Part 3 of the Virginia Hunt Country Stable Tour series
On the second day of our Virginia Hunt Country Stable Tour, we rolled out of our Chantilly hotel and drove west on US 50 with the knowledge that we were racing stormy weather.
And we had a big plans, too – a farm with endurance Arabians, the former home of a late Kentucky Derby winner, a stable of English shires and an afternoon capped by polo.
But would we beat the impending storms that loomed over us like the overcast sky and muggy air?
Trappe Hill Farm
Nestled in a hollow with a small pond rimmed with yellow Siberian irises (that’s what my gardener pal said they were) is a multipurpose horse farm.
Trappe Hill raises thoroughbreds but also has Arabians used in endurance events.
It’s also the home of author Bruce Smart who signs his books on Virginia horse country in a little office in one of the stalls.
Smart had admitted to not having been very horsey until he met his wife Edie, who graciously greeted us all upon arrival.
His two currently published books in his series “A Community of the Horse” were available for purchase and personalization. Each book is an informative Valentine to the region, its horses and his beloved wife – who got him into this horse stuff in the first place.
Books seemed to be a theme at Trappe Hill, where a local animal rescue groupalso set up a tent with used books for sale.
You’ve probably figured out that I can’t pass a book for sale without my wallet leaping out of my bag. It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. My friend has the same problem.
We watched another swimming demo at Trappe Hill but in the farm’s pond by the stables. The farm conditions its horses in a deep pond by swimming the horses around a long wooden dock that juts out into the water.
For our demo, a bay yearling did the honors. Not entirely familiar with the process, the yearling hesitated and dithered on the bank. We waited for him to, as his handler said, decide to escape the sun and the flies by going in the water.
He sniffed the bank and nosed at the water. At one point, his nose disturbed a gathering of yellow butterflies, which fluttered up past his surprised muzzle.
Lucky is the photographer fast enough to catch that.
Trappe Hill is also the home to champion endurance Arabians. We met Heraldic, the 2007 Tevis Cup winner and his rider John Crandell.
Crandell is also a US endurance Triple Crown winner – Old Dominion, Tevis Cup and the National Championship. He showed us the weight difference in endurance saddles as they’d been improved.
On the map, the farms seemed nearby. Maybe they were, but our GPS had other ideas.
Still, I wanted to go to Newstead Farm to pay my respects at the grave of the filly who beat the boys, the late Genuine Risk, winner of the 1980 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes.
Her former stall is part of the tour. She used to greet visitors during her lifetime. But I had to ask the tour volunteer where the mare’s grave was.
The volunteer asked us to stay on the sidewalk and directed us to quiet nook behind the stable but in front of the main house.
“Jenny’s” grave is marked a low granite headstone that is level to the ground. As is fitting for a Kentucky Derby winner, it is surrounded by roses. A horseshoe of young red rosebushes arcs around the stone.
The site’s proximity to the house, a private residence, made me feel as if I had been allowed into a very private area. You can see the grave from the front door of the house, which is only the width of a swimming pool away.
I imagined that her owners may nod a greeting in the direction of their mare’s final resting place whenever they come and go.
Think about it — the Firestones not only bred and raised “Jenny” but they had followed her into the winner’s circle all those times AND gave her a home for the rest of her days.
That, my friends, I find remarkable and laudable and why I won’t post a photo of her gravesite, even though I took one.
I’m sorry. But I feel as if we had been shown a private area. If you want to see it, you should probably join the tour of the farm and ask the volunteer if you may take a look.
Some other blogger might run the photo. Not me. My Spideysense tells me that the Firestones’ grief is too fresh.
As we left Newstead Farm, I felt unsettled and pensive. One of my goals of the trip had been to visit Genuine Risk’s former home – but I left feeling more sadness than satisfaction.
We also needed to eat. That the GPS decided to send us on another scenic tour of the countryside did not help.
We tried a different restaurant the Hunter’s Head Tavern only to learn that they only took reservations that day.
As you can imagine, Upperville and Middleburg are rural farm towns, so dining options were limited.
If you’re a suburban American, you don’t realize how much you depend upon the various national and local chains – until you’re in an area without them.
We returned to the patio of the Red Horse Tavern and hoped that the increasingly threatening skies did not open up on us and rain in our iced tea.
Because we had other places to go in the late afternoon.
If you’re enjoying this tour of Virginia’s Hunt Country, don’t miss the other parts in the series: