With Holly Matt and Carly Neilson
Southern Pines, in the heart of the North Carolina Sandhills, is a prime destination for horse people and golfers alike. Equestrians are drawn to the soft, sandy footing and the large, welcoming, and diverse horse community. Golfers revere neighboring Pinehurst. In fact, golfers are as numerous as horses, with 43 courses within a 15-mile radius. And everyone appreciates the temperate winter weather with typical January days in the 60s.
Horses are the heart of town
At the heart of the equestrian community is the 4,000- acre Walthour-Moss Foundation (WMF), with its beautiful, signature longleaf pines. According to Stephen Later, the chairman of the foundation, “WMF is a defiant remnant of the longleaf pine forests and savannas that once dominated our country’s southeastern coast. It’s a place to escape quotidian concerns and find acres in which to ride and sense the sights and sounds that greeted travelers, from Siouan Indians to Highland Scots, in centuries past.”
Adding to the draw of Southern Pines is the 250-acre Carolina Horse Park, which holds events attracting international-caliber competitors in hunter jumper, dressage, eventing, and combined driving. Horse people who come to visit enjoy 192 permanent stalls, 6 championship-level cross-country courses, show rings, trails, a derby field, and a steeplechase track that hosts the annual Stonybrook Steeplechase.
In its inaugural year, 2014, the Carolina International built a world-class eventing venue, and they are setting the bar even higher in 2015. There will be increased numbers of competitors, prize money upwards of $75,000, and a generous dose of southern hospitality for owners, sponsors, patrons, riders, vol- unteers, and grooms. The USEF network will be producing a live and on-demand video production of the international competition.
For more than a century, Southern Pines has been home to the Moore County Hounds, the oldest fox hunt in North Carolina. Witness the blessing of the hounds on Thanksgiving morning, when the hunt holds its opening meet.
Resident and top equestrian architect Holly Matt elaborates, “This is horse country like none other in the sense of access on horseback or carriage. You can ride out of your barn for hours, visit your neighbors, ride to town, ride through thousands of acres in the foundation, train with top trainers, all without getting in a trailer. And the footing is the best around.” She finds the location a plus as well, “It’s an easy drive to top shows up and down the coast, and it has a train station right in the middle of downtown. You can get to New York or Miami! Very civilized.”
Southern Pines horse country hosts some of the best trainers and breeders in the world. Vermont eventer Gayle Davis recently purchased a small winter getaway there and says, “I had been traveling to Southern Pines during the cold New England winters since 2006. I recently bought a tiny farm right across the street from my coach, Denny Emerson. What a fun area to ride, take advantage of the climate, and enjoy all the great restaurants and shops! I don’t think you can match the area for beauty, small-town friendliness, and horse activities.”
The area draws full-time residents as well. Dr. Jim Hamilton of Southern Pines Equine recalls making the town his home, “After 20 years in the horse world in New York and Ohio that didn’t allow much time to raise a family, we started the hunt for a horse community that needed what I had to offer and at the same time provided a good family environment. Southern Pines provided all that and more.”
Hamilton adds, “In a way I had come home again. Here was a town that revolved around the horse—a thread that bound the community together. It was the diversity of equestrians that drew me to this town— hunter jumpers, eventers, combined drivers, coaching, dressage, western pleasure, and endur- ance riders. It has been my home ever since and has thankfully provided me the unique opportunity to do what I love in the best of environments.”
A vibrant downtown
The town’s magnolia- and azalea-lined streets are always buzzing with activity. It’s sprinkled with an array of shops, antique stores, restaurants, and parks. Committed business owners work together to keep the village vibrant. Chef/owner of Ashten’s Restaurant Ashley Van Camp notes, “We are so lucky to have such a viable downtown. We all work to protect it and nurture it.”
Country Bookshop owner Kimberly Douglas Taws agrees, “Southern Pines might be the most cosmopolitan small town you could ever stumble upon. The restaurants rival those in any foodie city. You’ll see horse-drawn carriages drive through town all year long, but the spectacular sight is the carriage parade hosted every year by the Moore County Driving Club. In the fall the entire town gathers on cold, early Thanksgiving morning (with hot coffee and spicy bloody marys) for the Blessing of the Hounds. First Friday was started by three friends who wanted to be able to listen to great music in a setting where their kids could run around and play. Now it is a destination event for six months of the year and draws hundreds of people.”
The Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities is the cultural center of Southern Pines. Originally, Weymouth was the 1,200- acre estate of the James Boyd family, named for its resemblance to Weymouth, England. Boyd was also a poet and writer. He and his wife, Katharine, entertained literary guests such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, and Sherwood Anderson.
When asked about the differences between Southern Pines and neighboring Pinehurst, Abigail Dowd, executive director of the Weymouth Center, recalls a letter that Boyd wrote in 1927 to the Raleigh News and Observer attempting to correct an error they made in a story:
At a single stroke, your powerful newspaper has… ruined my reputation. Although for nearly thirty years I have been a citizen of Southern Pines, you describe me as coming from Pinehurst. The difference is immense.
Pinehurst is a resort visited by golfers; Southern Pines is a town inhabited by foxhunters…You can, herefore, conceive my grief at your misapprehension. Especially when I tell you I am a foxhunter, and that all foxhunters are ex-officio Nature’s noblemen…
Golf, on the other hand, is merely the most expensive and depressing form of pedestrianism. It renders its victims on the one hand gloomy and self-pitying, and, on the other, tediously and interminably loquacious. I know of no other practice, except the purchase and consumption of bad liquor, wherein good money can be spent for so pitiable a result…”
Best of both
There may still be a friendly rivalry between the two adjoining towns, but many families include both equestrians and golfers, and the area offers the best for both.
As to her own feelings for Southern Pines, Abigail Dowd says, “Southern Pines is a unique oasis of culture and natural beauty. Its vibrant downtown is reminiscent of a New England village set within an urban forest and surrounded by beautiful longleaf pines. There are few places that offer the charm of a small town with so many impressive cultural arts offerings. I sometimes say that Southern Pines is what New England would be if it had grown up in the South.”
Country Bookshop owner Kimberly Douglas Taws sums it up well, “The worst thing about Southern Pines is that there are too many fun things to do!”
Read the full EQ issue here.