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Pampering the Ponies

The Idaho Horse Park is ready at the gate

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There's nothing like the smell of horse manure in the morning. One waft of the scent alone can quicken the pulse and bring about any number of sensations for those present. On occasion it will evoke the sights and sounds of competition day, when months or years of training come down to a few minutes in the ring.

Riders, trainers and fans throughout the region have good reason to be excited for the months ahead as the Idaho Horse Park (IHP) kicks off its 2005 season.

Located off exit 38 in Nampa, the Idaho Horse Park completes the Idaho Center, making it one of the most diversified entertainment venues in the Northwest. In addition to the Center's 13,000 seat arena, known for headlining acts from Dolly Parton to Motley Crue, and outdoor amphitheater with its capacity of up to 11,000, the Horse Park boasts two venues of its own, with a third slated to open in 2006.

"The Idaho Center was sort of a two-legged stool before the Horse Park," says Ken King of the Center's development team. "The idea came about in 2001, after the center had been open for four years, and quickly caught on." Through the efforts of park director Rod Orrison and the Idaho Equine Foundation (IEF), the IHP emerged and is quickly becoming the premiere horse venue in the region. "As a horse person, it's been amazing to watch the horse park grow from a big dirt field to its current layout," says Sherri Boardman, competitor and IEF board member. "They really leaned on the experiences of participants in horse events to design the park."

The horse park hosts events for both English and western riding, and can accommodate anything from local groups like the Boise Saddle and Jump Club to regional meets such as the Idaho Quarter Horse Association. The Snake River Stampede Arena is a full-sized outdoor rodeo ring, while the 98,000-square-foot indoor arena boasts moveable fencing that can be set up any number of ways to suit the needs of each specific show. "From a spectator's point of view, it's nice because the layout is different every time," says Boardman. Eric Tondu of operations says they can turn the configuration around in one day, complete with new dirt for every show-involving around 1,400 square feet of dirt to move and customize the footings.

The venues feature portable seating to perfectly fit the needs of the crowd. Whether 100 or 5,000 people are present, this ensures a vast sea of empty seats are not staring at the participants. "We always have a full house,"says King.

It's the attention to detail and custom fit that make the Idaho Horse Park shine, and their reputation continues to grow. "People will attend an event here, go back to where they came from and try to get their local chapters to hold events here. We're doing well with self-marketing at this point." Word of mouth has spread so successfully that the horse park is booked for all but three weekends this coming season. During the off-season for horses, the indoor arena becomes home to Boise State's track meets. "Real estate is so expensive, you've got to use what you've got," explains King.

RV parking is available to participants on-site so they're never far from their horses. A state-of-the art wash rack currently under construction will feature covered individual stalls to run warm water and offer a footbath. The roads are ground asphalt, so there's no mud during the rainy season and no dust in the summer. A network of alleys keep horses and competitors on a different paths than the attendees, thus ensuring the safety of all involved. The needs of the competitors are also met, with food for horses and their caretakers, stall materials, and medical attention available. As if that's not enough, by April 11 there will be software generally reserved for hotel use for their stall bookings. "We're spoiling them here," says King.

The horse park is a boon for the local economy. "Think about it; you have 10,000 people that come in for a one-night concert event. They'll probably have a hot dog and a few beers. When one of the Horse Park events is happening, people come in from Canada, Texas, Oklahoma, Oregon and California. They'll spend two to 10 days in the area, and can bring in one to $1.5 million in revenue. We can fill hotels, restaurants and shops from Caldwell to Boise." With the capacity to house up to 600 horses, that's a lot of people. "And a lot of you-know-what," laughs Ken.

Even the smell won't keep detractors from enjoying themselves. Shavings from the stalls and the accompanying horse manure go into designated boxes that are removed several times a day. The contents are collected by farmers and used as fertilizer. Out of scent, out of mind.

More improvements are planned for the future. The non-profit Idaho Equine Foundation has brought in nearly $345,000 towards improving the venue, and development is under way for the "crown jewel of the horse park," an English riding facility with a Grand Prix course of grass and water jumps and a flat course for dressage events. "This facility will attract groups from down the road and the international stage. People will be able to come and watch million-dollar horses with riders in tuxedos and top hats. That's a type of entertainment that's never been here before and will be a whole different type of equine experience," says King. The Esther Simplot Riding Center will be fully functional by next year's season, and will host a few events this year.

The Idaho Horse Park season runs from March to November. Upcoming events include the Idaho Horse Expo April 15 through 17, five different weekends of team roping, and the U.S. Region Six Dressage finals. The public is invited to attend and most events have free admission. "Spectating at horse events is not such a small task," says Boardman. "After all those months of practice, it's nice to be appreciated."