Our move from Maryland to Virginia in late 2011 didn’t take us far geographically. But sometimes, I have to say, it feels like we moved to a different country. I grew up in Baltimore City. I was raised in a blue collar family. I can’t imagine growing up in horse country. It’s hard enough to try and picture growing up in a small town like this, but to grow up on a horse farm like this? Truly unimaginable.
I think I’ve mentioned a time or two that Warrenton is in Virginia’s Hunt Country. But I’m not sure I have ever explained exactly what that means.
Hunt Country isn’t where they shoot lots of deer or other wild game. It’s where they practice the sport of foxhunting. (If that is a sport.) That’s where a pack of hounds chases a fox (or other prey) across fields, through woods, over streams, etc. The hounds are followed by people on horseback. Here’s a link you can follow if you’d like to learn more about foxhunting.
It takes some pretty talented riders to keep up with a pack of hounds. To prove just how good, they have races. Most folks know these as steeplechase races.
Apparently, the term “steeplechase” was born in Ireland way back when one guy said to another, “My horse is faster than yours and I can prove it.” Steeples were the tallest, most prominent structures in the countryside, so they raced from one steeple to another. What do you do when there are no steeples? You just pick a couple of different points on the map. That’s my guess as to where “point to point” came from. The folks at Fox Hunt Virginia say…
The name “point to point”, which clearly alludes to the points of steeples, was coined in the 19th century and was initially synonymous with steeplechase. There is still considerable overlap between the two names although “point to point” is now usually reserved for races that are run across country and steeplechase usually refers to races run over prepared tracks, with fences and water-jumps which mimic the natural obstacles. Most point-to-point courses are on ordinary farm land, although some courses are placed on the inside of professional courses.
I guess they would know. If you would like to learn more, the Fox Hunt Virginia site is an interesting read. There’s another curious fact from that site, which I feel compelled to share before moving along…
Although we are talking about the sport of foxhunting, in reality the quarry pursued by a pack of foxhounds includes other animals. It’s perfectly legitimate for hounds to pursue red fox, gray fox, coyote, bobcat, and even black bear. The choice of quarry is a decision made by the hunt staff and is largely dependent on what is available in any given area. Out West coyote are plentiful while foxes are scarce.
Point to point races are a big deal around here. Really big. There are lots of very large horse farms in Fauquier and surrounding counties. Some date back to the 1700s. Many are adjoining, and quite a few have entered into agreements to preserve their land forever. Many of the largest farms have conservation easements, which allows for agricultural use of the land but prohibits development.
I’ve been itching to attend one of these events to see what it’s all about. There are races, sometimes more than one, every weekend. As luck would have it, the Warrenton Point to Point, which was VERY close to town, happened this past weekend.
How close? It was at the Airlie Center, a very large old farm on the outskirts of town that was turned into a conference center fifty years ago. In the image below, which is a bit hazy, you can see the Warrenton water tower. As always, click on the image to get a better view.
It was very exciting. To me, anyway. And I took quite a few pictures so y’all could share in the excitement.
The first race was scheduled for 12:30. I got there around noon, before many of the other attendees. More and more folks poured in as the day wore on.
The premium parking spots are atop the hill where one has the best view of the course.
I didn’t want to be too obnoxious and take pictures of the various food and drink spreads, but it was impressive. Top shelf liquor, fine wines, gourmet food, you name it. And you should have seen the food in the officials’ tent!
As interesting as all of the was, the main attraction for me was the horses.
I watched the first race from atop the hill. Then I went down to the horse area for a closer look.
From what I could tell, folks are free to roam around pretty much anywhere anywhere. Within reason of course. I didn’t try walking through the middle of the course or anything, but I did spend some time strolling among the area where the horse vans were parked.
That gorgeous animal had just run and was about to get a cooling bath.
I watched the activity for a little while, but when I heard the call for “horses to the paddock” (where they have to gather pre-race), I made my way over there.
It was really quite interesting standing within feet of the horses and their handlers as they prepared for the race.
I can’t remember whether the #2 or #3 horse won, but I do know Meg of My Heart did not finish in first place.
I went back to the top of the hill to watch the third race. The weather was gorgeous. Mid-70s and sunny.
After that race, I headed back to the vans to get some more pictures.
I left after the fourth of nine scheduled races. I’d been hoping to get a bit of riding in myself that day. (No, the short 4.5-mile ride to the event site didn’t count.)
It really was an interesting day. The point to point races are just one of many horse-related pursuits happening around here. Polo season starts mid-May. There are a variety of horse shows going on from now through November. Plus I think there are hunt clubs in the area that have scheduled hunts just for fun.
Do you think I should try to capture some more horse-related images to share here? Or have I already given you more than you cared to see?