Maryland’s Potomac Horse Center to close

Lease terms deemed 'unsustainable' for venerable riding school that boasts top equestrians among its alums

A beloved riding school in North Potomac/Gaithersburg, Maryland, that has helped educate numerous equestrians—including some world-class competitors—will be closing its doors this summer.

In an April 30 announcement, Potomac Horse Center‘s Nancy Novograd cited a failure to reach an acceptable lease agreement with the facility’s owner, the Maryland-National Capital Parks and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC), as the reason for the closure. July 22 will be the school’s final day at the 60-acre Quince Orchard Road facility, although there is some hint that a search might be underway for a new location.

A history of horsemanship

Founded in the late 1950s/early 1960s by F.G. “Stretch” Harting, Potomac Horse Center (PHC) was conceived as a facility for Olympic-level training of horse and rider. At various periods in its history, it offered a classical dressage program, a combined training (eventing) program and a hunter/jumper program. In more recent years the focus was on riding lessons for all ages and levels, a summer riding camp, opportunities to compete in rated horse shows, and therapeutic riding classes.

Image from Potomac Horse Center website

For many years, PHC was the largest and most prominent riding school in the Washington Metropolitan area, if not the country, with such notable early instructors as Olympian and US Dressage Team coach Col. Bengt Ljungquist.

Among the other renowned equestrians with PHC connections were its founder’s son, accomplished jumper and dressage rider and trainer “Trip” Harting; international dressage competitor and FEI “O” judge Linda Zang; USET members Elizabeth Lewis and Kay Meredith; international dressage rider and judge Elizabeth Madlener; and top dressage competitor Linda Oliver, to name a few.

According to PHC’s Facebook page, US Eventing Association (USEA) Hall of Famer Sally O’Connor was another early member of the PHC staff. Her sons David (an Olympic gold medalist, national team coach, USEA Hall of Famer and former USEF president) and Brian (a highly sought-after equestrian event announcer) reportedly took some of their first riding lessons at the Maryland facility.

A ‘heavy heart’

Novograd’s letter announcing the closing of PHC reads as follows:

Dear Potomac Horse Center Community,

It is with a heavy heart that I am announcing the permanent closing of Potomac Horse Center (PHC),

effective Monday, July 22, 2024. PHC is planning for lessons to continue uninterrupted through June

16th, which is the last day of our Late Spring session. Unfortunately, we are unable to hold camp. Should

PHC need to adjust this timeline we will let you know.

Since 2017, PHC has tried to renegotiate its 1993 lease with the Maryland-National Capital Parks and

Planning Commission (M-NCPPC). The tipping point in the negotiations was M-NCPPC’s insistence that

the renewal of the lease was contingent on PHC raising three to five million dollars to improve

M-NCPPC’s infrastructure with no assurances that PHC would be permitted to remain on the property.

PHC simply cannot ask our clients to pay for and invest in a rapidly deteriorating infrastructure that PHC

does not own.

The terms of our 1993 lease are unsustainable under current economic conditions. PHC pays M-

NCPPC monthly base rent for use of the facilities plus a percentage of PHC’s net and gross incomes.

Additionally, PHC pays for Capital Improvements, repairs and maintenance of M-NCPPC’s property.

The income from our lesson program also has to go to veterinary care, farrier services, hay and grain for

the horses, utilities, payroll, insurance, farm equipment maintenance, fuel, and tack. It has become

nonviable for our programs to cover the increasingly higher and higher costs of the rapidly aging

infrastructure, let alone allow PHC to build up the three to five million dollars required by M-NCPPC to

proceed with negotiations.

On June 17, 2024, all assets, including our beloved school horses, are available for sale to approved

homes, by appointment only. Starting immediately, prospective buyers can come to try the horses and

see everything we have for sale. The horses and equipment needed for daily use will remain on the

property through June 16th. However, individuals may immediately purchase all other assets including

surplus tack and farm equipment.

Novograd asked that anyone interested in making an appointment regarding the above please call (240) 614-3834 rather than the PHC main number.

The Foundation and a path forward

Another announcement on the school’s website points to the possibility of a future at a new location:

“The recently established 501(c)(3) Potomac Horse Center Foundation Inc.* is operating in partnership with Potomac Horse Center (*pending tax-exempt notification),” it begins.

“We are working to find a path forward and continue the remarkable legacy set in motion by F.G. ‘Stretch’ Harting over 60 years ago. Founded in the late 1950s, PHC quickly became a world-renowned premiere international equestrian center.

“The Potomac Horse Center Foundation Inc. is seeking to secure a new location where we can continue this tradition of excellence.

“As the new Foundation establishes itself as a horse discovery center, we will welcome guests of all ages and invite the community at large to visit us and experience these magnificent animals. We firmly believe that horses and horseback riding should be available to all; you do not need to own a horse to enjoy this lifelong sport.”

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