Horse lovers trying to save stables at Fort Meade

February 23, 1993|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

The horse stables at Fort Meade are losing money, and the garrison commander is considering closing the million-dollar facility.

But when word of that filtered out, equestrians from all walks of military life rose in protest.

At a meeting Friday, officers and enlisted personnel, their spouses and children, complained for two hours to Col. Kent D. )) Menser, the commander, that the stables are under-publicized, underused, poorly managed and full of unharnessed potential.

"I cannot understand how a stable of that size cannot make money," said Davina Pruitt, whose father is a retired Army officer. "You don't publicize. It was a year before I realized this place was around."

Colonel Menser said he has not decided whether to close the stables or two other activities that are under review -- the wood shop and the auto crafts course.

"If you have heard exactly what is going to happen to the stables, then you have heard a fib," the garrison commander said. "I'm the one who will make the call. And I don't know yet. There has been no decision made."

Colonel Menser said the military no longer can afford services that don't pay for themselves.

In fiscal year 1992, the stables -- open only to service people and their dependents and civilians connected with the Department of Defense -- ran a $7,000 deficit.

Because no tax dollars are spent on the facility, the money was made up with subsidies from more lucrative activities at Fort Meade, such as the golf course and bowling alley.

The situation is further complicated because Fort Meade no longer owns the land and buildings.

They were part of the 8,100 acres transferred to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center as part of the plan to close and realign the base.

Colonel Menser, who had set a March 1 deadline for a decision, told the stable users that if they came up with a plan to make money -- such as horse shows and other events -- he would give them the opportunity to prove themselves.

Those at the meeting said they could raise money, as long as military red tape is kept at a minimum. Some said they sent plans for horse shows to the proper authorities eight months ago and still have not heard anything.

Others said that the government has reduced the number of horses it owns from eight to three, meaning children are on long waiting lists just to get into a riding program. "You can't make a profit on three horses," said Betsey Massey of Gambrills. "You have given us just enough rope to hang ourselves."

She said privately owned stables in Anne Arundel County -- which charge $200 to $600 a month to board a horse -- make thousands of dollars in profit each year. And with nearly 250,000 people using Fort Meade each year, she sees no reason a government-run stable can't do the same.

"There is something wrong with your financial statements," said Ms. Massey. "Fort Meade has a diamond in the rough and doesn't even know it."

Virtually everyone praises the stables as first-rate and in the best condition of any in Maryland. Many said more people would ride if they knew the stables were there.

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