By Julie Reardon
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. This month, fact the oldest horse show in the country is the Upperville Colt & Horse Show, holding its 166th edition June 3 – 9 under the oaks at the venerable old show grounds at 8300 John Mosby Highway (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 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, and a wide variety of food options all week and preceding the Sunday, June 9th premier event, the $218,000 FEI (world ranked) Upperville Jumper Classic.
The show is open June 3rd through the 9th at 8 a.m. For ticket information and a complete schedule, visit the website www.Upperville.com
Another hunt country tradition, polo is also getting under way at several public venues including Banbury Cross in Middleburg and at Great Meadow in The Plains every Saturday night through September. Although polo doesn’t have the long history of the Colt & Horse Show in this area, 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. There are hundreds of playing members in the area at Great Meadow, Banbury Cross and several other private clubs. During the summer thousands of fans – young professionals as well as families – gather at Banbury Cross and Great Meadow with tailgates and picnics to watch the games. Great Meadow holds two matches in the lighted arena on Saturday nights and Banbury Cross offers Sunday games. Both clubs offer season passes and tailgate picnic spots as well as general admission which runs from $10 to $35. For Great Meadow’s reserved tailgate parking or advance ticket information, call the event line at (540) 253-5001, or visit: