Written by Kaitlin Hill | Photos courtesy of Loudoun Therapeutic Riding
In the December 15, 1944, edition of the New York Times, film critic Bosley Crowther detailed Elizabeth Taylor’s “National Velvet,” writing that “this fresh and delightful Metro picture, based on Enid Bagnold’s novel of some years back, tells by far the most touching story of youngsters and of animals since Lassie was coming home.” And Crowther concluded, “It speaks, through the tenderness of children, of the more benevolent spirit that is in man.”
More than a film review, the “tenderness of children” and “benevolent spirit” of man does well to describe the mission and methods of Loudoun Therapeutic Riding (LTR), which counts Taylor among its early advocates. Founded in 1974 by Brenda Baird and Leonard Warner, the organization supports children and adults with physical, intellectual, and emotional difficulties through equine-based therapies.
Shortly after its inception, LTR screened “National Velvet” at the Middleburg Community Center with Elizabeth Taylor, who won an Oscar for her role as Velvet Brown, in attendance. LTR’s Executive Director Laura Smith recalls, “Back in the ‘70s Elizabeth Taylor was married to Senator Warner and they hosted one of our first fundraisers. It was a showing of ‘National Velvet.’” She adds, “Three hundred fifty people attended. It must have been a packed house.”
With programs in equine therapy, hippotherapy, equine-assisted learning, and even Equine Services for Heroes, a method tailored to wounded warriors, and Silver Spurs, equine-assisted activities for senior citizens, the work of LTR has touched countless lives. Smith adds, “We’re really more than therapeutic riding, even though that’s in our name. We are focused on a holistic approach to how horses can help humans.”
Now, 50 years of service later, LTR is bringing the beloved film back to the Community Center with a red carpet and fashion show on February 17.
Proceeds from the event will support a number of LTR projects and programs. Specifically, Smith says, “Since we moved from Morven Park in 2021, we had to leave behind a few things we have built for our friends who use wheelchairs. One of them was a framework for a SureHands lift that we have to have configured for our new facility.” She adds, “We also have to have some fencing replaced. I know that’s not so much fun, but it is so important to keep our horses safe.”
The fundraiser is a “reenactment” of the original event and a true community effort. Guests will enjoy fine food, fun giveaways, and a “celebration of fashion.” The fashion show is being organized by Lost Barrel Brewing’s Heather Femia, with local businesses like The Lucky Knot and Highcliffe Clothiers contributing. Miss Virginia, Victoria Chuah, will also be in attendance as the work of LTR hits close to home for her. “Her brother Luke rides with the program,” shares Smith.
“The Middleburg community is so wonderful, and so generous and kind. They have been part of why we have been here for 50 years, from Paul Mellon to David Greenhill helping us. We are really appreciative of that.” She finishes, “We just couldn’t do it without all the people in the community who have given their time as volunteers, who have given us donations financially, of their horses, of their equipment.”
As LTR looks back on the last half-century, Smith reflects on the tagline of “National Velvet” — “A girl, a dream, a horse” — which in many ways applies to those who lend their time to LTR’s mission and those who benefit from it. Hard work, determination, and the connection between horse and human are all the makers of a great story, which LTR certainly is. And as Smith says, “It’s been a labor of love for 50 years.” ML
Published in the February 2024 issue of Middleburg Life.