Charlottesville Breeds Healthy Horse Industry

By Joe Morris on April 28, 2011 at 7:25 pm EST
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PHOTO CREDIT: Wes Aldridge

While automobiles are the favored mode of transpor­tation in Charlottesville‚ should someone want to travel by horseback‚ there’d be no problem finding a mount.

The area is home to several horse farms‚ breeders and boarders‚ as well as exciting steeplechase races that draw horse lovers from around the the world. Weekend riders coexist with career racers and breeders with every level of interest represented.

“The equestrian industry is very big here‚” says Nick Hahn‚ a local busi­nessperson and sportswriter. “There are a couple of dressage facilities that have opened in the area recently. We still have some breeders around‚ there are the steeplechase races at Foxfield and Montpelier … a lot of people who are well known in the industry are here.”

For 30 years‚ those people have congregated at the Foxfield Races. Held every spring and fall‚ the event draws as many as 25‚000 people and has offered purses as large as $20‚000‚ says E. Anne Browne‚ marketing director.

“People from all over the country use it as a reunion‚” Browne says. “People come in on Friday and leave on Sunday. You can’t get a hotel room in Charlottesville‚ and it’s pretty hard to get into restaurants‚ too. It’s just that busy.”

In addition to Foxfield having become a destination in and of itself‚ Browne says that the area’s strong horse culture plays a role.

“In Virginia‚ it’s a billion-dollar industry‚” she says. “And Charlottesville is a good part of the country for horse people. It’s just huge here.”

In addition to Foxfield‚ other well-known races include those held at Montpelier‚ the home of the late President James Madison. The stately home currently is being fully restored‚ but the location itself is unique‚ says Hahn.

“It’s really pretty neat to see horses racing on the front yard of Madison’s home‚” he says.

Over at The Barracks‚ owner Tom Bishop and his staff keep busy doing pretty much everything from boarding to giving riding lessons. Bishop agrees that the area is a good place to be for horse owners and those who just enjoy watching the magnificent creatures.

“Charlottesville’s really right in the thick of things‚” Bishop says. “And we’re growing all the time. As people move here from other places‚ we see more people wanting to get into the sport‚ whether it’s racing or riding.”

The Barracks has 64 stalls and 160 overall acres‚ and serves as the boarding facility for the University of Virginia’s riding club.

“That certainly makes us a player on the scene‚ but we give a lot of riding lessons as well‚ and then we have horses for sale‚ young horses‚ retired horses – we just have a lot of horses.”

Both Bishop and legendary local breeder Peggy Augustus say that the land in and around Charlottesville is very good for horses‚ so there’s no one particular type to be found.

“Most of the horse population is concentrated in one area‚ like the thor­oughbreds are in Kentucky‚” Augustus says. “But around here‚ there are a lot of people who have all kinds of horses. Some are serious with show horses‚ others just have one or two in their backyard to enjoy.”

“We meet lots of people who keep them at home‚ but then want them trained and perhaps shown‚” adds Bishop. “Not that many people have stables‚ but a lot of people have an interest in horses and want to get involved in owning one.”

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