While many people associate Potomac with horses, plenty of people in Potomac don’t know how to ride.
A county-owned facility, the Potomac Horse Center, offers an opportunity for visitors to take a trail ride, take lessons, send children to horse camp or just visit with horses or watch a horse show. The center hosts 700 riders a week in summertime, and 500 a week in winter.
The Potomac Horse Center is an “extraordinary facility”, said Paul Novograd, who owns the business, operated in a Montgomery County-owned facility.
“I don’t know of any other facility that has the tremendous range of programs, facilities, trainers and horses that we do,” Novograd said. “And I say that in all honesty.”
The center is located on Quince Orchard Road in North Potomac and is owned by the Maryland Park and Planning Commission. The parks department acquired the property in 1981 and leases it Novograd, said the center’s general manager Renee Terselic.
PROGRAMS AVAILABLE at the Potomac Horse Center include private, semi-private, and group lessons, a summer riding camp, boarding services, dressage and jumping classes, and a therapeutic riding program. Lessons are available in all levels from adult and children beginners through jumping, advanced dressage and rated shows.
Because the facility has three indoor rings, including one large enough to accommodate stadium jumping, riding can go on in any weather, including throughout last winter’s multiple snow storms or this spring’s many rainy days. There are also outdoor rings lighted for night use, as are the indoor rings.
Lesson rates depend on whether a staff, chief, or senior instructor guides them. Riders enrolled in classes at the center are also eligible for practice rides, scheduled in advance, for $25.
Horse owners can board a horse at the Potomac Horse Center for $575 a month, which includes full care and use of the facilities.
Experienced riders who are not currently enrolled in any classes at the center, but have been evaluated by the riding school’s instructor, will be able to book a guided trail ride later this fall.
“If I could put the No.1 word on us, it’s safe, safe, safe,” Terselic said.
The center will hold its tenth Fall Open House this year on Oct. 5, where free horse and pony rides, a petting zoo, and personalized mini horseshows will be provided. Hayrides will be available at the open house and for "Haunted Hayrides," for which a date is pending.
Dates are posted on the web site or available on flyers for the many horse shows offered throughout the year.
There is also a tack shop on the site that is not run by the center, but has all the basic items, Terselic said. The shop opens at 4 p.m. daily and is run by Charles Kaufman.
THE SUMMER RIDING CAMP runs from June 23 to Aug. 29 this year, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“There’s a lot of stable management [instruction],” Terselic said. “It’s not just riding. So they come in and get a partner, and learn how to groom and tack a horse.”
In addition to riding lessons, camp students also learn how to take a horse’s temperature, pulse and respiration. They do arts and crafts in the afternoon as well as stable management scavenger hunts.
“There’s lots of learning about the not so extraordinary stuff in extraordinary ways,” Terselic said.
“I like the people that work here because they’re really nice and they can help you if you do something wrong or if you need help,” said Frances VonFriedeburg of Bethesda, 8, a summer camp riding student.
Another student, Annaka Stables of Potomac, 9, agreed. “I like the counselors,” she said. “And the horses too. I like Walker.”
“I like how the teachers are nice and they help you when you’re learning,” said Ashley Paulos of Bethesda, 11.
TERSELIC, WHO USED to focus on instructing and training, including dressage classes, has now moved on to managing the center, making sure that everything runs smoothly.
“I’ve gone from being here in my 20s to my 40s to being in the office,” Terselic said. “When I decided to take this job, I said if I’m going to do it, we’re going to have fat, shiny, happy horses … everything that people think riding schools aren’t. They’re happy and well-taken care of.”
There are around 85 horses at the center at the moment, but the main barn can easily accomodate 101 horses, Terselic said. There are another 18 stalls in an overflow barn used for "overnight guests," and horseshows.
THE CENTER’S PRIME CRITERIA for selecting a horse is safety, Paul Novograd said.
“People often like to get on a spirited horse, but we want horses that also have good manners,” Novograd said.
The horses are first ridden and schooled by the staff for a few weeks when they arrive new to the center. Then they are used in private lessons. From there, they are ridden first by the most experienced riders until they work their way down to beginners, Novograd said.
Some of the horses also come from Claremont Riding Academy in Central Park, New York, which Novograd also owns.
“Claremont is an urban stable and an urban environment is not necessarily good for all horses,” Novograd said. “We have some perfectly lovely horses that do better in Potomac [where the horses have large pens and open pastures].”
“I like the horses best,” said Nikki Carnella of Potomac, 7, who is a summer riding camp student.
Novograd is a second-generation member of the horse business.
“My father got a job at Claremont in 1929 and we’ve been in the business ever since, he said. Novograd has been riding since childhood. “I’m afraid I’m a paper shuffler now. Sadly I don’t seem to find time to put into training horses myself.”