There are some old-timers around who remember when horses had the winter off. The show season wound down, the horse blankets were broughtout from storage, and everyone settled down to enjoy Thanksgiving, Christmas, the first snowfall and fires in the fireplace.
Come spring, it was time to spiff up the horses, exercise them, work off your wintertime fat, and strike off on the show circuit once more.
Those days are long gone. Horses, like their owners, are expectedto work all year.
While work may be the order of the day at horseshows during the winter, Mehdi Kazemi of the Columbia Horse Center, wants to offer a pleasant experience at his Winter Schooling Series shows.
"The winter series shows are a long-standing tradition," Kazemi says. "We plan the major divisions to cater to local riders. We put the emphasis on schooling and getting mileage for horses and riders."
The five shows -- one each month beginning Nov. 24 -- offer divisions for Pre-Green Hunter, Schooling Hunter, Children/Adult Equitation, Children/Adult Hunter, Short Stirrup, Pony Equitation, Green Pony Hunter, Pony Hunter and Pleasure. The first three judges will be Sandy Gerald, Wayne Eubank and Brian Joyce.
Kazemi's concern with local riders is indicative of the changes he has made at the Columbia Horse Center since taking it over two years ago with partner Allan Gohrband of Potomac.
The Laurel property where the horse center is located is owned by Columbia Associates. Kazemi and Gohrband own and run the horse business there through their company, Equestrian Management Systems.
"Mehdi switched things from a barn where everyone only showed at A-rated shows to a barn that offered a community service and gave lessons to accommodate the local residents. It was a very positive change," explains office manager Barbara Primm.
Primm's association with the center goes back nine years to the time when she was "just a parent.
"The rest just sort of happened," she says. "Soon my daughter (Kristie) was riding three times a week, then we boughta horse. One thing led to another. At the beginning I just started helping out part time. Now, it's a full-time job and I'm here 15 to 18hours a day."
Primm, Kazemi, assistant instructor Susan Wentzel and trainer Bob Crandall are responsible for 850 lessons a month, fourA-rated shows each year, the five-winter series shows, the therapeutic riding program, an inter-school competition program, a program forworking students, a full barn of boarders and 30 school horses.
Kazemi's experience with the center goes back more than seven years.
"Being here with the other people taught me a lot," says the nativeof Iran who gained his horse knowledge in England and at Virginia Intermont College, where he also earned a business degree. "I found that the market here was for lessons. Even with the recession we still have a waiting list for beginner lessons.
"People are looking for an alternative to their stressful lives. They want to get back to nature and make that connection. They know they are losing something in life with so much mechanization."
Kazemi and his staff make a concerted effort to make their facility accessible to beginners and otherswanting to explore the world of horses. While there are riders at the barn who do show on the "A" circuit, Kazemi says he does not "allowany hierarchy. The energy expended and the dollars spent by the beginners are just as appreciated. The beginners work just as hard."
Kazemi is no slouch in the work department, either. On a recent sunny afternoon he was scheduled to give a private lesson to advanced riderValerie Stetser of Columbia.
Stetser was trying out a new school horse, a bay mare named Justy, and Kazemi was starting the duo over acourse of fences together. While instructing and encouraging Stetser, Kazemi also set and reset fences.
"Always, always slow and balance your trot before you ask for the canter," he reminded Stetser. "Don't rush anything, take it easy, no one else is in the ring, it's allyours."
After a long and demanding session Stetser and Justy rodethe entire course, but made a few mistakes. "I want to do the whole course again," Stetser said, flashing a valiant smile. "I can't end it like this."
The second time was a charm and Kazemi and Stetser were all smiles afterward.
"I used to show here when I was a kid showing ponies and living in Harford County," said Stetser, a 26-year-old software engineer, when her lesson is over. "I love to jump and with Mehdi you jump, that's one of the rules. Before I came here I was at a place that didn't even have a jump. That didn't last very long."
In between lessons and running the center, Kazemi still finds time to ride every once in a while. His favorite horse is the gelding Spray, whom he describes as "very talented, forgiving, and impatient. He wants you to do things right and he's a good school horse."
Kazemi is justifiably proud of his school horses and of accomplishing hisgoal of accommodating the needs of the community he serves. The center's next goal is to establish an intercollegiate program to go alongwith their interschool team. And, as Kazemi says, "always to try to improve the quality of our riders, horses, and their performances."