Written by Richard Hooper
Fortunately for us all, there are still moments worthy of celebrating even in the midst of this pandemic. One of these is the 50th anniversary of Horse Country in Warrenton, Va. It is the legendary saddlery, clothing and book shop, as well as a retailer of horse and hound related antiques and a jewelry store.
There are also decorative and warming items for the home, including pillows, throws, and lamps. For women attending the Gold Cup, there is an abundant selection of proper “chapeaux.” It is owned and run by Marion Maggiolo, astute businesswoman, always congenial lady, and “bonne vivante” (the Italian incarnation of the French “bon vivant”).
Before Maggiolo’s family moved to Virginia, her mother owned a feed mill in Hunterdon County, New Jersey, that also sold hay with a farm store as a component. With huge mobile grinders that serviced local farms and a railroad siding for picking up bulk deliveries, she registered her own feed formulas, selling them primarily to dairy and poultry farms. In 1970, several years after moving to Virginia, Maggiolo’s parents opened Horse Country at the intersection of Routes 17, 211, and 15 in Warrenton. It was a great location for highway business.
Maggiolo helped out at the store that first summer, returning to her final year at college in the fall. After graduation, she returned home. With a recession stifling the economy, she thought it would be a while before finding a job. However, the morning after her return, a job found her. At 6 a.m., her father called up the stairs, “Marion, time to go to work.”
“Bonne vivante” Marion Maggiolo with her Scotties, Aga and Bunsen, in the boot department. New York photographer M. Sharkey captures the spirit of Horse Country in one photo.
“I worked with Mom for a year. One day she said that she couldn’t go in and handed me the keys,” Maggiolo said. “She never asked for them back, and I’ve opened the store ever since. A few months after handing me the keys, she handed me the invoices and checkbook.”
“Has there ever been a better business decision,” one justifiably may ask?
In the early years, Maggiolo was also a traveling saleswoman. A typical trunk show road trip would stop at Richmond, Virginia Beach, Raleigh, and Atlanta. Trainers and customers she had met at the store or at horse shows would invite their students and friends to their homes. Afterwards, they would join together at a local restaurant, up to twenty at a table for dinner.
“It was all great fun in the 70s and early 80s, all family oriented,” Maggiolo said.
By 1985, Maggiolo realized that fox hunting needs were being underserved. She began to place less emphasis on riding show jackets, switching instead to tweeds and hunting coats. While expanding her inventory, she also expanded her market by creating her first catalogs. They were on newsprint, illustrated with lovely, enticing drawings. Glossy paper, color, and equally enticing photographs would come later.
Marion Maggiolo, guiding light and owner of Horse Country. Photo by Richard Frasier.
After 20 years, Horse Country moved to 60 Alexandria Pike in the heart of Warrenton, a move that tripled the floor space. Ten years later, the business expanded again through the purchase of the adjacent, connected building, gaining additional parking space as well.
The move took the store away from the convenience of the highway, but the expanded merchandise, new clientele from catalogs, and Maggiolo’s personality and welcoming staff had made the store its own destination.
“We’re a regular stop for folks driving north and south, and Europeans in the area for events or meetings,” Maggiolo said. “I’ve always wanted to have a big inventory and offer people lots of choices. When your customers cover the whole of North America, different climates influence purchases. We stock four weights of cloth, from lightweight for the deep south to heavyweight for the Northern states. And, I am embarrassed to say, I try to keep a two-year supply of hunt attire in stock.” That practice worked out especially well this year since most of her suppliers were in lockdown. “We didn’t miss a beat as far as fulfilling orders,” she said.
Scarlet Fever. The Hunt Room displays hunting attire for men and women. Photo by Richard Frasier.
In 1990, Maggiolo launched In & Around Horse Country, a quarterly publication. With a circulation of 25,000, the paper covers fox hunting, of course, but also includes the topics of flat, steeplechase, and point-to-point racing, carriage driving, and showing. As the paper’s website states, “The ‘country’ covered by In & Around Horse Country has no physical borders. The territory consists of like-minded enthusiasts who share a love of horse sports …” It is, in fact, the same territory as that of her store.
Quality has always been foremost for Maggiolo, and she has always carried superior merchandise. The store takes its unique personality, however, from Maggiolo’s enthusiasm for discovery. Renting a car after arriving at Heathrow, she would drive off (there was no GPS service or cell phones) in search of what she might discover, stopping here and there.
The Saddlery stocks preparations, stable requisites, and horse blankets. The space is used for book signings, lectures, meetings, and other events. Photo by Richard Frasier.
“A conversation with a sculptor led me to a maker in a small town,” Maggiolo said. “That maker sent me to a maker in Wales who had small premises. In those years, some of the places had no heating, dirt floors, and were down single-track roads.” With the same dedication to quality, those connections led to her own brand of merchandise, the Horse Country Collection.
“I’m not sure people realize all the unique items that Marion has developed under the Horse Country label,” Sandra Ranke, of Sandra Ranke Creative, said. “She creates new items with her vendors every year, all with special detailing and thoughtful touches. She has exquisite taste and truly makes shopping an adventure.”
Others concur. “My favorite stores are Bergdorf’s in New York, Fortnum and Mason in London, Horse Country in Warrenton, and Tractor Supply,” Rebecca Baldridge said, a contributing editor at Equestrian Living.
A launch and book signing by author Rita Mae Brown. Horse Country is involved in murder and mayhem in several of her novels. Horse Country librarian, Jenny Young (r). Photo courtesy of Horse Country.
One early customer, now another friend made at the store, is Zohar Ben-Dov. “[Maggiolo] was the kindest, most welcoming, knowledgeable person,” Ben-Dov said, describing the first time he met Maggiolo at the original location. “She has a generosity of spirit. I can’t say enough good about her.”
Maggiolo exemplifies this spirit in talking about her business. “I have to mention all the girls who worked with me over the years. From our 2,400 square foot building on the highway with the 3×5 card inventory system, hand writing thousands of address labels or hand sorting bulk mailing of the newspaper and catalogs, packing boxes for UPS shipments, and to computerizing the store, they have worked hard. They have cared about the vision and the ideas ‘du jour’ tossed to them every week. And, you can never underestimate family. From mom and dad, to my sisters and brothers not only doing the heavy lifting, but giving needed perspective on the business, to my dear friends whose advice and counsel helped through the many recessions (five, I think) we’ve weathered.” Not only does Maggiolo praise her employees and family, she acknowledges her customers, stating, “I’ve always said we have the best customers in the world.”
And what does all this make? As unequivocally stated by Meg Gardner, former joint master of the Middleburg Hunt, “It is the best tack store in the world. And I mean it.” ML
Published in the November 2020 issue of Middleburg Life.