Long Green Valley horse farm that county wants to sell includes a nervous equine

Gelding's existence is revealed in audit

April 21, 1999|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

Saddled with a 160-acre horse farm they don't want, Baltimore County officials have now learned that the spread comes with a horse no one can ride.

The bay gelding's existence was revealed this week in a report by the county auditor, who also found that lax county oversight of the Merryland horse farm in Long Green Valley has contributed to the property's decline.

"It was a breakdown on everyone's part," said County Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat who asked for the audit of the farm, which is in his district.

New York businessman Seymour Cohn donated Merryland Farm in 1993 in exchange for a $4.4 million tax write-off, and a short time later gave the county Bold American, valued at $5,000. The county administration wants to sell the farm -- and the recently discovered horse.

"I didn't know we had a horse," said County Councilman Kevin B. Kamenetz, a Pikesville Democrat. "Maybe he could bring us some money."

Not likely.

While of respectable lineage, Bold American's career earnings total $1,230, according to Lucy Acton, managing editor of Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred magazine. Foaled in New York in 1990, he raced one year -- eking out a third-place finish in a minor-league race at Finger Lakes Park in New York in 1993.

"He has zero value as a racehorse," Acton said.

For the past six years, Bold American has grazed at Merryland Farm, once a premier thoroughbred breeding and training facility. The horse is untrained, said Carole Rigione, who manages Merryland Farm with her husband, John. The horse is too nervous for the Boy Scouts to use in seeking their horsemanship badges, she said.

"I call him a landscape horse," Rigione said. "He'd be good for someone who has a field and wants to put a horse in it to look at."

To preserve other farmland

The county wants to use money from the sale of the farm to preserve other farmland, but residents in the area want Merryland to remain a park.

"I frankly think it is immoral to sell it," said Charlotte Pine, president of the Long Green Valley Association.

When Cohn donated the property, then-County Executive Roger B. Hayden announced plans to make Merryland an equestrian center that would play a key role in Maryland's horse industry.

But a change of administrations meant a change of plans. When County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger took office in 1995, ball fields and nature trails were needed more than an equestrian center. Last month, county officials, saying the farm needs $750,000 in repairs, announced plans to sell it.

Appraisals are expected to be complete by the end of the month, and an auction could be held as soon as June, county officials said.

Several people have expressed interest in buying the farm, including William M. Rickman Sr., president of Delaware Park racetrack, who wants to open a track in Western Maryland. But Bartenfelder said several constituents are interested in operating the farm as an equestrian-related park. Rigione said she would present a proposal to the county.

Uncertainty over what to do with the land has existed almost since Cohn donated it, according to Auditor Brian J. Rowe's report released this week.

Frequent disagreements

The Rigiones, who worked for Cohn, continued to operate the farm for the county. But the auditor found that no lease was signed, and the Rigiones and the county frequently argued over the responsibilities of upkeep and maintenance.

For a time, the Rigiones stopped paying rent altogether. The county failed to hold annual inspections of the property as required under its agreement with the Rigiones.

While the county dropped plans for the equestrian center, the Rigiones dropped plans to build a show ring. Carole Rigione said the county insisted on having an architect review the show ring design, but never did.

Financial obligations were murky as well. At times, the Rigiones' $1,000-a-month lease payments were waived because they said they made repairs to the farm, but the auditor said the county did not always know if the repairs were made.

Carole Rigione said she stopped paying rent on the farm for a time to try to force the county to sign a lease, but no lease was signed.

She said she resumed paying the rent and maintaining the property, and today cares for Bold American, which she estimates costs $60 a month for food, medical and blacksmith services.

Property underutilized

The auditor concluded that the farm has been vastly underutilized -- generating $2,242 to $6,113 a month in gross income although it has the capacity to generate $11,500 a month.

Rigione said she had hesitated to use all of Merryland's horse stalls, fearing too many horses would harm the land.

Recently, she has accepted more horses and is at full capacity.

"We now have 80 horses -- 81 with the county's horse," she said.

Pub Date: 4/21/99

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