When one thinks of Lexington, Virginia, the Virginia Military Institute and Washington and Lee University jump to mind. Unless you’re part of the horse set, you probably don’t know that just 10 minutes away, the lesser-known Virginia Horse Center (VHC) draws nearly a half-million people to its 600-acre facility each year. Since its beginnings 25 years ago, the center has grown exponentially, and now includes a 4,000-seat indoor arena, eight barns, 19 show rings, driving courses, restaurants, campgrounds and shops.
Partially state-funded until 2007 when it became an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, VHC caters to all disciplines of riding, from dressage to hunter jumpers. The center’s grand accommodations attract major equestrian events, including the Lexington National Horse Show, which draws approximately 600 horses, and the National Barrel Horse Association Colonial Nationals, which draws some 800 horses, both held in August. According to a 2011 study by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, the VHC hosts more than half of the high-level horse show events in the state each year, and leads the $1.2 billion horse industry in Virginia.
VHC holds 110 events each year, but they aren’t all just for equestrians. Amanda Jones, assistant director of development at VHC, says the center is ever-expanding its offerings to draw a broader audience. VMI uses its cross-country course for meets. And in July folks regularly flock to the Rockbridge Regional County Fair, also held there. Recently added events—including Bluegrass nights, the American Kennel Club National Agility Championship, and a BMX race—helped push the center’s revenues to more than $4 million.
Despite the variety of revenue-growing efforts, Jones says the horse center is primarily just that. “The Virginia Horse Center is a facility for riders,” she says. “We can be all they need and want us to be with their support of our mission.” HorseCenter.org
Editor's note: The VA Horse Center's revenues were reported incorrectly in the print version of this story, but have been corrected in this version. Virginia Living regrets the error and apologizes for any inconvenience caused.