On Saturday, May 6, Middleburg Life was honored to return to Virginia Gold Cup to judge the annual hat contest. The beautiful weather with no shortage of sunshine made for an impressive selection of hats and fascinators from which to choose. See scenes from a wonderful day at the races captured by ML photographer Callie Broaddus below, and a list of the hat contest winners at the end.
Most Glamorous or Elegant: Maranda Smith Best Racing Theme: Frazer Hendrick Funniest or Most Outrageous: Ann Franzese Best Child’s Hat: Riley Whitley Best Men’s Hat: Wesley Harris
To many, Penny Denegre is considered a Renaissance woman in the equestrian community. She has worn many hats, andhelmets, over the past four decades and proved herself an exceptional equestrian, leader, colleague, and friend.
Still, there is a prevailing humility about Denegre and her achievements. “To be honest, I don’t see myself that way. I guess I’m a well-traveled and well-schooled amateur,” Denegre says. “I think it’s that I’ve been involved in so many disciplines and being multifaceted isn’t as common anymore. People today are very specialized.” She continues, laughing, “Part of it is that I can’t say no to the things I care about. I want to see them succeed because they are important and have value.”
For the past 30 years, the Middleburg Hunt has known her as their stalwart Joint-Master of Foxhounds (MFH). Her fellow equestrians know her as a 12-time National Ladies’ Sidesaddle Champion. The Devon Horse Show recently bestowed the title of “Devon Legend” on Denegre.
In January of 2024, Denegre will be inaugurated as president of the Master of Foxhounds Association of North America (MFHA), a position previously held by only two other women.
Her early connection with horses began when her mother put her in a saddle at age 4. “The relationship is built in the barn in the special moments of caretaking and feeding. To recognize how the horse is feeling, you need that kind of time with them,” she says. “There’s a partnership, the learning and growing together. There’s nothing better.”
As a child, Denegre and her older sister, Hillary Rogers Brooks, took riding lessons from Jane Marshall Dillon, who operated a riding school in Vienna, Virginia. It was here that Denegre learned proper equitation and grooming techniques, plus Dillon’s philosophy of horse care. “She taught us how to treat animals with the respect they deserve,” says Denegre. “The horse and pony’s comfort always comes first, before your own.”
When the family moved from Vienna to Middleburg, Denegre and her sister were regulars on the Middleburg horse show circuit. A nod to her future role, Denegre became a Junior Joint-MFH of the Fairfax Hunt at age 14.
In addition to her love of horses, music has been a steady passion in Denegre’s life. She started learning the piano at 7, took lessons throughout her teens, and sang in her high school and church choirs.
Denegre continued to explore her love of music at Duke University, where she majored in history and French. She joined the Duke Chapel Choir and found great inspiration. “We did the entire Messiah every year … and had some phenomenal voices,” she says. “I had never sung with a choir of that caliber before. I really enjoyed and loved being part of it.”
“When I got out of college, I took a job helping to organize a special political dinner in Washington and then, from there, I got a job at a politicalfundraising advertising company who, at the time, was on the forefront of direct mail and considered cutting edge,” says Denegre. She worked at the Springfield-based firm for nearly a decade, where she became a company vice president.
In 1981, the businesswoman married John Denegre. “He’s incredibly supportive of my pursuits. We share a love of so many things — horses, hounds, foxhunting, sailing, music, history, to name a few…. But I don’t ride in his race car,” she laughs, pointing out her husband’s penchant for fast cars.
It was their shared love of horses that called them to the countryside. They moved to Middleburg in 1984, purchasing a farm just outside of town. Two years later, their daughter Alden was born.
Over several years, the Denegres built a house and barn on the property. “It took more than two years to put the cropland back into pasture, a long process to do correctly,” Denegre says. “As we worked the fields, we picked up tons of rocks and stones, and a resident fox showed up regularly to hunt mice, hence the name Foxstone Farm.”
Moving to Middleburg allowed Denegre more time to ride. She continued training sidesaddle, a sport she became fascinated with as a teenager because of its historical roots dating back to the 14th century. “It’s a touchstone to foxhunting. Sidesaddle was the only acceptable way for women to ride until the 1920s,” she says. “It can be very dangerous. It’s hard to come out of the saddle, but if you do, it’s catastrophic.”
Denegre rode with the Middleburg Hunt for 12 years before she was elected Joint-MFH, joining Jeffrey Blue and Melissa Cantacuzene in 1994. “You’re basically the CEO of the organization overseeing personnel, managing landowner relations, which is huge, raising funds, and setting the tone for the organization,” Denegre explains.
Blue and Denegre have been Joint-MFH together for nearly three decades. She describes their successful partnership as one of mutual respect, brutal honesty, open dialogue, and a commitment to present a united front, even when they disagree. “I couldn’t have done this with just anybody; it’s a rare gift,” she says.
In 2017, Denegre had a serious accident in the hunting field which resulted in a broken pelvis, eight broken ribs, and a punctured lung, among other injuries. Her athleticism was a major factor in making a full recovery after many months. “I didn’t know whether I should get back on a horse or not, so I decided that I’d let my body tell me,” she says.
Her first time back in the saddle was on one of Blue’s older horses named Gentry. “I can remember the feeling of ‘I’m home’ and how great it felt,” she says, tearing up. “I told the horse, ‘If you get me back, you’ve got a home for life,’ and he did.” Now retired, Gentry lives at Foxstone along with the 11 other resident horses.
Despite the risks, Denegre remains committed to the Middleburg Hunt, and wants to preserve its storied history into the future.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time and work hard at it. I appreciate all the staff and subscribers in the hunt putting their hearts into it, from feeding all these hounds … to keeping the country open,” she says.
A community leader to her core, Denegre is a staunch advocate for land preservation. She is currently on the advisory board for the Land Trust of Virginia, a past board member for Goose Creek Association, and works closely with the Piedmont Environmental Council. “Foxhunters have done a lot to preserve the farmland in the country,” says Denegre.
Of her eight years on the Goose Creek Association board, she says, “It gave me an appreciation for the river itself and how important the water is to the wildlife.” She continues, “They’ve been able to improve the quality of the water so that for the first time there are actually eagles on Goose Creek.”
Denegre, whose own 100-acre farm is in conservation easement, says, “It’s important to everybody even if you don’t hunt. Many people out here have horses, and for that you need land. It’s also the sheer beauty of this area. To me, it would be a crime to see all of this gorgeous country covered in houses and development.”
Despite a busy schedule, Denegre still finds time to stay connected to the show ring. She is on the board of the Upperville Colt & Horse Show and is a regular at various shows from Virginia to Florida when time allows. She says, “I love the history. Showing is one touchstone to the hunting field. It initially gave people something to do with their hunter [horses] in the summertime.”
Her horse, String of Pearls, was the 2022 Adult Amateur Hunter Champion at Upperville.
In 2019, Denegre and Pearl were among the top 30 horses to qualify for the Adult Amateur Hunter Championship at the Washington International Horse Show in Washington, D.C. “Pearl was a star. It’s a two-round competition and she won the whole thing. I was over the moon!” exclaims Denegre.
A sidesaddle regular at the Devon Horse Show in Pennsylvania, her treasured horse True Blue was the Ladies’ Hunter Sidesaddle Champion for seven of the 10 years they showed. “The fact that he showed for 10 years is remarkable,” says Denegre.
Her horse, Garnet, was also Ladies’ Hunter Sidesaddle Champion for five years at Devon, making Denegre one of the most decorated sidesaddle riders in the country. “Devon has always had a special place in my heart, especially because both my horses did so well there. They just loved it, the whole atmosphere is electric,” she says.
Though racking up blue ribbons and trophies is familiar to Denegre, her Devon Legend award came as a surprise. Denegre laughs, “I was joking with a friend that I thought you had to be dead to be a legend!”
Denegre’s upcoming MFHA presidency will mark a nine-year commitment in total: three years each as second vice president, first vice president, and president. “I’m a little nervous but excited. When I originally talked it over with John, we both agreed that this was my chance to give back,” Denegre says. “The MFHA does important work, not only in preserving the sport and keeping the [hounds] studbook, but they also do great research on things like tick-borne diseases.”
For now, Denegre is focused on the Middleburg Hunt Point-to-Point races on April 30th. “It’s an exciting day. We get to run our point-to-point at one of the nicest steeplechase courses in the country. Glenwood is one of the only courses where the horses never go out of sight,” she says.
Though she has many titles, the ones she is most comfortable with are the ones closest to her heart. To her husband, she is a wife of over 40 years. She is a loving mother to her daughter, Alden, and son-in-law, Gavin. And to her four- and six-year-old granddaughters, she is affectionately known as “Penny.” “The thing I’m most proud of is my family,” she says. She is also grateful to the animals she’s dedicated her life to, saying, “I’ve been so lucky with the horses I’ve had who have taken me on this incredible journey.” ML
Published in the April 2023 issue of Middleburg Life.
7945 Citation Dr, Marshall, VA 20115 Offered at $995,000 5 BD | 3/1 BA | 4,220 SQFT | 10.42 AC MLS# VAFQ2007810
This classic Virginia home is beautifully appointed and move-in ready. This four-bedroom, 3.5-bathroom, 4,200-square-foot home sits on 11 acres in the heart of Old Dominion Hunt territory and is on the coveted Orlean Trail System.
The front porch overlooks rolling hills and a large pond while the three-level back deck views the swimming pool and new board fenced horse fields.
Renovated in 2022, the open floor plan has hardwood floors throughout the home. The gourmet kitchen has new stainless steel appliances, a breakfast area, and an expansive dining room. The sitting room has large windows, and a wood-burning stove. The living room also has a fireplace with a custom wood mantle.
The upper level primary suite includes a breakfast balcony, soaking tub, shower, and dressing room. Three additional bedrooms and a full bathroom allow privacy and space. The fully finished English-style basement has full windows and walks out onto a patio. A full bathroom, entertaining area, and a second laundry room provide three levels of living.
The equestrian facility includes a four-stall center aisle barn with walk-outs from every stall, a wash rack with hot and cold water, hay loft, new board fenced fields, run-in shed, all-weather footing arena, new board fenced paddocks, and direct access onto 25 miles of trails.
A firepit and private Rappahannock River access complete endless fun for family and friends. High-speed Starlink internet allows the ability to work from home.
The Orlean Trail System creates a community amongst neighbors with yoga, walks, gardening, line dancing, and provides over 20 activities. Make sure to check out their calendar so you do not miss out on the fun! The Orlean Market has everything you need, with live music on Fridays, a gas station, convenience store, and dining, and is only minutes away.
There are countless vineyards, polo clubs, and horse shows, making this a favorite location. Only 58 miles from D.C., 12 miles to Warrenton, and 16 miles to Marshall, this farm is the perfect place to live.
Shannon Casey | REALTOR® 540.222.2119 [email protected] Licensed in VA Middleburg Real Estate | Atoka Properties
Over the past few months, Middleburg Life spoke with several riders about their time competing in Florida during the winter season. For this month’s issue, three more Hunt Country residents are adding their updates and insights from Wellington. Read on to hear about their experiences spending the winter in the sunshine state!
Conor O’Regan has been showing at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington every year since 2008. O’Regan is the owner of CO’R Equestrian in Upperville and competes internationally in the jumper ring at the highest levels of the sport.
O’Regan grew up in Ireland and began riding around the age of 10. He started out at a local riding school and worked his way up through the pony divisions, eventually competing for Ireland internationally on ponies. He graduated to horses where he had even more success and rode at the European championships for juniors in Italy. From there, O’Regan advanced to the senior ranks of the sport all while studying at university.
After completing his degree, O’Regan had the opportunity to come to the United States. Originally, he planned to simply visit a friend in Wellington before returning to Ireland. However, that visit was in January 2008, and he has been here ever since.
In late 2008, O’Regan accepted a position working for the Firestone family and moved to Upperville. After over six years with the Firestones, he started CO’R Equestrian in 2015.
One of O’Regan’s favorite parts of being in Wellington for the winter is that he doesn’t have to travel to multiple different show venues. During the rest of the year, he is often on the road for two weeks out of every month going to different shows on the A circuit. In Wellington, he enjoys having all of the activity, and all of his friends, gathered in one place.
This year, O’Regan enjoyed a successful season at WEF. He has competed in the Saturday night Grand Prix under the lights and won several major classes. O’Regan is also pleased that his horses have all been “growing, improving, and getting to a point where they are more competitive now than they were at this point last year.” According to O’Regan, this is always the goal. “I’m ultimately trying to make them as good as they can be, and from that point of view, it’s been going really well.” O’Regan is especially thankful for his owners, who make everything possible. “I couldn’t do what I do without those people behind me, supporting me, and believing in me,” he says. His top horse right now is Mendini DR, owned by Erin and Jimmy Walker. He is also currently showing two horses owned by Leslie Kopp.
O’Regan believes that WEF is really about testing yourself against the best people. “It’s one of the most competitive circuits in the world for the amount of time we’re here,” he says. “At the end of the day, it’s about getting horses that are good enough to compete at this level. You have to be on point here to go out and win and be competitive.”
Leslie Kopp spent the winter competing in the adult amateur jumpers at the Winter Equestrian Festival. Kopp trains with Connor O’Regan at CO’R Equestrian and owns two of the horses that O’Regan shows.
After a roughly 30-year hiatus, Kopp started riding again in 2015. When she was a child, she did pony club and local shows in Northern Virginia. However, when her Bethany Beach-based real estate business took off, she didn’t have enough time to continue with the sport. But, she always knew that at some point she wanted to get back in the saddle. Now, Kopp says that she feels “very fortunate to be able to do this again.”
Kopp started coming down to Wellington in 2015, shortly after getting back into riding. She loves seeing the best people in the world come to compete and watching the high-level showjumping classes and polo matches.
Kopp purchased a new horse in October and is in the process of buying another. This winter, she enjoyed geting to know them both better. “Just trying to take it slowly with the new ones and move up is very important to me,” Kopp says. “I’ve learned that patience and taking your time is the only way to go.”
In addition to competing herself, Kopp also enjoys watching O’Regan show her horses. “I love watching how he progresses with them,” she emphasizes. She appreciates that he takes his time and really gets to know their individual personalities.
When not in Florida, Kopp splits her time between Bethany Beach and The Plains, and is grateful for the excellent teams supporting her both in business at Bethany Beach and ringside at WEF.
Wil Ballhaus, a Wakefield School sophomore and up-and-coming polo player, has been spending the winter honing his skills in Wellington. Ballhaus rides for Beverly Equestrian, a premier equestrian center in The Plains co-owned by his parents. The Beverly Equestrian team is currently entered into three different leagues for the season: a 6-goal league at the International Polo School, a 12-goal league at Port Mayaca Polo Club, and a 16-goal league at the Wellington Polo Tour.
Ballhaus has been around horses his entire life, but it wasn’t until around the age of 9 that he decided to give polo a try.
This is Ballhaus’ third season in Wellington. “Wellington is a beautiful area,” Ballhaus says. “I love having the opportunity to come down here and continue playing this sport at a higher level.” Ballhaus is grateful to the Wakefield School for allowing him to attend classes virtually while he is in Florida so he can train at the most competitive level possible over the winter.
Before coming to Wellington, Ballhaus wrote down his goals for the season, which included becoming a more solid rider and playing his new position better. He used to play one, an offensive position, but now plays four, a defensive position. This was a meaningful change for him because it requires a completely different skill set. “It’s a very stressful position,” Ballhaus emphasizes. However, overall, he feels like he is making progress toward completing his goals.
Among his list of impressive accomplishments this winter, Ballhaus’ team won the International Polo School’s 6-goal tournament, also known as the Palm Beach Open, in January 2023. In the final match of the tournament, Ballhaus was named the MVP.
Ballhaus’ mentor is Tolito Ocampo. According to Ballhaus, Ocampo is the whole reason that he first became passionate about the sport. However, he is thankful for his whole team at Beverly Equestrian, who continue to motivate him to become the best player possible. “I am lucky to have a lot of people who help me and influence me every day,” Ballhaus says. ML
Published in the April 2023 issue of Middleburg Life.
It has been 50 years since Virginia’s most famous racehorse, Secretariat, was propelled into the annals of history after winning the American Triple Crown of horse racing: the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes in 1973 — setting a track record at the Preakness that has yet to be broken.
Curated by Colleen Yarger, Ph.D., George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Curator of Library Collections at the National Sporting Library & Museum, the exhibition opened on January 26 and will run through May 14.
Dr. Yarger joined NSLM last July and immediately began to research and put together “Endurance.” “It seemed such a natural topic to highlight,” she says, “and NSLM has such significant holdings around which to base this exhibition.” Prior to joining NSLM, Yarger had served as Assistant Curator for European Art and the Mellon Collections at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Such was Secretariat’s success that those who understood the significance of his epic accomplishments set out to document in print, photography, and art what they had seen with their own eyes. “Endurance” offers a fine-tuned presentation of all the above.
Yarger notes that “There are more people alive now who did not see these races than who did see them — and that includes me.” As to the exhibition, Yarger shares that she “loves a story, and for me, a story has to add up; it has to move from one piece to the next and then the next.”
“Endurance” includes books, photographs, and art. Among the focus areas is “Breeding for the Perfect Racehorse.” National Sporting Library founder Alexander Mackay-Smith (1903–1998) pinpointed Breeding Racehorses as the first text to publish a system of metrics to identify the most important pedigrees of dams within Thoroughbred breeding.
One of the books highlighted is “The X Factor: What It Is & How to Find It: The Relationship Between Inherited Heart Size and Racing Performance”by Marianna Haun, which explores the theory that Secretariat had been born with a genetic makeup that led to a larger-than-average-sized heart. Haun’s book details the theory that many successful racehorses have bigger hearts, tracing the linkage of this genetic quirk to the X chromosome. At the root of this quirk: a larger-than-average heart is only heritable from father to daughter or from mother to offspring.
“The description of Secretariat’s ‘tremendous heart’ was more than just metaphorical,” says Yarger. “While the average Thoroughbred’s heart weighs between eight and nine pounds, Secretariat’s heart was estimated to weigh 22 pounds.”
“Endurance” includes an understated but deeply impactful visual of Secretariat’s stride — one worth returning to see again. Secretariat’s length of stride was considered large, measuring 24 feet, 11 inches long, while training for the Preakness. Because he was so well-muscled and with such significant cardiac capacity, he could out-gallop competitors at nearly any point in a race.
Another book highlighted in the exhibit is “The Secretariat Factor: The Story of a Multimillion-Dollar Breeding Industry.” Written by Thomas Kiernan and released only two years after Secretariat’s first crop of foals had become eligible to race, “The Secretariat Factor” chronicles the intrigue surrounding that first crop by focusing on their successes and failures, providing a behind-the-scenes look at the various factors affecting the decisions of members of the Secretariat syndicate.
Among Yarger’s favorite aspects of the exhibit is “something I was not expecting but found and was affected by in NSLM’s Richard Stone Reeves Archive.” Reeves was one of the foremost equine portraitists in the second half of the 20th century. Included in his archive (donated to NSLM by his children, Nina and Tony Reeves) is a folder containing a series of black-and-white prints of Secretariat’s renowned groom, Eddie Sweat, holding a lead shank and moving Secretariat around. Along the edges of the photos are chestnut-colored fingerprints, made as Reeves referenced them in painting Secretariat.
“Now, every time I find a chestnut-colored fingerprint in the Reeves archive, it brings a smile to my face,” Yarger says. “Seeing actual fingerprints on the photos makes it easy to imagine Reeves, in his studio, working on the painting and selecting a photo to reference. It’s a very human thing to do. I am so grateful that Reeves saved them.”
Shortly after Secretariat ran his last race as a 3-year-old on October 28, 1973, he was retired from racing and transported to Claiborne Farm, embarking on life as a sire. Members of the syndicate sent mares to breed, hoping to enhance their chances of producing a worthy contender. By the time Secretariat died in 1989, he had sired 16 crops of foals, producing three stakes winners who would ultimately achieve over $20,000,000 in earnings.
“There is a method when telling a story,” Yarger explains. “You have to believe that one-third will know nothing; one-third will have a general idea of what it is about; and one-third will be supremely interested. I hope that this exhibit touches all of those individuals.” ML
“Endurance: Secretariat’s Triple Crown at 50” Forrest E. Mars, Sr. Exhibit Hall National Sporting Library & Museum 102 The Plains Road Middleburg, VA 20117 540-687-6542
Published in the April 2023 issue of Middleburg Life.
21232 Unison Rd, Middleburg, VA 20117 Offered at $3,750,000 3 BD | 3/1 BA | 3,769 SQFT | 51.54 AC
Good Home Farm, known for its name, sits in a storybook setting surrounded by large estate farms in the heart of horse country. Located in the quaint village of Unison, this property is in the center of the Piedmont Hunt territory. Having had only one owner in nearly 20 years, it’s a rare opportunity to own this turnkey, private, premier equestrian estate.
Nestled to the back of 50+ acres sits a custom-built 3-bedroom, 4-bathroom stucco & stone home, constructed with extraordinary detail, quality, and charm. The main level showcases a great room with wooden beams, Pella windows on three sides, and features a floor-to-ceiling stone wood-burning fireplace. Gorgeous hardwood floors flow through the open kitchen, living, and dining areas and throughout the main level.
Three sets of French doors open from the family room to an outside stone terrace off the back of the home where you will enjoy an abundance of wildlife. You will see birds, butterflies, fox, deer, and wild turkey wandering the trails in the woods down to the creek.
Just inside the French doors is a gourmet kitchen with tons of cabinet space, top-of-the-line stainless steel appliances, and beams of natural light. A large mudroom was perfectly placed with a sink and laundry, and a closet on each level was thoughtfully designated for space for an elevator, if needed.
On the main level is a grand primary suite, with a luxurious bath and walk-in closet. Additionally, the primary suite has its own private room with a vaulted ceiling, great for an office, or TV room, with three walls of Pella windows and doors that lead out to a private side porch.
A common area sits at the top of the stairs on the upper level with built-in bookshelves, tons of light, French doors off the back, and stunning views in every direction! Two very generously sized bedrooms with high ceilings are on the upper level, with each its own full bath.
On the lower level you will find a storage area, a two-car garage, and an additional room great for a gym or any hobby.
Down the tree-lined driveway sits an exquisite four-stall elite equestrian facility. The stable features a wash-stall with heat lamps, a grooming stall, a feed room, a utility room, and a tack room with a washer, a mini-refrigerator, and a bathroom. Out the back of the stalls is a lean-to run-in shed, and a paddock which can serve as a dry lot, too. Rubber tile pavers line the center aisle down to a 70 by 170 indoor riding arena with a manufactured bluestone base, and dust-free rubber tire footing with mirrors on each end.
One side of the indoor is open at the top for the perfect light and amount of airflow for the horse and rider. Opposite the barn, on the right wing of the indoor is a farm workshop that was designed to be converted to additional stalls easily.
On the backside of the workshop is covered space ideal for housing farm equipment. Four large paddocks surround the facility, each with three-board fencing, run-in sheds, and auto waterers. Fenced garden beds are just beyond the farm, too.
The house and barn roofs were all replaced in 2016, and the main home furnace was replaced in 2019, in addition to the heat pump and furnace on the upper level.
Good Home Farm has lots of loving animals so all showings must be scheduled in advance with the listing agent. This perfect all-weather indoor riding along with endless ride-outs awaits you! Make an appointment today; you won’t be disappointed!
Written by Victoria Peace / Photos by Joanne Maisano
Spring is finally in the air, which means racing season is right around the corner in Middleburg. If you are anxiously awaiting the return of tailgating with friends and a program packed full of exciting races, read on to get the latest updates about the spring race calendar in Hunt Country.
This year, the National Steeplechase Association (NSA) is teaming up with the Old Dominion Point-to-Point to host three sanctioned races with purses on April 8. “This provides an extra opportunity for our horsemen to run for races with large purses,” NSA Director of Racing Bill Gallo says. He is excited about the partnership and the benefits that it brings to both the Old Dominion Hunt and the NSA.
Gallo is responsible for directing the racing program throughout the year for the NSA. In this role, he is in constant contact with trainers and race meet directors. During the racing season, Gallo travels to a meet every weekend where he works with the stewards, walks the racecourse, coordinates the video cameras, and helps with the countless other aspects of race officiating.
“We are looking forward to our Virginia meets which are certainly some of the most popular on our circuit,” Gallo emphasizes. “The Virginia steeplechase program has been important for years and years.” To Gallo, the Middleburg Spring Races and the Virginia Gold Cup are “key stops during the spring” and “play a big role in the National Steeplechase Association.”
For those new to racing, the Middleburg Spring Races and the Virginia Gold Cup are both sanctioned races, which means they are regulated and run by the National Steeplechase Association. Jockeys compete against each other for monetary purses and the races tend to have a larger number of entries. In contrast, point-to-point races are organized and run by local hunts. Jockeys do not compete for monetary purses. However, many jockeys who compete in sanctioned races also compete in the point-to-points in order to practice for larger races later in the season.
Don Yovanovitch, secretary and treasurer of the Virginia Steeplechase Association and president of the Virginia Point-to-Point Foundation, encourages Hunt Country residents to attend the point-to-point races this season because they often provide a more intimate spectating experience than the bigger sanctioned races. Everyone is welcome to visit the paddock and stand right up next to the rail to see the horses go by, whereas at some of the bigger races, these areas might be restricted.
Yovanovitch also encourages spectators to attend multiple race meets per season in order to follow the progress of their favorite horses and jockeys. The intimate and personal atmosphere of the point-to-point makes it easy to develop a “fan club” for certain horses, and it is fun to watch them advance throughout the spring.
Yovanovitch spent 32 years as a jockey, during which time he won seven leading rider awards. In the early ’80s, he started training for himself and had an extremely successful career developing young riders and amateurs. It was also during this period that he got involved with the Point-to-Point Association, which he later changed into a foundation, creating an avenue for the organization to accept donations. Today, the foundation helps promote racing, amateur racing, continued education seminars for officials, and safety requirements, among other initiatives. In addition to his role at the Point-to-Point Foundation and the Virginia Steeplechase Foundation, Yovanovitch has held numerous other leadership positions in the sport including being the first American appointed to the board of the Paris, France-based Federation of Gentlemen and Lady Riders.
Personally, his favorite point-to-point race is the Rokeby Bowl at the Piedmont Fox Hounds Point-to-Point. He won it six times as a rider and nine as a trainer. According to Yovanovitch, the 3.5-mile race is a “strategic race to ride” and requires endurance from the horses early in the season. It is one of the races that provides early spring preparation for the Virginia Gold Cup, which is run in May.
John Wyatt, master of the Warrenton Hunt, reported that this year, the hunt has made several new additions to the point-to-point race they host on March 18. Firstly, they have added a direct link to their website where the public can buy tents, parking spots, and general entry tickets and view pertinent information about the race. Wyatt encourages anyone who is interested in attending to visit the site which includes information about parking, attire, and directions to the course.
Secondly, Warrenton has added two new zones to the race in order to make the event even more fan and family friendly: a vendor zone featuring six local businesses, and a kids zone with activities including coloring, face painting, and a miniature kids’ racecourse with jumps. Wyatt says that Warrenton aspires for the point-to-point to be a local, family event that everyone can attend to have an up-close experience with racing. ML
Rappahannock Hunt Point-to-Point Location: The Hill Boston, Virginia Date: March 4 Time: 12 p.m.
Warrenton Hunt Point-to-Point Location: Airlie Race Course Warrenton, Virginia Date: March 18 Time: 12 p.m.
Piedmont Fox Hounds Point-to-Point Location: Salem Course Upperville, Virginia Date: March 25 Time: 1 p.m.
Old Dominion Hounds Point-to-Point Location: Ben Venue Farm Ben Venue, Virginia Date: April 8 Time: 12 p.m.
Blue Ridge Hunt Point-to-Point Location: Woodley Farm Berryville, Virginia Date: April 16 Time: 1 p.m.
Middleburg Spring Races Location: Glenwood Park Middleburg, Virginia Date: April 22 Time: 1:30 p.m.
Loudoun Hunt Point-to-Point Location: Morven Park Leesburg, Virginia Date: April 23 Time: 12 p.m.
Middleburg Hunt Point-to-Point Location: Glenwood Park Middleburg, Virginia Date: April 30 Time: 1 p.m.
Virginia Gold Cup Location: Great Meadow The Plains, Virginia Date: May 6 Time: 1 p.m.
Published in the March 2023 issue of Middleburg Life.
For riders in Virginia, February is often synonymous with icy water buckets, endless blanket changes, and frozen footing. However, some lucky Hunt Country equestrians have headed south to wait out the winter in Wellington and Ocala.
For those of us that can’t make it down this year, Middleburg Life interviewed riders competing at the World Equestrian Center, the Winter Equestrian Festival, and on the Wellington polo fields about what the season has been like so far. Read on to hear about their experiences spending the winter in the sunshine state!
Grace Long, co-owner of G&T Equestrian in The Plains, has been heading to Florida for the winter annually for the past decade. This year, Long is based out of Ocala. “WEC is such an incredible place, you really can’t beat it,” she says. However, Long and her clients also travel to HITS and the Winter Equestrian Festival to compete during the winter season.
Long is originally from Australia. She studied law and economics at university and worked in that field briefly after she graduated. However, she ultimately decided that sitting in an office all day was not for her and transitioned toward riding and teaching full time. Long competed up to the Grand Prix level in Australia before moving to Middleburg ten years ago to work at Badger Hill Farm with Tom Bebb.
Five years ago, Long and Bebb founded G&T Equestrian. Today, the farm serves both hunter and jumper clients, many of whom are currently competing in Florida. “We have a great group of clients,” Long emphasizes. “We have a few clients with younger horses that they are bringing along. [Florida] is a great place to do that because there are so many different rings and they get a lot of diverse experiences.”
At G&T, Long and Bebb instruct riders and horses of all different levels from the baby green hunters up to the Grand Prix. “We really appreciate all of those levels. … We want everyone to do what they want to do but well,” Long says.
Long believes that a central part of what makes G&T Equestrian special is her partnership with Bebb. “Tom and I do everything. I’m the rider in the ring but in terms of the training and the planning and everything that’s involved, that’s really both of us,” she says. “I feel like that gives us a strong position in the fact that there’s both of us as trainers there. … We can help out everyone in the way that they need it.”
This winter season, she has brought a mare down to Florida who was off last year with an injury and has just started back up again. By the end of the winter, her goal is to have her jumping at the Grand Prix level.
Sophia Doble is spending her first winter season in Wellington this year and is planning to compete in the 6-8 goal league at Grand Champions Polo Club and the Grand Champions Women’s League.
Of her time in Florida, Doble says, “It’s a different environment, but everyone is very kind, sweet, willing to help, and welcoming. And, the horses seem to really enjoy it.”
Doble lives in Warrenton and started riding when she was 6. She took up polo at age 16 and started training with John Gobin at Twilight Polo Club in Middleburg during the summer of 2021. Doble, now 18, just graduated from high school this past December, a semester early.
Doble is most excited to play in the 6-8 goal league this season because she has never had the opportunity to play polo at that speed before. In order to prepare herself for playing in Florida, Doble traveled to Argentina from late November to early December to train with Memo and Meghan Gracida. While she was there, she purchased several horses that she is keeping in Florida for the winter.
This season, Doble is hoping to up her handicap and become a stronger player. Specifically, she plans to focus on improving her defensive skills and becoming more aggressive.
Fifth-grader Lane Costa is spending her first season competing in Florida this year. Costa and her new pony, MacGyver, have been showing in the Small Regular Pony Division at the World Equestrian Center in Ocala. Costa is from Leesburg, Virginia, and rides at Rutledge Farm with Jonelle Mullen.
Costa’s goal for the season was to qualify for Pony Finals, however she already accomplished this feat her first week showing! The class she is most looking forward to showing in is the pony derby.
Costa’s favorite thing about being at WEC is that she gets to meet a lot of friends around her age. She loves getting to spend multiple weeks with her fellow riders and says that everyone is so supportive. Costa also loves WEC’s facility, and the fact that she can walk around the showgrounds and see all of the different rings and vendors. There is even a Starbucks at the show.
Costa is looking forward to consistently showing MacGyver throughout the rest of the season, getting to know him more, and becoming a real team.
Jessica Rich has been coming down to Florida for the winter on and off for the past decade. She is based out of the World Equestrian Center in Ocala this year, but in past years has competed at the World Equestrian Festival in Wellington. Rich’s successful career in riding has spanned many different disciplines including show jumping, hunters, foxhunting, racing, and polo.
Rich’s mother was one of the first women jockeys and taught Rich to ride at a young age. During her childhood in Middleburg, Rich grew up riding other people’s ponies and took lessons everywhere, including with local Olympian Katie Prudent. As a teenager, Rich broke yearlings for Paul Mellon at Rokeby Farm.
Rich galloped horses on the track for decades. Her stepfather, Billy Turner, trained Seattle Slew. Turner and Rich’s mother had a successful training business together, and Rich rode for them and had her assistant trainer’s license in many states.
Now, Rich no longer rides professionally. “At this point in my life I’m doing it more as something that’s not a job — I’m doing it because I want to,” she says. Rich does not have a set discipline that she competes in; she usually gets her horses off the track and likes to do whatever they are best at, whether that’s eventing, show jumping, or something else. However, right now, she owns a Dutch Warmblood — her first one ever — and is competing in the jumper ring.
According to Rich, when she started riding her current mare, Juno, she was practically feral. She had never worn shoes or a blanket, and while she was not wild or crazy, she had very limited riding experience. Rich brought her along slowly, and she has since shown quite a bit of talent. Rich’s goal for the winter season is to get Juno really comfortable at her job, and eventually move her up to a higher level. Right now, she’s starting to compete in the 1.10 meters. Eventually, Rich would like her to graduate to the 1.20 meters.
Rich rides with G&T Equestrian in both Florida and Virginia. “I love the training and Grace’s riding, and it’s a great group of people,” she says. “Everyone they have working here is so good with the horses. … You want to walk into the barn and have it be an atmosphere that’s happy and pleasant — not stressful. Their farm delivers on that. And, the farm in Florida is a great location.”
One of Rich’s favorite things about being in Florida is the proximity of the farm to the showgrounds. “In a place like WEC, you can get a lot done. You can go back week after week and you get a lot accomplished,” she says. “It’s nice that you don’t have to drive as much.” Back at home in Middleburg, Rich prefers to foxhunt, trail ride with friends, or do dressage. “There are so many fun things to do with a horse in Middleburg. Because my horse is so small, I even hit the polo ball off her as well!” Rich says.
Riding is not the only thing that Rich appreciates about being in Florida — she also enjoys opportunities to compete in CrossFit. Rich took up CrossFit during COVID. She was used to riding ten horses per day seven days per week, and when that number was reduced to one, sometimes two horses, not even every day, she needed something else to do. Rich previously competed in virtual CrossFit competitions but did her first in-person one in Miami this winter. She’s signed up for another one soon. “It’s fun and it keeps you fit and strong, and helps with the riding,” she says.
John Gobin, the founder of Twilight Polo Club in Middleburg, has been coming to Wellington for over 30 years. Gobin is the former captain of the U.S. Polo Team and has played in prestigious tournaments all over the world. “Wellington is the best polo in the country,” Gobin says. “If you want to test your skills, you do it down here.”
Currently, Gobin prefers to play in more relaxed matches during the winter season and focuses on training his green horses. He finishes them and then either sells them or brings them back up to Virginia in the spring. Several members of Twilight Polo Club also come down to Wellington to play with Gobin over the winter.
Like so many other riders, one of Gobin’s favorite things about coming to Florida is the weather, and the sheer amount of equestrian-related activities in the area. “It’s crazy how the town just explodes with horse people after Christmas — the roads are full, the restaurants are full, the tack shops are full — it’s a great environment,” Gobin says.
Michele Trufant is currently based out of the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, competing in the adult amateur jumpers. She rides with Denice Perry at Skyland Farm in Middleburg. Last year was Trufant’s first year in Florida. She came for a month initially, but she liked it so much that she kept adding on a week, and then two weeks, until eventually she stayed for three months. Her favorite part about heading south is the warm weather, the proximity to the ocean, and the frequency with which she is able to ride. She also loves being able to ride to the showgrounds from the farm instead of having to worry about trailering. Often, after she is done showing for the day, she walks down to the beach and goes surfing. “It doesn’t get much better than that for me,” she says. And, as if riding and surfing weren’t enough to keep her busy, Trufant also teaches virtual yoga classes.
Trufant loves all of the opportunities to watch high-level competitions at WEF. “To be able to walk around the showgrounds and see the best riders in the world — that [is] an amazing experience,” she says. “I [spend] hours and hours in different rings watching people ride.”
Trufant began her career in riding as an event and racehorse rider before turning to the hunter jumper ring. She did not learn to ride until age 30 and had limited means at the time, so she took advantage of every opportunity possible in order to advance in the sport. “I was breaking horses, I would ride anything,” she says. “I would do anything I could to make a little money and make my dream come true.”
Trufant moved from Louisiana to Middleburg in 1995. The first job she got in the area was working for Barbara Graham at the Middleburg Training Center. During this period, Trufant also rehabbed racehorses in order to train and resell them as eventers. She took one to Denice Perry who told her, “Don’t ever jump that horse over a ditch again; he needs to be [a] show hunter!” From then on, Trufant started taking lessons with Perry and has been with her ever since. The horse, Prime Time, went on to become famous locally and was a consistent winner at Upperville.
Trufant has never set specific goals for her riding, but simply decided that she would try to be the best that she could be, no matter what that meant. And so far, this philosophy has worked beautifully. “I’ve been so satisfied,” she says. “I got to do the advanced course at Kentucky as a three-day event rider, [and] I completed Fair Hill three-star. Those are things that I never dreamt of. Both of those I came out of and thought, if I never compete again, I’m happy.”
This season, Trufant is leasing a horse for the winter. He’s so experienced, “I’m having the time of my life!” she says. ML
Published in the February 2023 issue of Middleburg Life.
In foxhunting circles, it is called “the dine after the dash.” Afterall, who wouldn’t be hungry after a morning of chasing a fox on horseback in the fresh country air?
The hunt breakfast is so named no matter what time of day the feast is served. Since hunts historically started with the rising of the sun, the first meal afterwards would be breakfast; hence, the hunt breakfast term stuck.
Here in Virginia, hunt breakfasts typically feature ham biscuits, stews, and desserts with equestrian and foxhunting themes. And of course, many hunts begin with the ritual of a stirrup cup – a bit of “liquid courage” – traditionally filled to the brim with Irish coffee, hot buttered rum or sherry; or, perhaps ginger brandy served to riders while their feet are already in the stirrups just before they leave for the hunt.
Saturday hunts are typically followed by the traditional hunt breakfast at the host’s property. Coming in from the field, riders peel off hunting coats trading them in for tweed hacking jackets, gather inside where it’s warm, and where food and drink are plentiful, to recount the drama of the hunt.
Recollections From Local Hunt Breakfast Hosts
Zohar and Lisa Ben-Dov of Kinross Farm near Middleburg host a hunt breakfast the Saturday before Thanksgiving for Orange County Hounds (OCH), opening their property to fellow hunt enthusiasts, friends, and guests.
Kinross, a 500-acre property under conservation easement with Virginia Outdoors Foundation, is near Wexford, once the country estate of former President John and First Lady Jackie Kennedy.
“We were living in upstate New York and Zohar wanted to hunt more often. So, we moved to Virginia for better weather, bought the farm in 1985, and since 1989, have hosted a hunt breakfast on the property – every year except 2020 because of COVID,” Lisa explains. Zohar has hunted with the Middleburg Hunt, Piedmont, Orange County, Loudoun, and Old Dominion.
The brick house at Kinross dates to 1837 and breakfasts were first held there. But the house was not large enough for the number of guests they invited, so Zohar built another complex on the farm that could accommodate additional guests. Lisa added, “For decorations, I picked different flowers depending on what linen colors I decided to use. Being originally from New Orleans, it became a tradition to serve jambalaya and horse-shaped cookies.”
At Kinross, people begin arriving around 9:30 a.m., and the meet kicks off with a stirrup cup of port or sherry. By 10 a.m., the hunt takes off. After hours of hunting, breakfast usually starts at 1 p.m.
Last year, the Ben-Dovs decided to have the breakfast outside and hosted it in the field. The menu included wonderful hot soups, ham biscuits, and sandwiches, and a full bar. Lisa recalls, “It was great! Everyone loved it. This year, I’m having it outside again.”
Another popular hunt breakfast is hosted the Saturday after Thanksgiving at Welbourne. Dulany Morison continues Piedmont’s long tradition of hosting at Welbourne, which sits on 520 acres that are protected in a conservation easement with Virginia Outdoors Foundation. But theirs is an evening affair, a cocktail dinner complete with Hunt Country attire.
When hounds come in around 2 p.m., riders take their horses home and get ready for the evening before returning. Bartenders are on the porches. Servers offer ham biscuits to start. Then there is a formal buffet spread in the dining room which includes beef tenderloins, sliced ham, and mashed potatoes. “We keep the menu pretty traditional,” Dulany adds. “And there’s always roaring fires in every fireplace. I also recall an old photo of children sitting on the stairs at Welbourne with dinner plates on their laps.”
“It’s a chance to interact with some of the landowners and riders to toast their ‘hopefully’ successful day,” Dulany says. “It’s a camaraderie-building occasion that benefits rider and landowner alike; it ties everyone together in support of the landscape. There’s a driving force and motivation to preserve the territory for fox hunters. And it’s trickled down to others who support the industry in so many ways: those who provide horse care, feed, equestrian supplies, caterers, designers, etc. There are so many layers. Some of the most passionate enthusiasts are those who are doing a lot of the work. They take great pride in it.”
Dulany and his wife, Eleanor, also subscribe to Orange County Hounds, and Eleanor is a steward on the OCH board. Since 2015, the Morisons have hosted a breakfast at their Stoke Farm in OCH territory. “We host it closer to Christmas, so everything is decorated for the holidays,” Dulany says. Stoke’s 285 acres are protected under conservation easement with Virginia Outdoors Foundation.
These breakfasts include hearty fare, live fires, and festive drinks – mostly red wine or bourbon is consumed, but there’s always a full bar. Dulany adds, “With these breakfasts, the host is thanking their fellow hunters and neighboring landowners for allowing the use of their land, and they serve as a venue for inviting others.”
Another local foxhunter, Rose Marie Bogley, has hosted her share of hunt breakfasts at her Upperville estate Peace and Plenty at Bollingbrook. She hunted with Middleburg Hunt from 1975 to 1985. In 1985, she moved to Bollingbrook where she has hosted breakfasts for Piedmont for over 30 years. Her estate includes a grand manor house that dates to 1809 on 400 acres, with 365 of those acres in a conservation easement with the Land Trust of Virginia.
Hunts usually start around 9 a.m. Before the pandemic, she hosted it as close to Christmas as possible. “I’ve been doing this for a long time,” Bogley shares. “During the breakfast, horses can be put in stalls since there are several on the property. We had valet parking and gave people rides up to the house. There’s a healthy crowd of about 100 at a time, people coming and going. It got bigger each year.”
Last time Bogley hosted, she served chili. “I found this wonderful recipe in a cooking magazine called Bourbon Chili; it was the best, everyone loved it,” she remembers. “It cooked all night, and at four o’clock in the morning, I’d come downstairs and could smell it. We had corn muffins too, along with ham, salads, and a big dessert table. I’m from Pennsylvania and my sister knew someone there who made really good nut rolls. We had a full bar – actually, two bars – and bartenders.”
Dulany sums up the significance of the hunt breakfast perfectly: “It’s a happy time during a cold season, and it’s a great way to celebrate a day of sport. Instilling this interest into the next generation is key on everyone’s mind in the fox hunting world. Hopefully, it will be kept alive for future generations.”
We can all toast to that. ML
This article originally appeared in the November 2022 issue.
“The whole idea was to make it for the community,” shares Cindy Thompson, owner of the aptly named Community Shop on S. Madison Street. Thompson, a practicing surgeon, opened the part-consignment, part-thrift shop at the end of 2019, as an escape from her day job and a way to give to local charities. For patrons, the stocked shelves and purposefully cluttered corners are a mesmerizing treasure hunt with a little bit of everything for everyone, making it well worth a visit.
Thompson, an Ohio native, came to Middleburg for the same reason as many who settle here – horses. “I was always a horse lover,” shares Thompson. “My mother sent me to a YMCA camp where I learned to ride. It was Western.” While earning her undergraduate degree, she learned to ride English, and in medical school at the Medical College of Ohio, she was introduced to foxhunting.
A desire to blend jumping and riding cross-country, a college friend, and her Irish heritage all culminated in a foxhunting trip abroad. She says, “I had this girlfriend in college who rode horses…and we’d go through this catalog of horse vacations. [The catalog] had foxhunting in Ireland and so I’m like ‘bingo.’” Though the college friend missed the trip, Thompson met plenty of like-minded equestrian enthusiasts, including her future husband.
“There was this really attractive guy at the bar, but he was with a girl,” Thompson explains. Thinking that particular romantic avenue was unavailable, Thompson instead made friends with a different Englishman she met the same trip. She says, “This English guy and I became friends, and we went foxhunting together. I didn’t know anything, I didn’t have the right clothes, and he lent me his shirt, his vest, his stock tie, everything.”
Having forged a new friendship in the field, Thompson would visit her English pal three months later for another foxhunting excursion. She shares, “I went to England to visit my friend…and we go foxhunting down in the West Country.” She continues, “I came home…and the English guy calls me up and says, ‘Remember that guy from the bar in Ireland? He called me and wants your number.’”
The couple connected, unsurprisingly, over their love of foxhunting. “He said, ‘If you want to foxhunt, you have to live where it is.’ So, he sent me the yellow pages of Northern Virginia and on a map, he circled Leesburg, Winchester, and Warrenton,” Thompson remembers. Thompson relocated from Ohio to Warrenton where she landed a job as a general surgery specialist. The couple married in 2001, and she joined her husband in Middleburg where they still live with their family.
Though still a practicing surgeon in Warrenton, Thompson jumped at the chance to open the Community Shop when the retail space became available. She says, “I was going to do it when I retired…but then the space opened up and there was this opportunity.”
She adds, “It’s just fun to have a shop, but I wanted to figure out how to accommodate the community.” The Community Shop invites both consignment and donation, and it is up to the patron to choose which they pursue. “You can bring your stuff in, and you don’t have to decide one way or the other. You could have some things you want to consign and the rest you want to donate.”
As for what Thompson accepts for resale, “Whatever I think is good quality.” She adds, “It doesn’t necessarily have to be old; it could be new. It just has to be good quality, interesting, or unusual.” For Thompson, interesting and unusual could come in the form of artwork, clothing, jewelry, glassware, home accents, holiday décor, and even pet collars and catnip.
Whatever it is, once sold she turns over a portion of the profits to local charities. “Middleburg Humane is our big one. But there is a horse rescue, a cat rescue…I have a couple churches, Potters House in the Plains. It really could be anything, as long as it’s local.”
While Thompson’s work certainly benefits the community, it is also of benefit to her. She considers her days at the shop as “time off” and insists, “Why do something if it is not fun?” When asked what she likes most about running the shop, she offers a long list. “I like all of it,” she laughs. “I like talking to people when they come in, seeing what they bring in. It’s always exciting and a surprise to see what people bring and what people buy.” She adds, “I definitely like hunting for the stuff. It’s exciting to find something and see what you can sell it for. It’s like treasure hunting.”
A sign in the front window indicates with a smiley face that the store is open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday “based on volunteer availability.” Thompson hopes to expand on those hours and the shop’s offerings when she retires from her post as a surgeon. She says, “I keep thinking when I retire, I’ll have a little more time. I’d like to add an online aspect.” When open, the Community Shop is certainly a must-visit. Stop by to browse Thompson’s impressive collection of “a little bit of everything,” make a donation, consign an item, or simply share a chat with this lovely Middleburg neighbor.
This article first appeared in the September 2022 Issue.