The Quest for an Indoor

Janelle Casey

It seems like forever that we have been chasing the indoor arena of our dreams, and you’re not wrong, it has been some time. Some of you have been here since the beginning, and some of you have joined along the way. Regardless of your tenure here, most of you just bought warm riding gloves and rain jackets and kicked on – and WE SALUTE YOU.

To better understand the strategic undertaking that is the GEC indoor arena, we have to take it way back. To give you the full picture, here’s a bit of background about Graham Equestrian Center and our facilities.

Our Facilities…

  • GEC’s 26-acre property is a free lease from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
  • We operate formally as Friends of the Gunpowder Falls State Park, Graham Area Equestrian Center (you’ll see that as our name on official documents and applications).
  • Because we do not own our property, GEC must secure approval from Maryland DNR for any projects completed on the property.

DNR has been great to the GEC family over the years and we wouldn’t be here without the generous support of the state of Maryland. But like any government entity, DNR is a busy group of folks and things take a lot of talking, persistence, and time. Thinking of sharing lessons with even more students in the bliss of an indoor was enough to keep our feet moving and emails flying – so we pushed on. Let’s look at everything that’s happened over the course of the Quest for the Indoor.


The Proposal: GEC proposes construction of indoor to DNR. Initial estimates, building requests and research were compiled and sent to DNR for approval.


Approval…. Kind of: GEC receives conditional approval with building stipulations from DNR.

Ok, you can build the arena. BUT….

  • The building must be able to be considered temporary.
  • The building must have a ‘natural’ appearance and blend with the surroundings, for example with wood or wood-look cladding.
  • The building must be used in such as way that it enhances our educational non-profit mission and be an asset to the community.

Our original plans were not exactly what DNR was looking for, but that’s okay, we love a challenge. We took their list of requirements and headed to every resource we could think of, and came up with this.

  • Our arena structure will be primarily fabric and all non-fabric parts must be modular to allow for easy disassembly.
  • The building will be superficially clad in wood or a similar natural looking material.
  • The arena will be located in a place that is easily accessible by the public and also to accommodate persons with disabilities. (We won’t lose any current arena space – the location selected is just off of the driveway where the run-in shed for the lesson field is now.)
  • The stormwater and sediment/erosion control plans will be in place before breaking ground and be approved by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE).

After figuring out the type of structure we were allowed to build, the mission became funding. A large indoor riding space is no small financial undertaking; site excavation, construction and installation, fittings such as bleachers and lighting, electricity, water… there are a lot of things to consider. Initial estimates of $360,000 from our builders had us searching our couch cushions and our tack lockers for spare change. (With inflation and COVID and just life in general, that estimate has ballooned to over $1,000,000)

With our annual fundraising initiatives like clothing sales, digital fundraisers and events we bulked up the indoor arena capital fund to just over $35,000, but we weren’t moving the needle enough on our own.


Funding Identified: After researching possible funding avenues, writing to congress people and senators, and filing lots of paperwork, GEC submits a Legislative Bond Initiative Request to the Maryland General Assembly sponsored by Senator Christopher West and House Delegate Michele Guyton.


Success! GEC’s Legislative Bond Initiative Request was reviewed and approved for a Capital Grant of $100,000. This means that we can start spending money on our project and our expenses will be reimbursed through our grant up to $100,000.

As we expected, the estimates for this project have increased over time. Unexpectedly, they’ve increased beyond normal inflation due to the current global supply chain issues. The most recent estimates for the building are upwards of $1,000,000. We aren’t discouraged! (We get thrown into the dirt by 1200lb animals and get back on, we don’t give up easily).

2022 and 2023

2022 and 2023 was all about design. We engaged our selected vendor, Edge Innovations, Inc. to start a detailed design of the building because…pesky requirements – we need Stormwater Management Drawings and Erosion Control Plans complete, reviewed and approved by MDE before we can do anything else. To get those plans done by a civil engineer, they need more detailed design information.

While we were detailing, we realized that this needs to be a phased project. Phase I is a 100’x192’ covered riding area with a roof and pony walls. Phase II will be to enclose it completely, add cladding so it looks natural in the setting, and add 6 stalls, a tack room, feed room, wash stall and viewing areas.

Here at the end of 2023 we have JUST wrapped up detailed design for Phase I and we are finalizing RFP responses from civil engineering firms to complete Stormwater Management and Erosion Management plans (among other required things).

Once we have a better dollar estimate for Phase I and see how much the civil engineering will cost – we will approach the MD Legislature yet again and see if we can get approved for another grant. We are hopeful we will get approved because:

  • We can show progress by having requested funds being disbursed for detailed design
  • They have already approved $100k for the first grant – and everyone knows it will take more money to complete even Phase I – so the legislature will want to ensure that taxpayer money is not wasted


If everything goes just right (does it ever?) – we hope to have secured another Bond Bill Grant – and hopefully some other grants, so that we can start moving. That will require:

  • Approval by MDE and DNR on the civil plans
  • Start spending some of the original 150k on excavation and tree clearing
  • Maybe – just maybe – we will be able to purchase the building itself by the end of 2024


Spring of 2025 could be the time that it starts to feel real and we can begin the construction of the Phase I structure in the spring!

There are a lot of dependencies and wishful thinking build into this schedule – but we haven’t given up yet in the 8 years we have been working on this project!!! Just imagine – Cherry was a yearling and Butters wasn’t even a twinkle in his Momma’s eye yet way back then.

As you can see, our mission is long from over and we need your help to bring the dream of an indoor riding arena into reality. Listed below are some examples of things YOU can do to help in our quest!

How YOU can help

  • Join the Fundraising Committee – Help our Fundraising team with events and digital campaigns to grow our capital fund
  • Join the Grant Writing Committee – Help our current team search for and apply to applicable grants. 
  • Become a local sponsor or consider recurring donations to our capital fund (donations are tax-exempt within certain thresholds)
  • Partner your small business with us – We are looking for Minority or Women-Owned businesses in the following categories:
    • Tree removal
    • Excavation / Site Prep
    • Farm Structures (we will need to move or replace the run-in shed near the small ring)

Email [email protected] to get involved!