F.G. "Stretch" Harting
Potomac Horse Center's Founding Father
In 1958, a small girl stood on top of a
hill, enchanted by her towering (six-foot-six) father as he slowly
swept his outstretched arm across a thousand acres of farmland,
speaking with quiet confidence into the wind, "Someday I'm going
to build the world's largest equestrian center . . . here."
For many years, I could not bring myself to visit the
Center, but was recently drawn to the place where I spent much of my
youth, college years and five years as its Director. I cannot
describe my sorrow as I brushed away the cobwebs, dirt and debris,
searching for traces of THE POTOMAC HORSE CENTER. At every corner
turned, I was continually stunned by harsh reality twisting through
images and echoes of its impressive past. Bold Olympic competitors,
determined steely-eyed young riders, judges, score boards, sweating
muscular horses, flaming egos, tear stained cheeks of defeat, the
smell of leather, our volunteers, proud parents, silver trophies
reflecting colors of ribbons resplendent in the wind, uncompromising
character, insidious rumor, red, white & blue, private victories,
photographers, the hesitation of inexperience, new boots!,
announcer's drone over the squeal of restless siblings, the silent
implosion of split-second shock, the shared pride of adulation, dogs,
plaid, ceremonies: scenes played out a thousand times, yet each one new.
AHSA National Dressage and Combined Training Finals, the International Pony Club Rally, U.S. Equestrian Team's Dressage and Jumping Olympic Screening Trials, National Dressage Championships, Combined Training One-Three-Day Events, Pony Club Rallies and testing, "A"-rated hunter-jumper shows, Summer Weekly Courses, the "Horsemasters." Clinics by Lundquist, DeNemethy, LeGoff, Davidson, Wofford, Plum, Morris, Ostergarrd, Schneidman, Oliveira. Antonivich, Zgorzelski, Collete Stevens, Betty Howett, Col. Edmonds, Linda Zang, Jack Fritz. "Potomac Alegre," "Zurito," "Royal Imp," "Jade Wind," "Boy Blue," the Potomac Hunt racing through our fields and woods, the Budweiser Clydesdales; three indoor arenas: the "Indoor Ring," the "New School," "St. Agata," the "Darby," an official sized show ring with a permanent jump course, two jumping chutes, permanent hunter course, three types of cross-country courses (banks, slides, ditches, water jumps, the "Steps," the "Slide Jump") stabling for over 200 horses, "Top Barn," miles of bridle paths, the tack shop, the lecture hall, the elegant Club Room decorated with antiques, the dormitories, the cafeteria, and . . . the POOL!
But of all the wonderful memories, none approaches the thrilling magic of April 1964, when the famed White Stallions of Vienna came to the United States for their precedent-shattering tour, choosing PHC as their home base. Months of secret negotiations, regulations and arrangements intensified that breathtaking moment when the first Lipizzaner burst from the van, his gleaming white mane flashing in the cold wind!
Col. Podhajsky, tall and impressive, twenty magnificent "National Treasures," black bicornes, brown gold button coats, pale doeskin breeches, white suede saddles, gold bridles, a dazzling swirl of graceful passages and impossible leaps to a waltz in the Potomac countryside.
More important than the glamour of the Lipizzaners or designer ponies, are the people who loved the Potomac Horse Center. My dad, Stretch Harting, was a big man, and that outstretched arm touched or completely changed the lives of thousands of people and the horses who will live better lives for the care and knowledge learned at PHC. Rick Newton and Brian Ross came to this country as teens to find their dreams. And Sylvio, whom Dad brought to this country from Bolivia as a teen to work on the farm: I am so humbled by his love of America. Now, in his late forties, with a family of his own, he volunteers weekends with the Police -- to give back to this country which has given him so much. Years after Dad died, when I visited his grave on Memorial Day, there was a bouquet, "Love, Sylvio."
With fond memories of the past, I look forward to the future of yet another man's dreams. With the rebirth of the Potomac Horse Center, a job that many would see as overwhelming, I look forward to the thousands of new horsemen who will be influenced by the dreams on which the Center was founded.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Donna is the daughter of founder Stretch Harting, and was former Executive Director of the Washington International Horse Show.
WEBMASTER'S NOTE: After many years of decline, the Potomac Horse Center was "reborn" when Paul Novograd, of New York, NY, took over the reins on October 1st, 1993. Since that time, dramatic improvements have taken place and continue to evolve on a daily basis. With Mr. Novograd's direction and the tireless efforts of PHC's management team, the Potomac Horse Center continues as a great equestrian center, serving to educate and train thousands of riders in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, continuing the work initiated by Stretch Harting so many years ago.