Charlottesville firm designs horse-oriented communities

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by Heather B. Hayes

Sure, it would be nice to have a few acres with a couple of horses grazing in the front paddock, but, honestly, who has the time for all that barn work? A better solution might be to follow the example of golfers, who live next door to their hobby but let someone else do the work.

That’s the concept behind the sudden success of Equestrian Services LLC, a small firm in Charlottesville that has tripled its business during the past 18 months by working with developers to design residential neighborhoods that feature community barns, paddocks, trails, green spaces and other horsy amenities.

“People really want the lifestyle, but they want it in a way that is affordable and lets them enjoy the horses,” says Jennifer Donovan, a lifelong horsewoman. She owns the company with her husband, Michael, who previously worked in landscape design and construction. “A lot of this also ties into this whole ruralism movement and getting families back into safe communities, where kids can say, ‘I’m going to the barn,’ and their mom can say, ‘Just be home for dinner.’”

Equestrian Services, which has eight employees, had revenues of $1.5 million last year. It now is working on 10 projects around the country in states such as Virginia, Hawaii, Texas, Wisconsin, Nevada and California. The company’s work falls into two categories:

• adding barns and riding amenities to new or existing resort communities where horses provide one of many activities, and
• building facilities in a community where everything revolves around equestrian pursuits.

Both approaches offer a common experience, Donovan says. Residents can board their horses at the community barn or reserve a community-owned “club horse” for the occasional riding excursion.

A monthly homeowner’s fee covers all expenses associated with staffing, maintenance and upkeep of the community horses. But a-la-carte services also are available for a price. These include the types of equestrian luxuries that members of the British royal family are used to. Commuters on their way home, for example, can call a barn attendant to get their horses tacked up and ready to ride.

The most serious riders may want to live at one of Equestrian Services’ signature projects: a development branded and endorsed by Virginia-based Olympians David and Karen O’Connor. The first of these communities was recently unveiled in Lake City, Fla., about 30 minutes from Gainesville.

The Oaks of Lake City, as the neighborhood is called, will feature an indoor arena, a 76-acre, competition-quality equestrian center, a cross-country jumping course designed by David O’Connor and miles of riding trails. Residents will also have the opportunity to attend an annual riding clinic given by the O’Connors.

Following the theory “if you build it, they will come,” the equestrian amenities have been built and 236 home lots now are being offered for sale. Already though, demand has been strong, Donovan says, with inquiries coming in from as far away as Europe and Asia. Lots range from 1 to 6 acres and cost from $59,900 to $174,900. The homeowners association fee, which covers the management and maintenance of all common areas, including the equestrian amenities, is $150 a month — or fairly comparable to that of a golf resort community.


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