My horse Esprit and I are in Middleburg, Va., the “Nation’s Horse & Hunt Capitol,” for 10 days in preparation for the Maryland Horse Trials. This is our journal.
Sunday mostly consisted of another sauna-hot day at Maryland Horse Trials followed by a Mexican food binge, so nothing much to write home about there. Except, of note, I got to meet Horse Nation junior columnist McKenna’s famous partner-in-crime Dorito in person (in pony?), which was exciting. They finished in 3rd place in the Junior Open Novice division, so hopefully we have a column overflowing with exclamation marks to look forward to on Thursday. Also, our gracious Middleburg host Sara Lieser won her prelim division, so a big congrats to her as well.
Yesterday I finally got some facetime with Middleburg proper. The road in, John Mosby Highway, is lined with gorgeous equestrian properties–grand old barns, majestic oak trees, pastures crisscrossed with four-board fencing, and the hallowed grounds of the annual Upperville Horse Show.
The town itself is quaint and old, like one of little porcelain villages my grandmother used to set up on the mantle around Christmas. Lisa drove me around the loop and pointed out the town’s major attractions–the Red Fox Inn, circa 1728; the National Sporting Library & Museum, dedicated to preserving the art and literature of equestrian sports; the three tack shops and myriad antique stores; Linda Tripp’s strange, cluttered Christmas shop; and the Red Horse Tavern, where locals stream in at around happy hour still wearing their half-chaps.
At the commencement of my 10-cent tour, Lisa dropped me off at a charming coffee shop called Higher Grounds. It was raining so I camped out there for most of the morning, gulping coffee, eavesdropping on horsey gossip, and gawking at the café’s clientele, an assortment of Stepford wives, well-heeled businessmen and riders stopping in for a cup of Joe on the way to the barn.
You’ve seen Charlie & The Chocolate Factory? Middleburg is kind of like that. It sounds really great, like this all-you-can-eat Candyland of equestrian culture, but then you get there and it’s actually a little bit creepy. It has a movie-set sort of a feel, like some alternate equestrian universe that’s not quite in touch with reality. Even the front page of the local paper was covered in horse stories. The whole town seems like a scheme dreamed up by 10-year-old horse-crazy girl, infused with old-money elitism and filtered in sepia hues.
After a couple hours of wandering the streets of Middleburg, gazing into the windows of pricey boutiques, and another couple hours of overheard rider backstabbing at the Red Horse, I felt surprisingly eager to leave. There’s a fine line between horses as passion and horses as fashion, and Middleburg seems to have its interests evenly divided between the two.
Returning to the farm, the morning’s rain had given way to a cool breeze that was rustling through the leaves. Esprit looked up at me from where he was grazing in the pasture, ears pricked.
Until next time…