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Anyone with a vested interest in the horse industry should be jumping for joy about the multi-million-dollar Animal Quarantine Import-Export Center planned for Dulles International Airport. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) Task Force is currently reviewing several applications to develop, build and run this center.

Managing director of The ARK at JFK, Elizabeth Schuette, with her dog Tucker in the Pet Oasis.
Managing director of The ARK at JFK, Elizabeth Schuette,
with her dog Tucker in the Pet Oasis.

One of the applicants is John J. Cuticelli, Jr., the man behind The ARK at JFK International Airport, New York City. He got involved when contacted by Rob Banner, president of the Great Meadow Foundation in The Plains.

Great Meadow and Banner both played key roles in advancing the idea that the time had come for an animal quarantine center at Dulles to serve the increasing needs of the Mid-Atlantic equestrian communities, especially the horse-centric counties of Loudoun and Fauquier.

With Great Meadow International hosting the only FEI Nations Cup of Eventing™ this side of the Atlantic Ocean, horses will be flying in from Europe and other parts of the world. On top of that, Great Meadow is one of two finalists — Fair Hill in Maryland is the other — being considered by U.S. Equestrian (USEF.org) to host a second Concours Complet International 4-star (CCI****) in the U.S.   

Timing Is Everything

When the heirs of Great Meadow’s founder, the late Arthur (Nick) Arundel, put the adjacent property, Fleming Farm, on the market, Banner started thinking that the land would be perfect for a big, spectator-based 3-day event.

“Nick always said that Great Meadow and Fleming Farm belonged together,” he recalled. “By buying that farm, we could preserve more open space, but at the time Great Meadow didn’t have money for the purchase. When we started thinking about eventing and how we could host international level competition, that’s when I contacted David O’Connor [U.S. Eventing Team coach]. I didn’t know it at the time, but he had been looking for a site to host that level.”

Banner wanted a 4-star, but O’Connor thought that the best possibility would be to host a Nations Cup of Eventing. Banner got to work, and generous supporters empowered the acquisition in early 2014 of the adjacent 174-acres, which expanded Great Meadow to 380 acres. The extra acreage provided plenty of room for the proposed new eventing cross-country course, huge outdoor all-weather arena, and schooling rings. The hallowed ground of the Gold Cup course would be used as lightly as possible to preserve the great turf footing for racing.

O’Connor knew his sport inside out. After retiring from competition with Olympic individual gold and two team medals (silver, bronze) among his accolades, he served as president of the U.S. Equestrian Federation from 2004–2012. He and his wife Karen, also an Olympic medalist, live and train in The Plains. O’Connor knew many of the key local people involved with Great Meadow and eventing. He also confirmed that Great Meadow met all the criteria necessary to host international eventing.

To put Great Meadow on the radar of the USEF and FEI (International Equestrian Sports Federation), O’Connor worked with Mike Etherington-Smith, world class cross-country course designer and former chief executive of British Eventing, and Banner, to name a few.

Great Meadow, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, operates under the stewardship of the Great Meadow Foundation and the entire field events center, including the steeplechase course and eventing facility, is in perpetual easement. This honors Arundel’s vision of a multi-purpose equestrian and field sports park dedicated to the preservation of open space and service to the community.   

In late July 2014, Great Meadow hosted the final prep event for the U.S. Eventing Team before the FEI Alltech World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France, followed in late June 2015 by the CIC3* and final team prep event before the Pan American Games in Canada.

Great Meadow International was born in spring 2015 with O’Connor as organizer, Darrin Mollett as co-organizer, and Banner as Great Meadow liaison. The GMI committee includes several local people, all with equestrian credentials and background: Nina Fout, Donna Devadas, Mary Pat Guest, Punkin Lee, and Steve Symansky. Their bid to host a leg of the prestigious series called the Nations Cup of Eventing™ was successful: Great Meadow will host the second annual Nations Cup of Eventing this July 7–9.

Raising The Bar for Animal Transport

Honored furry guests with the staff of  The Ark at JFK in the Pet Oasis
Honored furry guests with the staff of  The Ark at JFK in the Pet Oasis

“When Great Meadow International was approved by the FEI (International Equestrian Sports Federation) to hold the first-ever Nations Cup of Eventing™ outside Europe, I knew we needed to accommodate horses from other parts of the world,” recalled Banner. “I went to Dulles and asked if they could help me make an equine quarantine facility. They said no, but they told me that if I could find an owner-operator, they would be happy to lease the land and serve as landlord.”

When Banner read about the $65-million animal quarantine center, The Ark at JFK International Airport in Queens, New York, he immediately contacted Cuticelli and his wife Elizabeth A. Schuette, The ARK’s managing director. They were more than commercial real estate and air cargo transport experts. They became experts in animal air transport by traveling around the world to study animal quarantine facilities in various countries.

Their goal was to create a model for The ARK that improved the air transport of all animals and livestock, including companion animals and family pets. They also worked diligently with Cornell University College Veterinary Medicine whose standard operating procedures (SOP) for The ARK were approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Cuticelli, Schuette, and Banner met with MWAA (Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority) to discuss developing and operating an animal quarantine and export-import center at Dulles. The MWAA Task Force was receptive to the idea, pending the result of a feasibility study, which Loudoun and Fauquier Counties co-sponsored.

Location Location

To date, there are only three animal quarantine centers in the U.S.: JFK and Miami on the East Coast, Los Angeles on the West. The idea of an animal quarantine center in the Mid-Atlantic area is not new, and don’t forget the horses in Kentucky, Ohio, and other nearby states. Ask anyone who has shipped equines and livestock to Queens in the Big Apple or to Miami: nerve-wracking, long road trip, horrendous traffic, time-consuming are but a few of the complaints.

Washington Dulles International Airport is situated mostly in Loudoun, one of the fastest growing counties in the nation, with a small portion spilling into Fairfax County. Back in 1989, Dulles was the subject of a feasibility study for an equine import-export quarantine facility; however, the results indicated that it wasn’t “operationally feasible.” At the time, Virginia’s horse industry generated more than $417-million annually and, even though the Commonwealth and surrounding states hosted many competitions, there wasn’t enough demand for equine air transport.

Hark forward to 2011 when a study by the University of Virginia cited that the state’s horse industry delivered an annual economic impact of $1.2 billion dollars. In 2016, Upperville, the oldest horse show in the nation, debuted three FEI 4-star jumper classes offering $294,000 in prize money, very attractive to all riders, but the prospect of earning FEI points on top of big bucks brings in riders and horses from other nations. More momentum resulted when Great Meadow International, presented by Adequan, began hosting the only U.S. based Nations Cup of Eventing.

Given that Great Meadow is one of two venues being considered to host the second four-star three-day competition in the U.S., Dulles becomes an even more significant factor to assist in bringing high-performance horses to Virginia.

The Joy of Horse Sports

Last summer, spectators at the Nations Cup got to watch Phillip Dutton in action before he went to Rio as part of the U.S. Olympic Eventing Team and earned individual bronze with Mighty Nice, owned by the HnD Group. Their partnership pretty much exemplifies the Joy of Horse Sports campaign being conducted by the re-branded national governing body, now known as U.S. Equestrian, thanks to the leadership of new president Murray Kessler.

What’s happening at Great Meadow on an elite level is happening on grass root levels all around horse country. Eventing involves kids of all ages from Beginner Novice on up. It’s also a great spectator sport — to watch up close, and in person, the world’s best in action without expensive travel is an experience that belongs on everyone’s calendar.

Eventing has three phases. Dressage is like dancing on horseback, but eventers do it without music. The cross-country is a jumping test, consisting of several miles of flagged and numbered solid obstacles situated on natural terrain. Show jumping requires precision over a course of verticals and oxers whose painted rails tumble at the lightest touch. There’s a reason why the phrase is horse and rider, not the other way around. You can see it in action at Great Meadow.

Destination: Dulles

The positive results of the economic feasibility study, conducted by HR&A Advisors, Inc., were announced in early February. Now it’s just a matter of waiting for the MWAA Task Force to decide who will build the animal quarantine center at Dulles. At least one of the applicants has a working model in place.

On February 13, The ARK at JFK, the world’s first privately owned, 24/7 animal terminal and airport quarantine, officially opened Phase 1: The ARK Pet Oasis, Equine & Livestock Export Center, and Aviary In-Transit Quarantine. The other two phases will be fully functional by summer.

“We developed The ARK concept to address the unmet needs for the import and export of companion, sporting and agricultural animals,” said Cuticelli, CEO of Racebrook Capital and founder-chairman of ARK Development, LLC/The Ark at JFK. “Transporting live cargo by plane can be a complex and stressful process for owners and animals alike. Our goal is to make a more efficient and safe process by reducing the need for additional travel and offering trained animal care staff immediately pre- and post-flight. The ARK provides a healthy and comfortable environment and sets new international airport standards for comprehensive veterinary, kenneling and quarantine services.”

As Banner put it: “The model John created for The ARK at JFK is pretty much bulletproof and would be the best scenario for horses, for all animals, coming to Virginia and nearby states or shipping to foreign destinations.”

The bottom line is, of course, easier and safer transport of all animals, whoever gets the nod from MWAA. No matter how much humans enjoy traveling, there’s always associated stress, but try flying animals — dog, cat, horse — it’s expensive, emotionally and financially. Having a first class animal quarantine air transport center at Dulles will make a world of difference.