Five Minutes with Hope Birsh, owner of Maryland Saddlery

Horse shows are about training and precise movements, but they are also about the rider's look.

Coats, shirts, helmets and boots — they all figure into the performance.

That's where Hope Birsh tries to help. Her business, Maryland Saddlery, sells and customizes riding attire and helps with such technical items as fitting show coats and riding boots, dressing child riders and choosing the right saddle.

"Looking good matters," Birsh said. "Horse shows are subjective, and you're judged."

Birsh lives on a horse farm a few miles from the flagship store located in an old Victorian home in Butler. The Falls Road location, deep in Baltimore County's horse country, has three distinct shops on the property — the flagship store, an equestrian consignment outlet and an antiques consignment store.

"We have a lot of equestrian memorabilia," she said. "There are really vintage Preakness glasses. There is also fox hunting artwork. There is china with horses."

Birsh also has stores in Crofton and Hockessin, Del. There are 30 employees in all.

The key to the business, she said, is offering an environment customers can't get at home on the internet. That means making her stores interesting places to visit.

"It's very experiential," she said.

Birsh also must stay attuned to the market and has recently diversified her offerings.

"We've branched into women's clothing as of this January," she said. "We just headed to New York with a buying plan."

She now sells sundresses, jewelry and other items.

Birsh is steeped in horse culture. On her farm, she said, is a steeplechase horse "and half a dozen Shetland ponies that run in what's called U.S. Pony Racing. And then we've got some horses we ride for pleasure."

Hope Birsh

Position: Owner, Maryland Saddlery

Age: 54

Birthplace: New York City

Residence: Hunt Valley

Family: Single; two children, ages 18 and 23

Education: B.A., University of Florida

Hobbies/Interests: Horses, gardening

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