Animal Farm
Baltimore magazine|April 2021
The Baltimore County Center for Maryland Agriculture is a largely unknown oasis on the edge of the city.
COREY MCLAUGHLIN

He speaks with an Irish accent: “Let me get the little one for ya.” And the man we just met, wearing a white T-shirt, blue jeans, and sporting dark scruff, hops over a wooden fence into the wispy tall grass of the pasture, then glances down where his feet landed. He sees something glinting in the sun, a set of horse blinders and a bug net used to keep critters out of horses’ faces. “I’ve been looking for those,” he says. “I spent 30 minutes this morning trying to find them.” He deftly picks the items up and places them in his pants pocket.

It’s a warm, late summer afternoon, and I’m holding my 1-year-old daughter, Molly, in my arms as we stand atop a hill, surrounded by farmland, at the Baltimore County Center for Maryland Agriculture. My wife, Jamie, stands next to me with the stroller, and the sturdy Irishman, who later introduces himself as Jim, is off in a nearby field fetching a horse to show our baby. In the distance, four horses, two big and two small ones, are grazing, and when Jim gets about 40 yards away, he whistles to get the smallest’s attention, coaxing the white pony toward us, like he’s walking a dog off leash.

“You’re like the horse whisperer,” Jamie yells to Jim as he gets closer. To me, he looks more like Ray Liotta as “Shoeless” Joe Jackson exiting the cornfields in the famed baseball movie Field of Dreams, with horses in tow instead of the 1919 Chicago Black Sox. The remaining horses, two of them large brown and white thoroughbreds, follow the little one, their tails swooshing with curiosity. “They think I have food,” Jim says with a chuckle.

Molly is doing her amused, curious pointing thing at the biggest one, when Jim tells us about where they came from and what they’re doing here. One, named Tina, is an old racehorse rescued from a kill pen in Pennsylvania. The other big one is a laidback 31-year-old named Doc, who injured a back leg about 18 years ago and was donated by River Valley Ranch, a nonprofit ministry in Manchester, Maryland. Today, they’re used as therapy horses for kids and adults.

As Jim speaks, we look around and see endless forest and clear skies to the north and west, Timonium office buildings to the east across the valley of Interstate 83, and the tops of buildings in Towson to the south. It quickly becomes clear we’re standing on a hidden gem of a property, an oasis on the edge of the city, a place that makes us think, “How did we not know this was here before?”

I start taking notes on my phone. “You’re a writer?” Jim says. “You should write a feature about this place. We’re trying to get the word out.”

I couldn’t agree more.

OF COURSE, BALTIMORE and the entire state of Maryland has a deep and rich equestrian history. The Preakness has been run in the city for well over a century, and a quick drive from downtown will take you past fields of horse farms soon enough, but the proximity and accessibility of this particular farm—it’s also a county park—with its old racehorses grazing for public view minutes from our own home, took us by surprise.

At 149 acres, the place is roughly the size of 113 football fields in the beautiful Maryland countryside, which Jim says reminds him of the Irish hills in which he was born, and it’s open to the public every day of the year. It’s also much closer and cheaper than a trip to Ireland.

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