by Chelsea Rose Moore

As the oldest event of its kind in the country, the Upperville Colt & Horse Show, running from June 6-12, celebrates its 163-year anniversary next month. And the event still holds a special place in President Mike Smith’s heart and memory bank.

Smith, who now lives a few miles from the show grounds off Route 50, attended the show as a child and said it spawned his interest in riding. He later won as a junior rider, and his children competed “under the oaks,” as well. Now, he said, he’s humbled to have come full circle as the show’s president.

He also emphasized the importance of preserving the show’s traditions while keeping up with today’s standards of horse showing. His job, he said, is to pass the show on to the next generation, while making sure it’s “on firm ground and footing.” 

Over his three years as president, Smith has overseen a number of improvements to the infrastructure and grounds. In addition, the show has been designated a prestigious Fédération Equestre Internationale CSI. Prize money for the Grand Prix finals has significantly increased from $75,000 his first year to $216,000 this year. He’s added more bleachers and watched them fill up, and there will be increased seating again next month.

“This truly is one of the best shows in the country,” Smith said, “I think our (new) website has helped identify the professionalism and dedication of our team.”

At some point, he’d like to have a live feed of the show’s more important classes on the website. His goal for next year is to have commentators identifying what’s happening in the class, the better to educate digital visitors. 

“You have to give a lot of credit to the people who have been involved over the 163 years,” he said. “They always had enough foresight to see when the horse show demands were changing.”

Smith also knows the importance of keeping the show a community event.

“The tradition has always been about community; we want to keep it that way, and grow our community from Northern Virginia,” he said, adding that it’s important that the show isn’t geared to “horse people.”

“Right now we have a really great president who is a visionary,” said board member Betsee Parker. “Mike Smith been very effective at bringing the show into a Renaissance era, moving it forward into the 21st century, and making it more demanding of its competition. I think he’ll go down in the history of the Upperville Horse Show as one of the greatest presidents we’ve ever had.”

Parker said Upperville has always had a unique ability to bring people together, offering spectators something special, something timeless. “There’s a reason the horse show is still around,” she said. “And it’s not by accident.”

The Upperville Colt & Horse Show doesn’t take the community’s involvement for granted. Many who have been deeply involved over the years are cited on the Wall of Honor. From riders, to trainers to police officers to volunteers who make the concession stand food, the wall is filled with people dedicating their time and
energy to make the show successful.

“The community guards this show very carefully and embraces it,” Parker said. “In turn, it embraces the community, and continues to be so important this many years later. This event is distinctive in its community friendliness, which is part of why I believe this is the oldest horse show in the United States.” 

The show’s immediate mission, she added, is “to keep it as state-of-the-art as the very best shows in the country.”

As show manager for over 30 years, Tommy Lee Jones is proud that Uppervillehas always managed to maintain its distinct charm and character.

“We still show under the trees,” he said. “We’ve maintained the camaraderie and sportsmanship of the horse show world.”