Store offers more for the English-style rider

Everything from soap to saddles covers most wants, needs

Business Profile Bits and Bridles Saddlery


The smells of leather and saddle soap greet visitors to Bits and Bridles Saddlery, the 19-year-old horse-riding supply store on U.S. 40 in Ellicott City.

The 4,400-square-foot store has everything an English-style rider would need, ranging from custom-made boots that run in excess of $1,000 to used saddles that can be as cheap as $100.

Owner Steve Winick took over the business about 12 years ago, he said, and since then he has worked to turn the space into a destination for all English-style riders, from beginners to serious competitors. The store equips hunters and jumpers, dressage horses and even sometimes the exercise horses that work with racehorses.

Horse essentials such as bridles, bits, halters, lead ropes, grooming supplies, chaps, hunting jackets, saddle pads, horse blankets, helmets, leather soap and stirrups make up the bulk of the items sold, but even nonriders might be tempted by items including Breyer model horses, horse-themed jewelry and backpacks decorated with horse pictures.

Everyone who works at the store knows about horses. Manager Cody O'Connell, who has worked at the store for eight years, rides, teaches, and is now breeding her horse, Rose, a Hanoverian stabled in Sykesville with O'Connell's other horse, Tulip. "You need horse knowledge to work here," O'Connell said.

Staffer Bekka Gordon, 18, like many employees, was once a customer. "I came here when I was little," she said. "I don't show anymore, but I have my own horse." The horse, named Gin, is stabled in Westminster, she said.

Winick, who grew up in New York, has a retail background and used to ride Western-style, he said. He moved to Howard County about 22 years ago, but still, with the help of a partner, ran a small chain of six convenience stores in Connecticut, he said.

He wasn't looking for a business to buy, but when he heard about it through a neighbor, he took the chance. "My wife wanted the business, and I bought it for her," he said.

He learned he had cancer in 1997, and he sold his Connecticut businesses while fighting the illness. Once he recovered, he vowed to turn Bits and Bridles into a "destination" store.

In his estimation, he has succeeded. "The business is continually growing," he said. One reason is that horseback-riding camps, lessons and shows are extremely popular in this area. "As it becomes more suburban, the number of farms decreases, and the number of riding academies has increased," he said.

Winick said his customer base extends 100 miles in every direction and now includes about 4,000 families.

He also provides custom boots for police who ride horses and motorcycles in Baltimore, Annapolis, the state and most counties, including Prince George's, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Frederick and Howard.

Mostly, he attributes the store's endurance to a combination of inventory, customer service and reasonable prices. Horseback riding can be an expensive hobby, especially for serious riders who compete in the show circuit. But casual riders don't need to spend nearly as much.

For example, the store sells new and used saddles, ranging in price from $100 for a used saddle to more than $1,000 for a top-of-the-line new one.

Used gear and clothing, sold on consignment, is a big part of the business. "We sell everything used but helmets," O'Connell said.

Winick doesn't try to talk customers into buying more than they need, he said. "I try to treat folks the way I like to be treated," he said.

In fact, he encourages beginning riders to take lessons first, then lease a horse before buying one. And riders who are taking lessons only need a helmet, paddock boots and gloves, he said. After a half-dozen lessons, they might want a few pairs of riding pants. "Everything after that is not a need, it's a want," Winick said.

Bits and Bridles is at 10176 U.S. 40 in Ellicott City and can be reached at 410-750-7797.

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