Friday, June 10, 2011

Ode to Upperville

It's the first full week in June and that means all roads lead to Upperville. (Virginia that is). 

Sitting right in the middle of Virginia Horse Country, just outside of Washington, DC, once home to Jackie Kennedy (she had a house in Middleburg), Liz Taylor (when she was a Warner), Paul Mellon (the horse show grounds is next to his farm), Sandy Lerner (of Intel fame), Sheila Johnson (of BET fame) and many others. 

If you have never heard of the place then let me enlighten you.  For those of you in "hunter land" you'll know that Upperville is "mecca", the place that we all aspire to go and ride, and hopefully bring home a few ribbons, but that can be difficult to do.  Upperville is the oldest continuous horse show in the U.S. (from the 1850's) and it is "old Virginia" at its very finest.  It is the creme de la creme of the horse world.  The best riders, the best (read most expensive) horses, and there is nothing more rewarding than "jogging" your horse in the ring under the old Oaks to pick up your well-earned ribbon. The horses are groomed so that not a single hair is out of place.  Manes and tails are braided, monogrammed coolers on every horse, riders in their shiny tall black custom made boots, grooms everywhere.  You get the picture. 

The first published account of an "Upperville Union Club" show (its orginal name) appeared in 1857 in "The Southern Planter".  The article reported that the horse show included three divisions - Riding Stock, Quick Draft, and Heavy Draft - listing classes for yearlings, two-year-olds, and three-year-olds.  Also listed were the names of the 14 judges who selected the winners.

Today Upperville brings in horses from as far away as California and Canada.  It is a prestiguous show, one is just as fun to watch as it is to ride in.  The show grounds are used only twice each year - once for the Upperville Show and once in August for a local show.  And this is prime real estate.  The ring is famous for its large trees.  Your horse must be able to navigate between the trees and most years it rains.  They only recently put "all weather footing" in the rings (the riders and trainers complained about riding on the hard ground, read grass, for many many years).

Shopping is supreme!  Some of the best vendors you'll ever see at a horse show selling tack and riding apparel, Dubarry boots, clothes, horsey gifts, paintings, antiques, custom made boots and chaps.  If you come, bring your checkbook or VISA! 

I did not make it this year, and with the 100 degree heat and humidity, just as well.  There is a big $100,000 Grand Prix on Sunday afternoon that was once televised.  It is worth going to tailgate.  And don't forget stopping by near- by Middleburg, VA to shop and look.  Another part of the trip you won't want to miss.  For another post!

A lucky rider picks up her blue ribbon:

One of the many vendors:

Horses canter in the ring in an under saddle class:

(Lauren Gianinni photos)

You won't want to miss the Hunter's Head Tavern in Upperville, a great place to stop while you are visiting the show.


  1. Wow that looks and sounds like a beautiful and elegant show! So wish I could it a one day show only? Is it June every year? Good to know about..Virginia definitely has some of the most beautiful horse country that I have seen....stunning!

  2. Sounds amazing. My sister-in-law use to ride in that show. They now live in Colorado, but I have seen photos.


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