The lovely Sarah, from A Soft Spot for the Stars, is having the most wonderful bloghop, and I’m loving reading about people’s locations. Here’s mine!
I live in Northern Virginia, in the general area of Middleburg. It’s horse country here, but has the advantage/disadvantage of being close to DC. A huge portion of people from the city who want to be involved in horses either live here, or travel here for their horse fix. Land is becoming more and more scarce, and horses are being pushed further and further away from the city as land is sold to make developments.
Cost of Horsekeeping:
When I boarded, I paid $475 for my horse to spend half the day in a stall, and be turned out the other half. It was a serviceable barn, with two outdoors, clean, but no trainer. My friend paid $375 for pasture board with an indoor, an outdoor, and a cross country field. Again, no trainer, but that would be considered the cheapest place to board around here. At barns with trainers, the usual going rate is between $800 and $1400, depending on the level of service.
If you decide that’s too high, and you’d rather have your own property, the typical property for sale around here is usually a newer house on 5-10 acre lot, part of a large plot that’s been subdivided by a developer. Basically, it’s a still a suburb, if each house had more land. If you want to be in commuting distance of DC, price starts at around half a million dollars, increasing as you get closer to the city, or it’s more than an empty lot. Close to the city, any property big enough for a horse is almost unheard of. There might be a few teeny unicorns in the $1.2 – 1.5 million range.
Hay usually costs about $45 – $70 a round bale. Square bales are a steal at $4.50 each, frequently at $7-$9 each.
I pay $45 for a trim, front shoes are $150. I haven’t even asked about all round shoes, that thought is terrifying.
It’s hot and humid in the summer, and cold and snowy in the winter. The worst of both worlds. DC is a literally a swamp. Someone already drained the swamp and built DC upon it.
This year I was especially annoyed by the drastic thunderstorms we were having that would dump so much rain on us in such a short time, it would wash out the stone dust in my arena. Middleburg had windows broken by hail. It was like Middleburg was being punished this year by weather. They should all stop and think about what they did.
It’s varied. There’s definitely lots and lots and LOTS of hunter/jumper. Some of that overlaps with the foxhunters. There’s five active hunts that I’m aware of.
Eventing is huge. Morningside was put on some national list for young rider training. Morven Park is an international facility. Since I don’t do eventing, I don’t know what else there is, but I hear people talk about it all the time. I’m not a good source for anything in this category.
Dressage has its place too. Some people use the dressage trainers in this area as a resource for eventing, others are pure dressage. It’s not as popular as the jumping sports, but there’s a solid dressage populace around here.
There are some western riders too, from pure recreational trail riders to the western sports. A good rule of thumb is the further out from DC they are, the more likely they are to be western.
I didn’t know how big polo was until this year. But since then, I’ve found out there are a bunch of polo clubs, and matches all summer. It’s popular.
Racing is popular, too. Middleburg has its own training facility, and there’s private tracks all over the place, including my own trainer’s barn. Charlestown Races is just over the border in West Virginia, and I bought a horse straight off the track there, and before she ended up in my hands, Berry showed her failure as a racehorse there. Great Meadow is nearby for steeplechase racing.
Basically, whatever it is you want to do, it’s here. It’s horse heaven.
There is no shortage of trainers in this area. There’s a huge variety of trainers for every discipline/skill level. It’s easy (although perhaps not cheap) to get into exactly the kind of program that fits what you want to do, simply because there’s so many choices. If your preference was to take a lesson at 11pm every full moon, there’s likely a trainer that would be happy to accommodate that. And if they didn’t, there’s so many other actually talented trainers to check out. There will definitely be one that works out perfectly. (Downside, lots of people call themselves trainers and they’re terrible, but that’s true anywhere.)
There’s tons of well know trainers in this area, and we regularly have big name trainers(if they don’t already live here) pass through for clinics. If you want to watch the big names compete, they are here regularly.
I am biased, but this is the best place possible to advance your riding.
There’s tons of shows around. It wouldn’t be hard to show every weekend, if that was your preference.
If you don’t mind traveling, there’s a many parks with trails. I’m just grumpy and wish I could get to them without trailering.
It’s expensive. I feel like this is obvious, but everything is at a premium, because there’s high demand for everything.
Trails are disappearing because land is being developed. Sometimes horse people move in, sometimes people from the suburbs move in and don’t want horses riding on their property, or even livestock within their sight. I guess they moved out to the country just to spend all weekend mowing their acres with their lawn tractors. (I’ll stand at the edge of their property, a single tear rolling down my cheek as I watch them mow all the potential pasture).
People from the city come out on the weekends and ride their bikes on our roads. I get it, we have scenic country roads. We also have people interested in getting from point A to point B without being stuck being a flock of bikers going 10 mph taking up the entire lane of the two lane road.
Traffic in general stinks. I hate my commute, but I do it because I love where I live. I know I’m not alone in this thought because our roads are super crowded, and it’s not uncommon for a 20 mile commute to take an hour or more. I live way more than 20 miles out. The traffic is getting worse each year, metro can’t figure out how to operate, and there’s too many people everywhere! Now get off my lawn!
Before we go back in time, this weekend, I managed to have my car break down in DC. Ever the gracious wife, I agreed to a quick trip to DC to reset some computer equipment. I offered to just circle the block, but Dave insisted we just park. So I park, but then when I realized I parked illegally, I tried to start the car to move it, and it wouldn’t start. In the thirty seconds it was off, my car turned on me. Fiats are CRAP. It was a good commuter car, but now it’s broken my heart. Six hours later, I finally make it home, quickly ending my dreams of getting a ride in before dark.
But let’s go back in time to a happier time, to a two weeks ago, when I went hiking in the Shenandoah.
Going into the Shenandoah in late October, I was expecting lots of beautiful fall colors. Well, there really wasn’t. What a waste of a trip into nature!
The main reason my hiking partner and I go hiking is to collect stamps in our National Park Passports. I mean, I guess there’s that whole nature and exercise thing, but we are serious collectors. We need to collect stamps from all the parks in the U.S. It’ll be a difficult journey, but so far we’ve got a couple of VA ones, and nearly all the DC ones. It helps that all the DC ones are so close together.
But back to the past, except less past than the time I was in DC. There are bears in the Shenandoah. In actuality, there are bears in 95% of Virginia. There are a lot of bears around. But, especially in the Shenandoah. And especially in Virginia. There was a warning sign of what to do if you encounter a bear. Make yourself big, and if they attack, fight back. We had our own personal technique.
So after acting stupid in the woods for a bit…
…we eventually continued on and got to a fork in the trail. On the right was gravel road on a steep incline. On the left, a wooded trail descending into the woods. Guess which trail we took!
Yes, my terrible, awful navigation skills took us up the gravel path. To be fair, the map descriped the trail as continuing on a fire road. It looked like a fire road to me.
The gravel road went on for about 1 mile, and it was all uphill. The entire trail we were hiking was only supposed to be 3.8 miles. The gravel road twisted around, doubling back on itself, and then had a few stretches of straight. While I am glad we got the exercise now, it was agony. Eventually, we reached a weather station on top of the mountain. While not our first clue that we weren’t on the right trail, it was a pretty big indication that perhaps, just maybe, we weren’t where we were supposed to be. Especially with all the warning signs around, telling us of dire consequences should we start touching things.
Luckily we did end up finding an unauthorized footpath that led back to the actual trail. It seems we weren’t the only ones to make such an idiotic mistake. And, it was all downhill and then level after that. It seemed amazing easy after that horrible trek. And this is how I learned I will never be able to be a true mountain climber. My pipe dream of climbing Everest has vanished after that 1-mile hike up a moderate slope.
Once the footpath reconnected with an actual hiking trail, we interrupted a man’s date with his lady friend to beg directions. He spent several minutes with us, thoroughly explaining where we were, and the correct path to take to continue his hike, while his lady tried to hint to him they should move on. But, he knew his directions, and he wanted to make sure we went the right way.
The rest of the path was so simple, it felt way too easy. We’re probably ready to move on to more challenging trails at this point. As long as the challenge isn’t a really long, uphill gravel road.
We eventually made it back to the car, and began the next leg of our journey: The journey to food. Skyline Drive is really long, especially when the speed limit is 35 mph. Eventually we buy some at the hiking cafe, and then, it was time to head home.
While driving, we came across a traffic jam. There was a bear! People were getting out of their cars to stare. We stayed in the car, it seemed way safer. But the bear got bored of the crowd and left after only about 30 seconds. Oh well… at least I can say I saw one.
In the midst of being super busy, I managed to get some horse fun in. Last Saturday was the fall edition of the Virginia Gold Cup. The Gold Cup is located at Great Meadow, which is also the location of this fabulous event. I did not check how many of the cross country jumps are still up, but someone much wiser than I said they are. Hopefully, this means they will continue to host lots and lots of things.
I was informed by my neighbor that Fall Gold Cup is for the locals. She has lived here for longer than I’ve been alive, so I’ll trust her on this. Spring Gold Cup is when all the DC dwellers descend upon our land, like a flock of tropical birds in their bright dresses, heels, and copious amounts of cleavage. At Fall Gold Cup, the locals resemble fluffy pheasants, bundled up in tweeds and plaids, with some toned down accents.
And if you’re super classy, you wear a hat. I unfortunately forgot mine, so I was just sort of classy.
Bright blue suit = DC Dweller! Not a local!
It was super windy, which ruined my carefully crafted hair in about a minute, and a few ladies had the wind pick up their hats and carry them on course. Luckily Shelby’s was super glued on there, although she would have had someone to rescue it, had she lost it.
We had excellent cider mimosas, where are basically exactly like regular mimosas, except with cider instead of orange juice. Try it, it is soooooo good.
There were a few rounds of steeplechase racing, and then they removed some of the jumps and did some flat racing. You may be wondering on what authority do I presume to talk about horse racing…and that would be none. I am not even going to pretend I know about racing. I know nearly nothing, except the horses are so pretty to watch, and I love horses, especially thoroughbreds. I want to take them all home with me.
I have zero commentary on any of these. Enjoy these mostly in silence.
At this point, read no further unless you’re prepared to be sad.
Unfortunately, tragedies do happen. One horse, #5 fell on course, and it was serious. I have photos of the actual fall, but I feel like it would have seemed callous to post them.
The horses raced by, and I hadn’t even noticed something had gone wrong until I saw a jockey walking. Then I realized a horse was down. Then I realized it wasn’t getting up.
While we were still there, we thought the horse had fallen, hurt itself too badly, and was put down, but since then, I found this article. It was a freak accident, but they didn’t put the horse down, he sadly had some kind of issue, and died of natural causes, so to speak. Although autopsy result is still pending.
My friend’s mom on member’s hill didn’t even know it had happened. They didn’t announce anything, it was just up to us to look through the photos I had, talk to others and piece together what had happened. The horse had gone over the jump, stumbled and thrown the jockey, continued on before falling, rising, ending up by the rail somehow, and then falling a final time.
It’s easy to think of a racehorse as just a work animal, or an income maker, but we saw the people who loved that horse. His groom went by, tears streaming down her face. The jockey went by, a lock of tail clutched in his hand, his face distraught. They had loved that horse, trained it, pampered it, gave him kisses. And in a moment, he was gone. Read the article and see exactly the life he gave to his people.
It doesn’t sound like it could have been prevented, and isn’t anyone’s fault it happened. It’s just one of those things that can happen.I don’t know his people, nor did I know this horse, but I sympathize with them. He was a beautiful horse, and seemed to give a lot of people joy.
I don’t want to down grade the fun of Gold Cup, but it would have seemed disrespectful to talk about it and not mention this beautiful horse. Hopefully there’s a horsie heaven, and he’s up there romping in green pastures.
In other, non-sad news, although not really happy news, hopefully, I’ll be able to get out and ride my own horses soon. Recently I’ve ended up being super busy. I’m thinking about possibly putting Berry in training for the winter, but I’m undecided on this. I may end up just being a weekend warrior for a while. Just gotta do the best I can!
We drove into our little town on Saturday to drop our truck off to be fixed (finally, omg!). For a town that consists of one street, it was surprisingly active, and we soon discovered the source: A new market had (sort of) opened.
But, this is not just any market. This market is owned by Ayrshire Farm, a local organic farm that also owns my favorite restaurant ever, Hunter’s Head Tavern. I’m fairly certain Hunter’s Head is a favorite of everyone in the Middleburg area, but they had a bit of a rocky start, so the rumor goes. The story as I heard it is that when the daughter took over Ayrshire Farm, she decided she didn’t want the foxhunters coming through her property because she felt foxhunting was cruel to the foxes. This cut out a huge section of land the foxhunters used, and they got quite annoyed and refused to patronize her new restaurant. Therefore, the hunters (figuratively) became the hunted: Hunter’s Head.
Ayrshire Farm is a certified organic, certified humane, and 100% amazingly delicious producer of meats, poultry and produce. I’m hardly someone who cares about organic food, but I do care about delicious food, and seriously, their food is so good, I can only imagine they are injecting concentrated happiness and joy into their animals.
The sad part about this “opening” was that they actually have not opened yet. They were scheduled to open, but construction delays and a fire has set them behind schedule.
So instead they will open next Saturday. What a tease! I think they understood that though because they actually had a little party going on to celebrate the almost opening.
They also had piggies, but piggies aren’t nearly as cute as adorable calves. Also, they were eating literally the whole time we were there. Way to beat the stereotype, little piggies.
Behind the building, they had a tent set up with all sorts of deliciousness inside.
They had all sorts of food from Ayrshire Farm. I was especially fond of a little bread cheese puff ball that I feared I would never see again. Luckily I was reassured that all the free food were samples of what would be in the market. They also had an assortment of pastries and sandwiches, but really, it doesn’t get better than cheese and bread, married together in a delicious fuffy ball.
They also had outside vendors that would be present in the market when it opened. There was wine, chocolate, cheese, salsa, some kind of fancy cold coffee, goat cheese pizza, and a fizzy bottled tea. I had a lunch of free samples.
They also had a very nice live band, but I doubt they will be playing in the market all day. I could only appreciate it while I was there.
It was a fun afternoon, and I’m very glad we decided to get the truck fixed that day.
Today our local trail club was having a hike and potluck. There was also a trail ride early in the morning, but it was one of those times where my trailer decided it did not want to participate, and expressed this by shutting off all its electronics. I stared at it for at least 15 minutes, but could not figure out what was wrong, so I can only assume that my trailer is having a mid-life crisis and doesn’t want to be a horse trailer anymore.
But around this parts, we don’t appreciate trailers making this kind of decision, so it will be fixed soon enough, hopefully in time for my next lesson!
Dave and whipped up some fried asian noodles, and headed (sans trailer) to the one of the most beautiful houses I’ve ever been in.
It was gorgeous. Dave and I agreed that this house, and its property would be our ideal home. The house was an older one that had been renovated and had additions. There were sweeping lawns in all directions, a tennis court, pool, pool house, other outhouses, pond, gardens, bonfire pit… just incredible. And access to the awesome trail system!
We went on the hike, and part of the hike was a scavenger hunt. Dave was one of the lucky people who spotted the prize: a stuffed ninja turtle with a chainsaw. After being worn as part of his hat for the remainder of the hike, the ninja turtle was exchanged for the real prize – a plate of homemade cookies.
It was a really nice hike through the woods, jumping over streams and tree trunks and chatting with neighbors. We walked parallel to the stream, and on some places we were on the edge of a significant drop. I will definitely be inserting more hiking into my life. Sadly, I got no pictures, and I am really kicking myself for that, because it was gorgeous back there.
We ended up being the speedy group, and got back way before much of the rest of our neighbors. There was lots of wine to greet us, a huge spread of food, and a local duo singing and playing the guitar. I would have been happy with this as my wedding.
Men of the organization were challenged with creating centerpieces to be judged, and they did some impressive work.
There was tons of food, tons of wines, and someone whipped up a mixed drink for me to try containing vermouth! I’ve never had vermouth, but it was pretty good!
It was oddly cold today. Dave sparked a lot of concern because he was only wearing a t-shirt, and was continually asked if people could lend him a jacket. He swears he wasn’t at all cold though. We ate and hung out by the bonfire, but eventually it was just too cold for me, and we headed out.
Everyone was so wonderful, and I’m just really happy that I’m blessed with such amazing neighbors. I’m really looking forward to using the trails with them! (and more parties, obviously!) I’m also very excited because I met some members of the Old People’s Riding Club, and they told me a bunch about it. There’s a local chapter, and I have to look into membership!