I look forward to the first full week of June every year. My colleagues automatically know I will be out of the office that week — on vacation, but not out of town. I’ll be where many horse lovers and enthusiasts will be: in beautiful Upperville, VA, just an hour outside of Washington, at the one and only Upperville Colt and Horse Show. For me, this event is nothing short of a full blown therapy session — but without all the psychobabble. The sights and sounds of the hustle and bustle around the show grounds renew my spirits and senses like nothing else can — the smell of the fresh horse stall bedding, the sound of the farrier’s hammer carefully shaping a horse shoe, and the gentle non-verbal conversation between horse and rider as they make their way through the course. It is truly magical and makes me anxiously anticipate my arrival at the barn every evening to tend to my own horses.
Celebrating its 157th year, the oldest horse show in the United States is set to run June 7 through 13. Attracting competitors from all over the United States and abroad, Upperville boasts seven full days of exciting hunter, jumper and breeder competitions.
Hunters and Jumpers
The term “hunters” refers to horses that participate in the sport of fox hunting, including their manners, ability to jump and how well they maintain a steady pace as they encounter each jump or “fence.” The criteria they are judged upon in the various hunter competitions or “classes” relates to the traits they must demonstrate to be successful in the hunt field. With hunters, it’s all about their style and stride. Some hunter classes also judge the horse’s body structure, which is referred to as its “conformation.”
Speed, stamina, and the ability to clear the course obstacles are what count in the various jumper classes. This is no easy feat, considering many of the jumps are three feet six inches to five or more feet tall, with spreads of up to six feet. Unlike the hunter classes, style, pace, and manners are not important, and are not judged. What matters is that horse and rider complete the course in as little time as possible without knocking down any of the obstacles.
A Week Under the Oaks
This year, the competition begins Monday, June 7 on what many refer to as “locals’ day” at the show, with the majority of hunter classes offered that day restricted to horses owned by residents of counties within a 60-mile radius of Upperville. Compared to the rest of show week, it’s a somewhat quieter day, perfect for kicking back in the newly renovated grandstand and taking it all in as the horses and riders leap through the hunter course under the beautiful and majestic hundred-year-old oaks of Grafton Farm. It’s also a great time for shopping. While some vendors are in the process of setting up their displays for the week, there are many that are already up and running and ready for business. It’s the perfect opportunity to pick up that one-of-a-kind item before it’s scooped up by other shoppers later in the week.
A full schedule of hunter classes are on tap for Tuesday, and the action kicks into high gear as the jumper classes begin across the street amid the rolling green terrain of Salem Farm. In the afternoon, the Founder’s Cup, restricted to horses bred and foaled in Virginia, honors the memory of Colonel Richard Henry Dulany — an avid horseman and the driving force behind the establishment of the Upperville Colt and Horse Show. One of the many highlights on Wednesday’s schedule of events is the “Paul and Eve Go as You Please Handy Hunter” class, held in memory of Paul and Eve Fout, two of Virginia’s most prominent and accomplished equestrians. On Thursday, the ponies come out to strut their stuff. Unbelievably adorable and the dream of many little girls, you won’t want to miss these pint-sized equines with over-the-top personalities. Don’t worry if you miss the ponies on Thursday — you’ll have the opportunity to catch them on Friday and Saturday too.
The weekend, of course, tends to draw the largest crowds, so plan to come early and spend the day. There’s plenty to see and do, and once you get there, you won’t want to leave soon anyway. Saturday morning features the Cleveland Bay breeder classes, and the ever-so-elegant ladies’ side saddle classes. Come see Upperville’s youngest riders (ages one to six years) make their appearance in the leadline competition on Saturday afternoon. With an adult handler keeping the pony in check, you won’t be able to stop smiling as you watch these young riders — dressed in proper attire, of course — make their way around the ring. On Sunday morning, additional breeder classes are scheduled, including those featuring the Irish Draught breed. The classic sport of carriage driving also takes center stage on Sunday with the Carriage Driving Grand Prix and the Concours d’Elegance.
The week-long event culminates Sunday afternoon with the Budweiser Upperville Jumper Classic. Not to be missed, this challenge features many of the top riders in the world. Bring a picnic of your own, or pick up something to eat from the food vendors at the show. Then grab a spot on the lawn overlooking the course and get ready for an exciting, hold-your-breath type of contest amid a colorful and extremely challenging course. It’s the perfect way to end an extraordinary week of competition. The only downside? Well, the show is held only once a year. But, like me, I’m willing to bet you’ll be looking forward to next year’s show before you leave your parking space.
For a complete schedule of events and information, check out their Web site at www.upperville.com.
The summer season in hunt country is kicking into full gear. Here’s just a few of the many upcoming events you may want to consider adding to your calendar.
Vintage Virginia Wine Festival
June 5 and 6, 2010
11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Bull Run Regional Park Special Events Center
Magnolias at the Mill Beer Festival
June 17, 2010
Magnolias at the Mill
Twilight Polo at Great Meadow
Every Saturday through September 18, 2010
The Plains, VA
Fourth of July at Great Meadow
July 4, 2010
The Plains, VA