Many events that do not include horses have been added to appeal to a wider audience,” Martin said. “The latest addition to the horse park location is the Termite Training Facility being built with donor gifts to the MSU Foundation Extension account.
“When completed in the next few months, this facility will be used to train inspectors for residential termite inspections and treatments throughout the state,” he said.
Other events include Farmtastic, circuses, concerts, dog shows, therapeutic riding programs and
the annual Everything Garden Expo. A nontraditional use for the horse park is overflow and recreational vehicle parking for MSU home football games.
But horse events continue to be the facility’s mainstay.
“We host the rodeo, bull riding, harness racing and numerous barrel racing events,” Miller said. “During the summer, we have a biweekly barrel racing series that brings in dozens of competitors each time.”
In 2017, more than 40,000 people came through the horse park’s gates, and this year is on track to top that figure.
“We are an economic driver for not just our area, but the state,” Miller said.
In the beginning, the horse park contracted to host events that outside promoters produced. While that was successful, Miller now produces several events in-house, creating a higher profit margin that supplements income and helps keep the facility operating.
“The Greater Starkville Development Partnership, through the Convention and Visitors Bureau grant program, has been very important in helping to establish new events and entice promoters to utilize our facility,” Miller said.
A recent example is the Lucky Dog Barrel race organized by producers from Arkansas and held in Starkville for the last several years. This year, the event had 2,000 entries from 12 states over four days.
“We know that the Lucky Dog Barrel Race held in April played a vital role in supporting the local economy,” Miller said. “Several years ago, we started the Horse Poor Barrel Race, which now sells out this facility and surrounding barns each year. We have developed this event and now draw contestants from across the country to spend five days in our community.”
The Mississippi Horse Park is one of the larger facilities of its kind located across Mississippi, and each facility is unique to its community.
“We don’t compete against other facilities; we compete to be the best we can be at what we do,” Miller said. “What I believe sets the Mississippi Horse Park apart is the team effort with dedication to details and the customer service offered by the horse park staff.
“The positive reputation spread by promoters and attendees across the country has grown our numbers and events each year as people realize that this park on the MSU campus offers a clean, safe and friendly environment. People know that Starkville offers great restaurants and shops to visit while attending these events,” she said.
Visit http://www.mshorsepark.com/ for more information about the Mississippi Horse Park schedule, facilities and use.