Horsing Around In Hunt Country
The drum of hoof beats kick off the unofficial start of summer in the Blue Ridge as racing over fences winds down and horse shows and polo get into full swing in horse country. In fact the oldest horse show in the country is the Upperville Colt & Horse Show, holding its 162nd edition June 1 – 7 under the oaks at the venerable old show grounds at Grafton and Salem Farms on Rt. 50 west of Middleburg. This show, one of the country’s most prestigious, has been held annually since 1853. It was started by a group of locals to improve horse breeding and these days hosts the top hunters and jumpers from all over the country but still holds classes for colts and fillies too young to be ridden.
Still an important part of the social fabric of rural Virginia, horse shows are held all over the state every weekend, small and large, English and Western, casual and formal. For every horse and rider, there is a class somewhere at a show somewhere—children too young to ride on their own have “leadline” classes where a parent or adult leads the pony; there are “short stirrup” classes for beginner riders, children’s and adult classes and open classes where anyone, including professionals, can compete. There are classes “in hand” for miniature horses too small to be ridden, young horses and horses being judged on conformation or grooming and presentation; there are trail classes with obstacles the horse and/or rider must navigate; there are equitation classes where the rider is judged, pleasure and hunter classes where the horse is judged on its movement and smoothness, and jumper classes where the horse is penalized for knocking down rails and clear rounds are called back to do a timed jump off. There are also shows for specific breeds and colors of horses, like Tennessee walking horses, Quarter Horses, paints and palominos.
Of all these shows, the hunter and jumper show is probably the most common in the Blue Ridge. These shows can be informal “schooling shows” where many top riders get their start, or rated shows that are run in accordance with the rules of the U.S. Hunter Jumper Foundation. Upperville’s show is an AA rated show, as befits the country’s oldest and one of its most prestigious. Many of the country’s top show hunters and jumpers, and top junior and amateur riders come to compete under the oaks at Upperville, a show that’s long been a favorite of both competitors and spectators. On the grounds there’ll be pony rides, arts and craft exhibits, boutiques, children’s games, a wide variety of food offerings, and a Basset Hound demonstration preceding the Sunday, June 7th premier event, the Upperville Jumper Classic.
The show is open June 1 through the 7th at 8 a.m., admission is $10 per person with children under 12 accompanied by an adult admitted free. For information or a complete schedule, visit the website www.Upperville.com
Polo Under the Stars
Another hunt country tradition, polo under the stars, is also underway at Great Meadow in The Plains every Saturday night through September. Although arena polo doesn’t have the long history of the Upperville Colt& Horse Show, its popularity with city and country folks alike has been enduring as it enters its third decade. Great Meadow, host to the Virginia Gold Cup steeplechase races, is a world class international polo arena that has been described as one of the best playing surfaces between New York and Aiken. Great Meadow Polo Club has over 75 playing members, making it one of the largest in the region. During the summer more than 20,000 fans – young professionals as well as families gather at Great Meadow with tailgates and picnics to watch the Twilight Polo games. Two matches are held every Saturday night beginning at 7:00 P.M. (gates open at 6:30 P.M) until mid-September. Stay after the polo matches for moonlight music and dancing. Tickets at the gate: $30 per carload. For reserved tailgate parking or advance ticket information call the event line at (540) 253-5001, or visit:
Written by: Julie Reardon