History of Horses in the Garden State
Equestrian Life

A History of Horses in the Garden State


New Jersey Has Horses?

Who loves to watch the Kentucky Derby? I do, I do! Most people in the US think of horse racing or major equestrian events they think of Kentucky, Florida, and California. But I want you to know that New Jersey holds a long and beautiful history with horses, and it continues on to this day?


Monmouth County, New Jersey

Living in Monmouth County, New Jersey has a multitude of benefits. I live 15 minutes from the beach. Although in close proximity to the ocean, I live in green space and farms.

Valley at Lancaster Equestrian Stables


However, I technically live in the suburbs of NYC, only 45 minutes by ferry ride. It’s perfection. I joke with my husband that it’s no wonder everyone who grows up here eventually comes back. That’s not to say all of New Jersey is gorgeous. Anyone flying into Newark Airport sees the port and thinks that is all our state has to offer.


A while ago I was doing research for another post and found that the state animal of New Jersey is the horse. New Jersey has a rich history with equines. In fact, the first racetrack in the United States was in Monmouth County- Freehold Raceway, which began operating in the 1830’s. Even closer to my home is well-known Monmouth Park, originally named Long Brach Racetrack.


“Long Branch Racetrack and its owners ranked among the most influential figures in the thoroughbred racing world, and helped form the Jockey Club in 1894. ”

— NJSports.com


Since 1968, Monmouth Park’s marquee event has been the Haskell Invitational, the major race between the Triple Crown and Breeders Cup series. Amory Haskell was instrumental in bringing racing back to New Jersey in the 1940s.  In fact, this year’s Kentucky Derby contender, Irish War Cry, is a New Jersey-bred thoroughbred owned by Amory Haskell’s daughter.


The Thoroughbred Daily News is published in Red Bank, New Jersey. Share on X


Horses Throughout the Garden State

Not all horse racing forums are limited to Monmouth County. One of the more famous racetracks is at The Meadowlands. The Meadowlands became a venue for harness racing and thoroughbred racing the in the 1970’s. But, historically there has been horse racing in Newark, Hoboken, Atlantic City, and more.



The Garden State doesn’t limit itself to thoroughbred racing. Perhaps lesser known nationally, but infamous in the New York Metro area, is The Hunt. Yet, this is not to be confused with the local Haskell Hunt held in Middletown until 1996.  The Hunt is a steeplechase race currently held in Far Hills, NJ each October, and was originally a fox hunting event in northern New Jersey as far back as 1870.

Finally, ever heard of Jersey Fresh International? An Olympic-level International three-day event held every year at the Horse Park of New Jersey.


“The Jersey Fresh International Three-Day Event will take place May 10th through 14th, at the Horse Park of New Jersey – a premier venue that draws equestrian sports’ top competitors. Marking its 15th anniversary in 2017, over the years JFI has helped determine both United States’ and Canadian World Equestrian Games and Pan Am Games Teams, and was proud to be – once again – a qualifying selection event for the U.S. Olympic Eventing Team, whose athletes competed in the Rio de Janeiro Summer Games in August 2016.”

— Jersey Fresh International



I moved to New Jersey by way of Washington State and California as a young child and spent most of my life here. I’ve traveled the world and am always amazed at the reputation of New Jersey. Recently a friend brought her dog from New York City for me to massage. She had never spent much time in New Jersey. Her shock that it was beautiful was apparent.


New Jersey has a rich history of equestrian pursuits. Interestingly, it also has the most horses per square mile out of any other state. It’s called “The Garden State” for a reason.


  • Lola The Rescued Cat

    Very interesting post. I grew up in Rockland County, NY right on the Jersey border. There are parts of Jersey that are lush and beautiful. People think of NJ as what they see on the Turnpike, which is very industrual and stark. I have never been to a horse race! And I live so close.

    • Heather Wallace

      You should definitely attend a race at some point. It’s a lot of fun. I don’t get to go nearly as often as I’d like since I work a lot of weekends, but the energy is amazing.

  • Debbie Bailey

    Huh, I had no idea! I actually lived in New Jersey for most of my young life too, but in Wayne. A far cry from the beach or farmland. lol I loved reading about New Jersey’s history with horses and racing. Really interesting stuff, thanks for sharing.

    • Heather Wallace

      Thank you for reading! I have friends in Wayne and spend time up there occasionally. There is a big difference between northern NJ and Central NJ where I am, but you would be surprised at the amount of barns and beautifully places up north!

  • Kelly

    As a previous horse owner/competitor, had no idea that the state animal of New Jersey is the horse! Great informative post. And it’s been a while since I’ve watched the Kentucky Derby so as far as picking a contender – may the best horse win!

    • Heather Wallace

      Thank you for reading and happy to impart something new. 🙂 I don’t usually follow thoroughbred racing too closely (more jumpers really) but have a Jersey boy certainly makes it more interesting.

  • Amy Shojai

    I’ll be at a writers conference this weekend, but we always have the TV on in the networking area so we can watch the Derby. They’re such stunning athletes.

    • Heather Wallace

      Hi Nichole! Truth be told that horse racing is not my forte. But I think it is so interesting that New Jersey has a negative reputation, and yet such a rich history with equestrian sports that no one talks about.

  • Dolly the Doxie

    As a lover of horse I will be honest in saying that I am surprised that you support horse racing in any form. Most of us animal lovers have come to know how cruel a sport it is and that many of the horses bred never make it to the track. I always loved horse racing, especially the Derby and actually got to go one year, 1992, the year the filly Winning Colors won the race wire to wire the first time ever. But only a few years later a filly broke down in the race and was put down on the track. Then there was Barbaro. That was it for me. I no longer watch horse racing or condone it in any form. We have a big race track here, Arlington, I use to go for my birthday every May, but the casinos are killing their profits which is fine for me. I apologize for my honesty but as an animal lover I can’t support or promote the sport, it’s no better than Greyhound racing.

    • Heather Wallace

      I appreciate your honesty. My post was not an attempt to support or advertise the sport of horse racing in any way. Only to show the long history and variety of equestrian sports in my state of New Jersey. I have worked with race horses and ride an OTTB, so I do know very well how these horses are treated from personal experience. I do not personally support training and backing horses before they have completed growing and think there should be regulations for this. I am a passionate animal lover, especially of horses, and I would never condone the mistreatment of an animal. That being said, not all trainers, owners, and racing barns should be lumped together.

  • Tonya Wilhelm

    Horses are such amazing creatures. I grew up loving and riding them weekly. But, when I hit my teenage years, things changed. I still enjoy watching them in the pastures.

    • Heather Wallace

      Truly I feel so lucky to spend time with horses. I had no idea when I moved here what big horse country this area was. For years I was living in the city and craving something. I have now found my way back to them and could not be happier.

  • Holly Montgomery

    New Jersey sounds a lot like Calgary, where I am from! Oil and Gas are our mainstay, but we have Spruce Meadows which hosts some pretty incredible equestrian events! It’s only minutes from where I live, and now you’ve made me feel like I should be checking them out more often. <3

    • Heather Wallace

      I used to work with a surgeon in Calgary and he owned horses! Most of us equestrians have heard of Spruce Meadows, it is very well known! A book I just reviewed took place at Spruce Meadows also. You should definitely check them out. The jumpers are especially fun to watch- they are so fast and so brave!

  • sonja

    Horses are amazing. I love that Ottawa has Polo! and once a year we have our own version of "ascot" if you will … with Polo in the Park. Also pet friendly!

    • Heather Wallace

      Oooh, that sounds like so much fun! I’ve never been to a polo match. I have a friend that plays and he told me he’d teach me……but I’d need a lot of practice before I got to use the mallet. 🙂 Probably smart of him.

  • Beth

    I really don’t know much about horse racing. I have never been to a horse race or watched much of them on TV, but horses are unique in their strength and grace.

    • Heather Wallace

      That’s okay, I don’t know much about horse racing either! I could count the number of times I’ve been to a race on one hand. Still working up the nerve to gallop on Delight. He used to race and boy is he fast!

  • Kamira Gayle

    Okay how is it that I’m a natural born Jersey girl and never knew the state animal was the horse? LOL. I have visited Long Branch, NJ in Monmouth County and had a great time. I want to visit Red Bank NJ next. I hear it’s a great eclectic town.

    • Heather Wallace

      Truth be told I didn’t know about the state animal until a few months ago! I live near Red Bank and it is SUCH a cute town. I spend a lot of time there. You’ll have to let me know next time you visit.

  • Kristin Avery

    I have family in New Jersey and know it is an amazing state – beaches, hills, cliffs, NYC – what else could anyone want!

    • Heather Wallace

      Exactly! Yay so glad that you appreciate it. Drives me crazy the impression most people have of it. The Jersey Shore show on MTV did not help.

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