From the time I was a little girl, I have had a deep affection for horses. The scrapbook my mother dutifully assembled of my childhood mementos includes an astounding number of hand-drawn pictures of horses and horse barns and hay and pastures and horses in barns and baby horses and baby horses eating hay in barns near pastures. I was obsessed from an early age. In fact, I actually can’t remember a time when I didn’t love horses. I just always have.
I rode for a couple of years when I was in high school. I think my parents saw it as a needed distraction when I started making some poor life choices. And, since the team sports available through school weren’t my jam, they finally overcame their fear of me being grievously injured and suggested I take riding lessons. They knew it was the only thing I had really ever wanted to do.
Horses made our move here especially serendipitous. They are everywhere. I stroll past grazing horses on my evening walks, drive past rolling pastures and stately barns on my way to the store and, occasionally, watch as horses and riders meander right up our street or through the field behind our house. Horses are within easy reach and I’ve made a goal to get back to riding soon.
All of this to explain that this past weekend was pretty much the best thing ever since I spent it in the company of horses.
Every year, the Saturday and Sunday prior to Memorial Day, a local church hosts the Hunt Country Stable Tour. Horse farms around the area open up their properties and barns to visitors. At each stop on the tour, you can walk the grounds, admire the stables, watch riding demonstrations, feed treats to the various animals and repeatedly ask your husband under your breath if he thought anyone would notice if you took a horse home with you.
The farms on the tour were scattered between several towns so you drive from property to property at your leisure. This type of activity meets all of the requirements we hold for a day of family fun. In this case, easy access to bathrooms, the ability to bring our own snacks, lots of open space to run, abundant livestock to pet and, most crucially, the capability to abort the mission when everyone has had enough snacks, open space and livestock.
We had an exceptional time.
On Saturday, after visiting a couple of smaller stables, we took in a jumping competition and picnicked at Fox Chase Farm. I don’t think the kids knew that horses could jump so high so this was all brand new information. We then spent the afternoon at Virginia Tech’s stop on the tour, their Middleburg Agricultural Research and Extension Center (MARE). Mostly, because they offered hayrides and someone accompanying us thought that was an exceptionally good idea.
The research center was also home to a colt that was only three days old! He was ADORABLE and still all wobbly and super curious and his mama was so relaxed about everything. Bob quickly declared my idea to kidnap him and give him Millie’s bedroom as non-viable. Bob’s just not a risk taker.
Since all of us as a group kind of petered out after a few stops, Charlie and I headed out solo on Sunday to visit the remaining farms on the tour. None of our children seem to get frequent one-on-one time with either Bob or myself so the day was delightful simply for the opportunity to give Charlie my undivided attention.
Charlie brought his wallet with him because he has $25.00 and wanted to buy a horse. Unlike Bob, I wholeheartedly encouraged him to pursue this effort.
We started the day touring the grounds and beautiful barns of historic Rock Hill Farm. Then moved on to the super modern stable at Gap Run Farm where they have successfully and beautifully integrated the barn with the house, connecting the two buildings with a courtyard and breezeway. Bob says our homeowner’s association would frown on such plans when I called to suggest we hire an architect to turn our screened-in porch into a stable.
We wrapped up our afternoon at Orange Hill where Charlie made some new friends. The horses at this stable were the sweetest of the bunch and kept playfully nudging Charlie’s hat. I could have hung out in their barn for the entire evening but when I called to tell Bob that we were never coming home, he said that would make the owners uncomfortable. Whatever, Bob.
It’s hard to tour these properties and not acknowledge the incredible wealth it takes to run a farm of hundreds of acres, dozens of horses, tremendous homes and countless outbuildings. There is a lot of money in our county for sure however, I’m mostly encouraged to see that so many of these owners are careful stewards of their property. Almost all of the acreage highlighted on the tour has been placed in permanent conservation easements, safeguarding it from development. In addition to protecting the land, the owners are preserving properties of significance that might otherwise meet a terrible fate. Such as the historic lime kiln and residence found at Wind Fields Farm.
It’s comforting to know that people are using their resources to ensure the scenery will remain the same for future Hunt Country Stable Tours. Which, by now, I’m assuming you’ll be joining us for next Memorial Day weekend. The barn I’m building in our backyard should be finished by then.