On Thanksgiving 2018, Trappe Hill Farm co-owner, Virginia Hunt Country booster, former corporate CEO, and, yes, former Reagan administration official Bruce Smart passed away.
While I was working on my post about Genuine Risk, I had been clicking over to Facebook only to see another horseman posting condolences about Bruce Smart passing away.
I’d met Bruce almost ten years ago on the same day I visited Genuine Risk’s grave in 2009. On that day, I had no idea Bruce was such a big deal in horse country and what impact meeting him would have on my interests.
Come with me into the Wayback Machine:
That Sunday morning of Memorial Day weekend in 2009 was muggy and felt heavy with humidity thanks to the coming rain. The tour of Virginia Hunt Country was my first trip after a long treatment for an inflammatory disorder, so I was feeling fatigue and yuck. But I was still game to see what all we came to see.
On that second day of the self-guided tour, Trappe Hill Farm was our first stop.
What greeted us when we parked our cars was a table of used books — horse books — for sale.
My friend and I can’t pass a book with a sales sticker on it. Even now that we both depend on ereaders.
Our purpose for visiting was to watch the scheduled horse swimming demonstration. The day before, we’d gone to the Northen Virginia Animal Swim Center and watched a horse exercise in the pool, a narrow channel making a lap along the indoor wals.
At Trappe Hill horse would swim in a pond at a predetermined time. We didn’t want to miss the show.
Bruce Smart met us at the barn door of the big barn you see in the photo above. He introduced his wife Edie, who he said got him into horses. Edie smiled from a lawn chair next to her dogs.
On our tour, Bruce talked about how Trappe Hill had pinhooked 2005 Kentucky Derby contender Flower Alley.
We also met champion endurance horse Heraldic. The champ’s rider and trainer John Crandall was on hand to explain the sport of endurance racing, the concept, the tack used, and to show us the endurance horses on hand.
The vet checks and Heraldic’s accomplisments all fascinated me. It was the first I’d heard of the Tevis Cup and the Old Dominion Ride.
This was the first time I’d ever heard of endurance racing.
But that’s what’s so GREAT about loving horses. There’s alway something new to learn.
A COMMUNITY OF THE HORSE, a trilogy
Come to find out, more books were for sale inside the barn.
Bruce had been writing a trilogy titled A COMMUNITY OF THE HORSE, sort of a Valentine to the local equestrians and his wife, his favorite equestrian who’d also introduced him to all the excitement.
Both PARTNERSHIPS and STAKEHOLDERS were volumes as big as my college text books, lovingly produced and a meticulous views of his world printed on glossy paper with photographs throughout.
As I have learned more about book publishing and printing, they must’ve cost a fortune to produce.
Fortunately, I could afford to buy a copy of each book and have them signed by the author.
In case you can’t read his personalized inscription in my copy of PARTNERSHIPS or even my transcription in the caption:
“For Rhonda, who admits to a past checkered by horses – from Kentucky to Connecticut and now for a moment in Virginia. Thanks for visiting Trappe Hill. Bruce Smart, May 24, 2009”
I think he ran out of things to say because he was more brief in my copy of STAKEHOLDERS. “For Rhonda, with best wishes.”
Besides, it was almost time for the horses to swim.
A Quick Dip
More cars showed up. People emerged and a crowd gathered around a pond between the parking area and the main barn where I’d bought Bruce’s books.
Yellow wild irises lined the shore of the pond. Two grooms led out a yearling thoroughbred.
The men stood on the wooden docks to let the horse swim around it.
After the horse emerged, he shook like a wet retriever.
With the show over, we headed out to Newstead Farm, where Genuine Risk had lived.
Since that visit to Virginia
- I haven’t been back to go on the tour again. I think about it, but, you know, stuff.
- Bruce completed his trilogy with LEGACIES. I don’t have a copy. See above.
- Bruce and Edie got into steeplechase horses, or maybe they already were and it didn’t register on the tour,
Inspired by what I saw at Trappe Hill
That trip to Virginia with its multiple venues for horses inspired so much.
- Multiple posts here about my trip to Virginia.
- While planning my first series mystery novels, I made contact with a local endurance riding group where I ended up as a veterinary scribe.
- And I wrote a scene for my first mystery novel in which one of the horse trainers conditions a horse by swimming it around a dock on a pond similar to Trappe Hill’s.
Finally, maybe you noticed when you read Bruce’s obituary on the National Steeplechase Association website, he and Edie put Trappe Hill in a conservation trust.
UPDATE: As of earlier this week–yes, I missed it–Trappe Hill Farm has been listed for sale for $6.5 million under a conservation easement with the Virginia Outdoors Foundation. For more photos, see this listing.
Farewell, Bruce. And our condolences to your family, especially Edie, the lady who introduced him to horses.