by Katherine O. Rizzo (first published in the August 2020 Equiery)
When Ross Peddicord took on the role of Executive Director of the Maryland Horse Industry Board in January 2011, he never thought that the biggest issue the Maryland horse community would face during his tenure would be a global pandemic. But as the state shut down this past March, Peddicord began receiving phone calls and emails pretty much 24 hours a day from industry leaders and farm owners wondering “what now?”
MHIB is part of the Maryland Department of Agriculture, so along with MDA leadership, Peddicord began helping the horse community move forward under ever-changing restrictions and guidelines. Now, as the majority of these COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted, but the virus continues to devastate the country, Peddicord continues to lead the industry forward, adapting and improving along the way.
Peddicord is a lifelong Marylander, raised in Howard County on a dairy farm. He was active in 4-H from an early age, showing cows and learning about farming. It was not until he was 12 years old that Peddicord first became interested in horses. “I went to McDonough at that time and started to ride there,” he explained.
At McDonogh, Peddicord’s roommate was none other than future Olympic three-day eventer Bruce Davidson. “Bruce got a lot of attention for his riding even back then while the rest of us just soldiered on,” Peddicord said with a chuckle. Through McDonogh, Peddicord rode on the school’s equestrian team and graduated as a lieutenant from its Mounted Cavalry Unit.
From McDonogh, Peddicord headed to Maryland’s Eastern Shore where he attended Washington College in Chestertown. “That’s where I took to foxhunting and got to ride with Mr. Hubbard’s [Kent County] Hounds,” Peddicord said. During his college years, Peddicord also continued to show and began riding in local point-to-point races. He graduated in 1971 with a B.A. in American Studies.
A Writing Start
Peddicord’s first job out of college was writing for the Horsemen’s Journal where he earned a TRA award and was offered a job with The Baltimore Sun. Instead of taking The Baltimore Sun’s offer, Peddicord dove head first into the Mid-Atlantic’s racing world, working his way up from groom to trainer. “I worked primarily at Charles Town and Pimlico and had some horses for Senator [James] Clark,” he said. “Really it was working at the track that I got to know pretty much everyone in Maryland’s racing world, like Tom Voss and others.”
It was these connections and experiences that ultimately made Peddicord the award-winning journalist that he is, as he eventually did take that job with the Sun and remained there for 18-years as the paper’s racing journalist. “I knew all about [the sport] from the inside,” he explained. Peddicord also lent his talent to the newly-established Equiery as a guest journalist!
Peddicord said his most prominent memory of writing for the Sun was a four-part series called “The Last Ride.” Written in 1989, the series followed horses from a Maryland auction to a slaughterhouse in Connecticut to the meat being shipped abroad and ending up as sausages at European football matches. “It was meant as a story detailing the partial economic collapse at that time of the horse business but helped spark the move to ban U.S. horse slaughter,” he remarked. The series won numerous awards including Best Newspaper Story of the Year by the MD-DC-Del chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. “It was a finalist, but didn’t win!” Peddicord stated.
“I first met Ross in the spring of 1988,” said Jennifer Webster, former Equiery Associate Publisher and fellow McDonogh alum. Webster was a senior at McDonogh and completed her six week-long senior project in journalism with Peddicord as her mentor.
“At the time, he was writing and handicapping for The Baltimore Sun. We had never so much as spoken before and whatever this shy and insecure girl had envisioned about what Ross would be or look like, was 100% not the smiling, spilling over with enthusiasm character who greeted me, sitting on a desk in the Press Box at Pimlico, wearing an untucked red polo shirt and khaki shorts and sneakers (I, of course, was in business attire, because what else does a budding journalist wear on her first day at work?), eating a Good Humor ice cream bar,” she remarked. “I was instantly hooked and he has been one of my most favorite people ever since.”
Webster worked with Peddicord again nearly two decades later at Maryland Life. “Nobody better personifies the Maryland horse industry than Ross Peddicord,” Webster added. “He eats, lives, breathes and sleeps Maryland horses and horse people and he has an incredible knack for building alliances and creating unity between the most unlikely partners and the growth of the industry during his time of passionate leadership is undeniable.”
During his time with the Sun, Peddicord and his now-former wife Stephanie, opened Brush Hill Farm in New Market where they bred and trained Thoroughbreds. They showed their homebreds in hand at the Maryland State Fair and Maryland Horse Shows Association shows and also sent several to the track. Some noteworthy horses they produced include stakes winner King’s Corsair and steeplechaser Shy Donald.
After 18-years with The Baltimore Sun, Peddicord decided he needed a career change and went back to school to earn his MBA from Mount St. Mary’s University. He ended up staying at the university first in the PR Department and then as the school’s Director of Major Gifts and Planned Giving. He also spent five years as the Marketing Director for Mount St. Mary’s Continuing Education programs.
It may seem that Peddicord had left the horse world behind him, but as most of us know, once you get bitten by the horse bug, you really can not let it go! While at Mount St. Mary’s he started the school’s riding program and Intercollegiate Horse Show Association team. He also served as the teams’ faculty/administrative advisor and helped facilitate several quality horses being donated to the school’s program.
Editor’s Note: next time you see Ross, ask him about a horse named Monsignor K. And while you are at it, also ask him about escorting Secretariat from the paddock at the 1973 Belmont Stakes.
In 2004, Peddicord switched back to the publishing world and founded Maryland Life magazine with two partners. Through Maryland Life, a magazine devoted to the history and culture of Maryland, Peddicord began working with county and state tourism agencies and served as the chairman of the Maryland Tourism Council.
These connections, along with his fundraising skills and Maryland equestrian knowledge, landed him the job of MHIB’s Executive Director in January of 2011.
Maryland’s Equestrian Life
Peddicord’s connections continue to grow as he nears his ten year anniversary with MHIB. And boy has he been busy over the last nine years! From Horse Forums to Horseland to Horse Discovery Centers, Peddicord continues to push Maryland’s horse industry to the front of both state and international attention.
It was under Peddicord’s tenure that the Maryland Horse Discovery Center program began (see page 36 of this issue for more on the HDC program) as well as Horseland at the State Fair. Both of these programs strive to expose new people to horses and bring these new people into the horse industry.
Hope Birsh of Maryland Saddlery first met Peddicord at the 2014 Maryland Horse Forum where she was presented a Touch of Class Award and attended one of the marketing meetings. “Ross is really good at spotting people who are passionate about this industry and I had some ideas I wanted to get going with,” she said adding, “His gift is bringing people together that might not always agree but they make something happen.”
Birsh became an advisory member of MHIB and helped get the Maryland Horse Discovery Center program up and running. Now, among many projects, she spearheads Horseland at the Maryland State Fair each summer. “It really was Don Litz’s idea to bring a horse presence to the state fair,” she explained. Litz was on the State Fair board and wanted to see horses brought to the general public. “Horseland is one of the few non-competitive areas of the State Fair and one of the few ways you can engage the general pubic with horses.”
The Horseland tent grows in popularity each year with an average of over 70,000 people walking through over the 11 days of the fair each year. “The magic is sitting there talking with people about horses,” Birsh added. That is the magic of Peddicord too. “He identifies talent, gets them started and then sends them off to war!” Birsh said with a laugh. “And then he is there in your corner the whole time cheering you on and being so supportive. Ross truly is a Maryland treasure.”
According to current MHIB President Jim Steele, Peddicord also started the Touch of Class award program, which honors Maryland horses, individuals, teams, organizations or events that demonstrate the highest standards of excellence in the Maryland horse industry by achieving national or international recognition. “I had wanted to acknowledge horse excellence within the state and at the time, [MHIB] latched onto the Maryland Best Program,” Steele explained. “But that program just wasn’t the right spot for horse people so Ross came up with the Touch of Class.”
This awards program puts Maryland horse people and horses in the spotlight, thus promoting the industry as a whole. Birsh won the award in August 2014 for her involvement in the equine community since 1985 and leadership for the industry as the then President-Elect of the American Equine Trade Association. “Some in the original group that got the award going were worried we would run out of people to give the awards to after a short time. But that just hasn’t happened,” Steele said with a chuckle. “We have the top steeplechasers, the top jousters… really the top of everything right here in Maryland!”
Steele first met Peddicord through the Thoroughbred racing industry when Peddicord sent a mare to Shamrock Farm to breed. “Our paths crossed several times after that and then his name came up when we were looking for a new Executive Director,” Steele explained adding, “Ross is an encyclopedia of knowledge and has an Energizer Bunny-worth of energy. He can go out and meet people as a friend, our kind of person so to speak, which is one of the reasons he is so great for this job.”
But Peddicord does not just promote the industry on a local and national level, he has taken Maryland’s horse industry international!
The Maryland Sister State program was founded around 40 years ago and is a product of the Maryland Secretary of State’s office and the Maryland Department of Commerce. The program focuses on international trade with sister countries sharing ideas and insights in a variety of industries.
MHIB got involved only a few years ago when Bob Zhang became interested in promoting the Maryland horse industry abroad. “Zhang engineered two equine trips to China, the last one involving a delegation from MHIB in early fall 2019 to the Anhui province, our Chinese sister state,” Peddicord explained.
Peddicord has also led trade missions to several other countries including France, Sweden and Ireland. In turn, MHIB has hosted delegations from these countries as well, taking them to all the hotspots of Maryland’s horse industry.
As Peddicord moves into the next decade of his career with MHIB, international recognition continues to be a top priority.
The Next 10 Years
When asked what he would like to see happen for the industry in the future, Peddicord’s first and immediate reply was, “to host the World Equestrian Games at Fair Hill in 2026.” He went on to explain that the newly renovated facility is already set up to host the sports of eventing, combined driving and even endurance. “When you look at the whole park, which stretches into Pennsylvania, you can easily run a 100-mile endurance race. They already have!” he pointed out.
Peddicord also commented that although an official Maryland Horse Park has never been made, improvements to facilities such as Fair Hill and others have created a horse park system throughout the state. “Really when you look at it, the whole state is a horse park!” he said with a smile.
In addition to bringing WEG to Maryland, Peddicord would like to see the state have a “one stop shop” website where anyone can gain information about all aspects of the industry. “This is something that really needs to happen through partnerships within the industry. MHIB can’t do this. It has to come from the industry leaders.”
More immediately, Peddicord sees an opportunity to upgrade the Prince George’s Equestrian Center in Upper Marlboro. “There are some things in the works already but that place could be a mega center able to run multiple shows at a time with the right planning and funding,” he said.
All in all, despite these trying times we are currently living through, Peddicord sees an incredibly bright future for Maryland’s horse industry and plans to keep us all moving forward. “Maryland is one of the most affluent states in the country and the horse industry here is growing,” Steele stated. “There is a need for MHIB to help grow and keep the industry growing and Ross is that person, our general, who helps get it all done.”