Starkville Daily News - - FO­RUM -

The Mis­sis­sippi Horse Park, which grew from 23 events in 1999 to 100 in 2017, is a Mis­sis­sippi State Univer­sity fa­cil­ity op­er­ated in part­ner­ship with the city of Starkville and Ok­tibbeha County. It gen­er­ates all the funds needed to sup­port its oper­a­tions.

Brick­lee Miller, horse park direc­tor, said the fa­cil­ity re­cently re­ceived its first grant from the Mis­sis­sippi De­vel­op­ment Au­thor­ity to ad­vance its ac­tiv­i­ties.

“The MDA grant will sup­port a bar­rel rac­ing event on Me­mo­rial Day week­end,” Miller said. “Mis­sis­sippi ranks fourth in the na­tion in bar­rel rac­ing mem­bers, so it makes sense to host th­ese types of events at the horse park.”

As the name of the fa­cil­ity sug­gests, many events do cater to horse own­ers, but the park strives to serve the in­ter­ests of the area's en­tire pop­u­la­tion, she said.

“One of the things that makes us pop­u­lar is the non­horse events we host,” Miller said. “Through the years, we have changed our dy­nam­ics to meet the cur­rent needs.”

Steve Mar­tin, as­so­ciate direc­tor of the MSU Ex­ten­sion Ser­vice, which op­er­ates the fa­cil­ity, praised the ex­cel­lent job horse park staff mem­bers have done to in­crease par­tic­i­pants and spec­ta­tors at th­ese events. The prop­erty is also used for ed­u­ca­tional pur­poses.

“Many events that do not in­clude horses have been added to ap­peal to a wider au­di­ence,” Mar­tin said. “The lat­est ad­di­tion to the horse park lo­ca­tion is the Ter­mite Train­ing Fa­cil­ity be­ing built with donor gifts to the MSU Foun­da­tion Ex­ten­sion ac­count.

“When com­pleted in the next few months, this fa­cil­ity will be used to train in­spec­tors for res­i­den­tial ter­mite in­spec­tions and treat­ments through­out the state,” he said.

Other events in­clude Farm­tas­tic, cir­cuses, con­certs, dog shows, ther­a­peu­tic rid­ing pro­grams and

the an­nual Every­thing Gar­den Expo. A non­tra­di­tional use for the horse park is over­flow and recre­ational ve­hi­cle park­ing for MSU home foot­ball games.

But horse events con­tinue to be the fa­cil­ity's main­stay.

“We host the rodeo, bull rid­ing, har­ness rac­ing and nu­mer­ous bar­rel rac­ing events,” Miller said. “Dur­ing the sum­mer, we have a bi­weekly bar­rel rac­ing se­ries that brings in dozens of com­peti­tors each time.”

In 2017, more than 40,000 peo­ple came through the horse park's gates, and this year is on track to top that fig­ure.

“We are an eco­nomic driver for not just our area, but the state,” Miller said.

In the be­gin­ning, the horse park con­tracted to host events that out­side pro­mot­ers pro­duced. While that was suc­cess­ful, Miller now pro­duces sev­eral events in-house, cre­at­ing a higher profit mar­gin that sup­ple­ments in­come and helps keep the fa­cil­ity op­er­at­ing.

“The Greater Starkville De­vel­op­ment Part­ner­ship, through the Con­ven­tion and Visi­tors Bu­reau grant pro­gram, has been very im­por­tant in help­ing to es­tab­lish new events and en­tice pro­mot­ers to uti­lize our fa­cil­ity,” Miller said.

A re­cent ex­am­ple is the Lucky Dog Bar­rel race or­ga­nized by pro­duc­ers from Arkansas and held in Starkville for the last sev­eral years. This year, the event had 2,000 en­tries from 12 states over four days.

“We know that the Lucky Dog Bar­rel Race held in April played a vi­tal role in sup­port­ing the lo­cal econ­omy,” Miller said. “Sev­eral years ago, we started the Horse Poor Bar­rel Race, which now sells out this fa­cil­ity and sur­round­ing barns each year. We have de­vel­oped this event and now draw con­tes­tants from across the coun­try to spend five days in our com­mu­nity.”

The Mis­sis­sippi Horse Park is one of the larger fa­cil­i­ties of its kind lo­cated across Mis­sis­sippi, and each fa­cil­ity is unique to its com­mu­nity.

“We don't com­pete against other fa­cil­i­ties; we com­pete to be the best we can be at what we do,” Miller said. “What I be­lieve sets the Mis­sis­sippi Horse Park apart is the team ef­fort with ded­i­ca­tion to de­tails and the cus­tomer ser­vice of­fered by the horse park staff.

“The pos­i­tive rep­u­ta­tion spread by pro­mot­ers and at­ten­dees across the coun­try has grown our num­bers and events each year as peo­ple re­al­ize that this park on the MSU cam­pus of­fers a clean, safe and friendly en­vi­ron­ment. Peo­ple know that Starkville of­fers great res­tau­rants and shops to visit while at­tend­ing th­ese events,” she said.

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