To the Blue Ridge

From the Bay to the Blue Ridge, To the Blue Ridge

SPROUT:  To Grow, Spring Up, Come Forth

By Meg Mullery On a beautiful autumn evening last September, Sprout Therapeutic Riding & Education Center in Aldie, Virginia, hosted a gala celebrating Sprout’s Tenth Anniversary. While these kinds of formal events are not unusual in the D.C. area, this one was far from your typical black-tie soiree. Guests entered the event, which took place in Sprout’s riding facility, through a line of stalls that housed a welcoming committee of very excited ponies and horses with heads sticking out hoping for pats or treats. This led to the large indoor riding ring magically transformed into an elegant venue with chandeliers, loads of twinkle lights, large potted palms, dining tables, a dance floor and live music. After cocktails and dinner, the time came to introduce the guest of honor. A Sprout staffer wearing a stunning gown led a large horse named Duke into the event to a standing ovation. Duke was recognized for his many years of patient lesson service and continuing to prove there is a transformative connection between human and horse. Duke is just one of the 18 uniquely trained horses that give hope and confidence to students at Sprout. And then it was time to dance. And dance they did. Party-goers of all abilities crowded onto the floor. If one were to create a tableau that captured the spirit and vision of Sprout, the gala would serve as the model. Sprout encourages and embraces friendship, fun, and community. Each week, Sprout serves nearly 185 individuals ranging in age from a one-year-old diagnosed with spinal muscle atrophy, to a thirty-year-old survivor of a traumatic brain injury, to an eighty-year-old with advancing physical and mental deterioration. Since Sprout began operations in 2011 its programs have expanded to include adaptive riding/driving; equine supported therapies; community lessons; equine assisted learning; competition; and…

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From the Bay to the Blue Ridge, To the Blue Ridge

Twilight Polo At Great Meadow

Twilight Polo Club invites you to come enjoy watching polo, people and horses every Saturday summer evening through September 17th. Greenhill Polo Stadium at Great Meadow is a beautiful rural venue in the heart of Virginia Horse Country, 30-60 minutes from the DC area in The Plains, Virginia. Bring your family, friends and coworkers for an evening of fun and excitement in a wonderful outdoor setting. Stunning sunsets, three polo matches, picnicking, wine, food trucks, giant tug o’war games for the kids at halftime, then dance the night away! One ticket admits an entire car load of family and friends. Admission tickets are available online for $25 per vehicle (5 people), or you can pay $30 cash per vehicle at the gate. Limited VIP tailgate and box seat options available, providing and your party a private space to enjoy the night. Perfect for groups, bridal parties, birthdays, corporate entertaining and more! Call or email us for VIP information and reservations: 540-253-9845 or manager@twilightpolo.com See you there! July Schedule 2nd – Stars & Stripes w/DJ & Dancing in your red, white & blue. 9th – Jungle Night – Dress in your favorite animal print. 16th – Peace, Love & Tye Dye – Get groovy. 23rd – Disney Plus Party – Conjure up your favorite Disney, Pixar or Marvel character. 30th – Taco ‘Bout a Fiesta – Margaritas & Mexican food and more.   Gates open at 5:30 Opening match 6:00 Twilight match 7:00 Main game 8:00

From the Bay to the Blue Ridge, To the Blue Ridge

Striking it Rich with “Rich Strike”

By Julie Reardon You don’t have to live in horse country to appreciate a good horse story. The unlikely story of last month’s Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike touches all the feels: under achieving horse, small time owner, unknown trainer and jockey, second-biggest longshot in Derby history. Even a little equine misbehavior after the race televised for the world to see as the colt bit the lead pony and outrider on the way to the winner’s circle. In order to sound like a horse country local, it’s important to be able to distinguish between the instant internet racehorse experts and the real story. Amazing how watching one Derby on TV leads otherwise normal people to parade as experts advising Rich Strike’s trainer, jockey and the track outriders on how to do their jobs. One such expert said the horse was a dud and would be forgotten in a month. I disagree. He and his connections need never win another race and they still have the distinction of winning the Kentucky Derby, arguably the most famous horse race in the world, and winning over a million dollars, something very few horses do. And Rich Strike’s story is epic. Although Rich Strike was bred and initially owned by Calumet Farm in Kentucky, one of the country’s premiere owner/breeder racing stables with 10 Kentucky Derby winners produced, no one thought the chestnut colt by Keen Ice out of a Strike Gold mare, would be one of them. Possessing a decent but not exceptional pedigree, he was last in his first start so Calumet decided to cut their losses and entered him in a $30,000 claiming race to facilitate a fast and cheap claim. Oklahoma Thoroughbred owner, Rick Dawson, down on his luck with racehorses contemplating getting out of the business, bought him. He’d…

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From the Bay to the Blue Ridge, To the Blue Ridge

Older Women, Younger Whiskey….Faster Horses!

By Julie Reardon Or is that old Tom T. Hall favorite supposed to be younger women and older whiskey along with the faster horses? Regardless of what attracts a young man’s fancy these days, the  drum of hoof beats kicks off the unofficial start of summer in the Blue Ridge as popular tailgating venues have returned to full swing in horse country after a two season pandemic disruption. I’ll leave the whiskey discussion to our editors, since I don’t drink and they’ve spent countless hours exploring the distilleries, wineries and breweries cropping up in our area. I’ll just add that this is the first tailgate season that weed has been legal to consume in the Commonwealth so don’t forget to pack the spliffs and the edibles if drinking isn’t your thing. Although the first Saturday in May, the 7th this year, is Kentucky Derby day for horse racing fans nationally, here in Virginia it’s Gold Cup day. Kentucky’s famous horse race, first run in 1875, may be the country’s best-known equestrian event, George Washington was hunting hounds here in Virginia and colonials were racing horses before Kentucky was even settled. And here in suburban Northern Virginia, the Kentucky Derby is held on Gold Cup day, not the reverse. On May 7th, the Derby will have to share top billing with the Virginia Gold Cup steeplechase race meet, held at Great Meadow, The Plains, VA. The Fast Horses With crowds of over 40,000 in attendance, the Gold Cup is to Washington D.C. what the Derby is to Kentucky: a premiere social and sporting events.  Arrangements and tailgating parties are planned months, even years, in advance; prime tailgating and rail side boxes are often passed down in wills.  Pent up demand may equal short supply. Last month’s Middleburg Spring Races sold out…

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From the Bay to the Blue Ridge, To the Blue Ridge

The Rip Off World of Animal Rescue

By Julie Reardon This month, I’m going to stray from my typical column highlighting happenings in the Blue Ridge a take this opportunity to skewer a sacred cow. Groups calling themselves rescues are not all saints and many are not what they seem. Thanks to our insatiable demand for companion animals and the very successful animal rights driven anti-breeder campaign of the past two decades, the rescue industry is booming, especially for trade in cute little fluffy dogs with big eyes and snub noses. Tax free cash donations flow freely to save horses, and now dogs, from the meat trade. All this easy cash has attracted unsavory scammers, liars and rip off artists out for a tax free quick buck. Yes, tax free. All a rescue group has to do to claim non-profit status is send the IRS a postcard annually stating they make less than $50,000 a year. If they make more than that, they must fill out IRS form 990. More on that below. Not all rescues are bad of course, just as not all breeders are evil. And while shelters might be full of dogs, they’re not the ones people want. And it’s much harder to recoup costs or even adopt out the majority of shelter dogs, because most are pit bulls or mixes—large and often not suitable for families with other pets or small children. Hence, an underground trade of dogs imported from Third World puppy mills has quietly gained a foothold to meet the demand. Savvy horse trading scammers zeroed in on ‘saving’ horses bound for slaughter as a fountain of easy money. Never mind that there are no slaughter houses that process horses anywhere in the U.S., and haven’t been any for over 15 years. But the scammers post on Facebook and social media…

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From the Bay to the Blue Ridge, To the Blue Ridge

Party of One

By Julie Reardon If you’re single, either by choice or circumstance, then you’ve probably noticed that restaurants, vacation packages and outings seem to cater to and certainly advertise to appeal to couples and/or families, especially at this time of year. But not everyone is in a relationship with a significant other, and not everyone has a large, close extended family with someone readily available to dine and vacation with. Even with a large circle of friends, it’s not always easy to find someone, especially on short notice, to try a new restaurant or go on a vacation with or take on a spur of the moment day trip. And even those in relationships and enjoying close knit families sometimes might want to try something their partner/family is patently uninterested in. Most things that couples and families enjoy, can also be enjoyed solo even if it does require more motivation to go out there and do it. Many people still harbor hesitation, for example, to dine alone at high end restaurants. They’re afraid of what others might think of them when they see a party of one at a table for two. And what, pray tell, does going solo to a nice restaurant have to do with the rural Blue Ridge? Well, not much actually other than it’s not just dining alone in a big name city eatery that unnerves some. Many small town and rural dwellers share the same fears—that others will think they’re friendless or losers or worse. And that’s nonsense of course, but sometimes the drumbeats of doubt drown out common sense. Anonymity can sometimes help quell the doubts—after all, if you don’t see anyone you know, who cares? There are a vast array of varied dining establishments just a short drive west of town. If, as I…

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From the Bay to the Blue Ridge, To the Blue Ridge

Spring Fever- Racing Over Fences Starts March 5th

By Julie Reardon It surely doesn’t feel like spring in February, with no signs other than a lonely crocus or two struggling up through the snow. But there are signs. The sun rising earlier and setting later as daylight gradually increases. The occasional taste of warmth on a bright sunny day. We know it’s coming: the hunt country’s harbinger of spring – opening of the point to point season. For true horse lovers, those suffering from cabin fever, and those looking for a social distancing-friendly country outing, there’s nothing like the early race meets in March. These races tend to be smaller more informal affairs but there’s no shortage of equine talent as the country’s top steeplechasers as well as hot young prospects make their debut racing over fences after a winter layoff. This year’s season opener is Saturday March 5th at a new venue on the calendar. The Rappahannock Hunt races opens the 2022 season at The Hill, a spectacular 600-acre farm just north of the town of Culpeper. Post time for the card of races over fences and on the flat is 1 pm, gates open at 10 am. Rain date is Saturday, March 12. With over $4 million in total purses, meets in 12 states, and millions of spectators, steeplechasing is big business. Some of the best horses and horsemen thoroughbred racing has to offer race over fences, and it all starts right here in Virginia next month. The governing body, the National Steeplechase Association, sanctions the big meets later in the spring, including the best known Virginia Gold Cup races in May. But point to points, run under rules similar to the NSA, are where it all starts for both horses and riders and offer a wonderful social outing for fans as well. Virginia holds more…

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From the Bay to the Blue Ridge, To the Blue Ridge

COVID In the Country

By Julie Reardon COVID In the Country A year ago, as COVID cases and rules about masks, social distancing and cancellation of gatherings dragged along, we considered how lucky we were to live in a rural area where it’s easy to social distance and avoid exposure to the virus. It’s also easy to hide stuff like your own declining health, filling me with a false sense of complacency. Unbeknownst to me, I got COVID early on, which I mistakenly treated as a garden variety respiratory infection. After all, in January and February 2020, no one had heard of COVID—not until March. So I never saw a doctor about my nagging respiratory infection. Only marginally improved after 2 months, pollen season hit with a vengeance. My lungs, already scarred from chronic asthma, struggled. It was also very easy to hide how short of breath I’d gotten, and the weight I’d gained. With my compromised lungs I took no chances and neither of us went anywhere unless we absolutely had to. I only went to the grocery for curbside grocery pick up and the post office. Our post office is tiny, so it was easy to wait until no one else was in the little building to go in. Anything picked up outside our farm was disinfected and our hands washed before entering the house. The problem with hiding your worsening health from friends and family is that you start to believe yourself that your health problems are no big deal. The pandemic and related restrictions made it easy to keep my shortness of breath and worsening asthma well hidden from friends and family as well as myself. And 2021 started on a bad note. In January we lost my oldest dog, a male Chesapeake that was almost 15. In the spring,…

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From the Bay to the Blue Ridge, To the Blue Ridge

Merry Christmas from the Blue Ridge!

By Julie Reardon Merry Christmas from the Blue Ridge! A friend who lives in the mountains shares this story every holiday season and it’s one of my favorites. I only recently found out the author’s name since various versions have been around for many years, variously titled A Christmas Prayer and The Rifle, and that it’s not actually a true story. The author was a sheep herder and wrote it one freezing night while pondering how to explain the true meaning of Christmas to his children. I think you will enjoy it as much as I do. A Christmas Story By Rian Anderson Pa never had much compassion for the lazy or those who squandered their means and then never had enough for the necessities. But for those who were genuinely in need, his heart was as big as all outdoors. It was from him that I learned the greatest joy in life comes from giving, not from receiving. It was Christmas Eve 1881. I was fifteen years old and feeling like the world had caved in on me because there just hadn’t been enough money to buy me the rifle that I’d wanted so bad that year for Christmas. We did the chores early that night for some reason. I just figured Pa wanted a little extra time so we could read in the Bible. So, after supper was over, I took my boots off and stretched out in front of the fireplace and waited for Pa to get down the old Bible. I was still feeling sorry for myself and, to be honest, I wasn’t in much of a mood to read scriptures. But Pa didn’t get the Bible, instead he bundled up and went outside. I couldn’t figure it out because we had already done all the…

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From the Bay to the Blue Ridge, To the Blue Ridge

Chestnuts, a Vital Ingredient to the American Melting Pot

By Kim Evoy Bryant Chestnuts, a Vital Ingredient to the American Melting Pot I’m sitting at my farm in Nelson County, Virginia. We grow chestnuts and this is the first time we have invited folks to come and pick their own chestnuts. I had questions. Would anyone want to pick chestnuts, would they be okay with driving down our dirt road, would they be able to find our farm nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains? It’s a perfect fall day with the sun out and just warm enough for everyone to enjoy. The cars start coming in and I’m a little nervous about what people will think about picking chestnuts. It’s not a difficult task, but can take a little while. Chestnuts, when ripe and ready for harvest, fall to the ground, so each nut has to be harvested from the floor of the orchard. As the day goes on, I realize that more than 50% of the people coming for the harvest are first- generation Americans. Their parents have come from Korea, China, Japan, Croatia, Serbia, Italy, Greece, Finland, Turkey, Russia, Philippines and Macedonia, maybe more. My ancestors originated in some of these countries. Our visitors are so excited and keep telling us stories about chestnuts in their country and how they had been waiting for this day. One gentleman was overjoyed, said he had been “looking for a chestnut orchard for 16 years” and was elated that we were within driving distance. With his son by his side, he shared a lovely memory of being a boy in his country and picking chestnuts. What has happened on our farm is amazing to us! My husband and I initially set out to grow a crop that would be profitable and take us into retirement. We love…

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