On Friday, March 24, 2017 the owner of the Potomac Horse Center, Paul Novograd, died at 73; the cause has not yet been announced.
The native New Yorker, Fulbright scholar studying Zen gardens in Asia, and speaker of 8 languages was certainly a seemingly unlikely candidate to own a riding school in the Maryland suburbs, and he came to it through an unlikely route as well: his father. While not a horseman, Paul’s father was the bookkeeper when the Claremont Riding Academy on New York’s Upper West Side was established in 1927, and became its sole owner after city attempts to turn it into a parking garage failed. Although Paul Novograd initially fought his destiny, he eventually succumbed, and in the process managed to save the historic building. City dwellers could board horses there, take lessons on school horses, or rent mounts for leisurely rides on Central Park’s four-mile bridle path.
Paul parlayed his experience at Claremont into two other boarding/lesson stable businesses, Overpeck in New Jersey, and Potomac Horse Center in Gaithersburg. Paul and his wife Nancy owned the PHC business operation, leasing the land and facilities from Maryland National Capital Park & Planning. These more rural settings were also intended to house their vacationing NYC horses.
Despite investing 37 years and $2 million, Paul regretfully closed Claremont in 2007. The final straw? The degradation of the bridle trails in Central Park: “The magnificent bridle paths, whose deep cinder surface was once lovingly tended, were allowed to erode down to its bedrock substrata, making it impossible to canter or keep horses sound,” explained Paul in an radio interview that year: “Even if the Parks Department wanted to make it horses only, it’s just too inviting to pedestrians and dirt bikers and people throwing Frisbees and people pushing strollers, and it’s a zoo out there. And our horses are, thank you, just too polite for zoos.”
Although Claremont closed, Paul and Nancy, dedicated New Yorkers, remained in Manhattan, where Nancy had a thriving animal talent agency. And Paul remained passionate about introducing newcomers, particularly city-people, to horses. As a client, my conversations with him centered around his ever-percolating brain with ways to entice nonriders to the Potomac Horse Center, so he could convert them into regular riders. Singles night, with lessons followed by wine-and-cheese. Moms-Only lessons, with daycare provided. Road trips and field trips. Christmas caroling on horseback. Always positive and full of energy, he wanted horses to be fun for everyone.
And when an out-of-state horse person visited New York? He wanted it to be fun for you! For years, Paul had nattered at your publisher to visit NYC and ride through Central Park. After finally getting up there in 2007, Paul offered not only the opportunity to ride in Central Park, but also the opportunity to go backstage at The Met, as he and his wife were (and still are) the exclusive providers of animals for their operas. Pressed for time, and assuming there would be numerous future opportunities to ride in Central Park, I chose the Met. Claremont closed a few months later. Thus, the opportunity deferred is often the opportunity lost.
Regardless, Paul gave me a wonderful, unique gift. A friend and I joined Paul as official handlers of Sir Gabriel, donkey star of La Boheme, for a unique and incredible night backstage at The Met, also a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Meanwhile, Paul’s legacy of introducing people to animals, and animals to people, will continue with the work of his wife, Nancy, as she carries on with the animal talent agency and the Horse Center.
– Crystal B. Pickett