No business like (horse) show business Trainer launches setup operation


"Watch this!" says Ira Zimmerman as he stoops on his kitchen floor and makes a hoop with his arms.

His orange tabby Ben sits at attention until prompted and then leaps cleanly through his master's arms.

"We teach everything to jump around here," says Mr. Zimmerman as the cat returns to the kitchen counter of the Glenelg home and resumes eating out of a silver trophy cup.

Mr. Zimmerman, now 42, won the cup when he was 12 by teaching a horse to perform similar feats, and he has been collecting trophies ever since.

This year, however, Mr. Zimmerman started giving out trophies as part of his new business of setting up and putting on horse shows.

"I got a little sick of paying entries; now they're going to be paying me."

Give him a flat piece of ground, and Mr. Zimmerman will spike it with portable fencing he invented, manufactures and sells out of his barn. He will put up jumps and tents, bring in a caterer, and the show is on.

Ira Zimmerman Horse Show Set Ups has put on two shows for the Howard County Horse Shows Association on Mr. Zimmerman's 20-acre property on Roxbury Road in Glenelg.

Its first real test will be putting on the Hunter's Creek Farm & Potomac Horse Center's Winter Circuit, which consists of 18 dates from Jan. 14 through March 20.

Mr. Zimmerman is not going it alone in his new business venture. People he has done work for, such as developer Kingdon Gould Jr. and hardware store chain owner Robert Cook, are among his financial backers.

Mr. Zimmerman's business is primarily training horses and riders for jumping and buying and selling show horses. He said those activities will continue as he develops the horse-show business.

The fact that Mr. Zimmerman first sat a horse before he was 8 years old and began riding professionally when he was 14 was no accident.

His mother, Zelda Zimmerman, was a racehorse trainer and, Mr. Zimmerman recounts proudly, "she was the first lady to ever gallop a horse at Charles Town," the racetrack in West Virginia.

His specialty is the hunters competition, in which riders and horses are judged more for style and poise than for how high they jump.

But Mr. Zimmerman is also known for his talents in other jumping events, which helped interest Anne Cinque of Boyds in Montgomery County.

Ms. Cinque, a 49-year-old psychologist, spent much of yesterday morning on horseback being coached on form and technique. Mr. Zimmerman, wearing an old Army jacket and blue jeans worn white from brushing against stall doors, stood next to a fence and politely shouted last-minute instructions each time horse and rider approached.

Although Ms. Cinque had heard of Mr. Zimmerman in horse show circles, she said she didn't decide to retain his services until she saw one of the shows he put on.

"The reception was so gracious, and I was so impressed that I decided to come back for lessons," she said.

Mr. Zimmerman's way with students may not quite equal his talent for setting an unruly animal straight.

One example involves a horse named Mr. G.W., whose owner had all but given up on him after the horse's head was cracked in a bucking fit.

"I said, 'Listen, why don't you let me have him? I'll get him broke,' " Mr. Zimmerman recalled.

This year, under Mr. Zimmerman's tutelage, that same horse was named grand hunter champion by the Howard County Horse Shows Association.

Although skeptical of an untested venture such as Mr. Zimmerman's, Streett Moore, director of riding at the McDonogh School in Owings Mills and president of the Maryland Horse Shows Association, acknowledged that there is a demand for horse shows.

"I think there's a demand, but there's also a lot of competition," Mr. Streett said.

He said that the services Mr. Zimmerman is offering as a package are otherwise only available from separate vendors.

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