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Last updated on September 27th, 2021 at 04:35 pm

Upperville, the oldest horse show in the United States, delivers world-class competition and signature charm.

BY EMILY HOLOWCZAK

With immaculate grass fields and plenty of refreshing shade beneath majestic oak trees, the Upperville Colt and Horse Show has attracted world-class riders and spectators for over 150 years. Over 2,000 horse and rider combinations greet the Piedmont region of Virginia each spring, with skill levels ranging from local lead-line children to Olympic-caliber competitors. 

An aerial view of the showgrounds. Photo: Shelby Bonnie

The Oldest Horse Show in the USA

As the oldest horse show in the nation, the Upperville Colt and Horse Show (UCHS) has been a staple event within the equestrian community since 1853. Colonel Richard Henry Dulany originally established the event to encourage better treatment of young horses and improve the quality of breeding stock. The official story details, “One cold day in the winter of 1853, Colonel Richard Henry Dulany, gentleman planter and sportsman, was riding through his fields when he found a colt cast in a low fence. 

Upon freeing the young horse, he discovered the colt’s feet had frozen, which added to the dismay he already felt about the living conditions of horses who were typically regarded by his fellow planters solely as sources of labor.” Colonel Dulany’s Grafton Farm became the epicenter of quintessential equestrian excellence, and the event was originally dubbed the Upperville Union Club. The show ran every year until the start of the Civil War, and then resumed once again in 1869. Colonel Dulany continued running the event until 1906, by which time the show was rebranded The Upperville Colt and Horse Club. 

From top left: John French and Babylon; Philadelphia Story and Evan Coluccio. Photos: Alden Corrigan

Upperville’s Can’t-Miss Events

Classes had been expanded to include ponies, coaching, and saddle horses, and the show grew tremendously popular. The can’t-miss event still stands as one of the signature horse shows on local, national, and international calendars. Tracey Weinberg, a UCHS board member who was inducted in 2014, sums up, “Regardless of if you have an affinity for horses small or large, whether you have a horse in the backyard or ride in any discipline or compete at any level, or for the person who is looking for entertainment—the horse show offers all of that to people.”

The “Horse Show of the Year,” as named by the National Show Hunter Hall of Fame and the Virginia Horse Show Association, is a Designated World Championship Hunter Rider Show, United States Equestrian Federation. 

Photo: Phelps Media, Lenore Phillips

(USEF) Premier Rated show and US Equestrian Heritage Competition. Notable exhibitors over the years have included General George Patton, Paul Mellon, Kathy Kusner, Rodney Jenkins, Katie Prudent, Joe Fargis, and members of the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG) gold medal team representing the United States, including McLain Ward, Laura Kraut, Adrienne Sternlicht, and Devin Ryan. Joe Fargis, particularly, has been competing at Upperville since 1960. He certainly knows his way around the show grounds, as he has competed in virtually every hunter and jumper class hosted at the show. He’s even judged every jumping class. The 1984 Olympic Gold Medal winner says the show was “…always a centerpiece. Everyone would come to see all the best horses.”

Horses, Dogs, Cars, and History

Not only does Upperville feature popular high-caliber events, including the $25,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby and the $213,300 FEI 4* Grand Prix, but it also adds a level of vintage flair through the inclusion of antique car exhibitions and Jack Russell Terrier races. Additionally, social traditions include elaborate tailgate picnics and parties sponsored by prominent local residents and businesses. As other horse shows around the country have become more regimented and generic, Upperville features an unfailingly signature charm. Katie Monahan-Prudent, an elite rider who has competed at Upperville since the mid-’70s, remembers the unmatchable setting. “It’s not as formal as most shows, and people come out of the woodwork to go to Upperville,” she says. The UCHS 1853 Club, Upperville’s premier VIP membership experience, hosts countless guests each year, featuring exceptional service and exclusive views overlooking Jumper Ring I – the Jumper Classic, Welcome Stakes & Hunter Derby ring. Tickets to the club often sell out quickly, as spectators flock to enjoy the show alongside some of the biggest names in equestrian sport.

Mimi Gochman and Commentary, Grand Small Junior Hunter Champion. Photo: Alden Corrigan

Notable Appearances Ringside

This year, audiences were treated to spectacular performances by a myriad of horses and riders. Ireland’s Jordan Coyle and Ariso clinched the $213,300 Jumper Classic, Mimi Gochman navigated Catch Me and Commentary to the Co-Grand Champion Junior Hunter title, and Michael Britt-Leon and Private I won the $25,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby title, to name a few. Another notable appearance featured the entire Ward family capturing the blue ribbon in the Upperville Colt and Horse Show Family Class. The team was captained by 6-year-old Lilly, who marched her pony, Romie, around the ring alongside her parents McLain and Lauren aboard a few matching flashy bays. When the family was called first, Lilly earned a fist bump from her dad—another title to add to the two-time Olympic gold medalist’s resume.

Virginia Is For Lovers (of Wine, Luxury, and Mini Horses!)

Not only do horses and riders take in Virginia’s rich countryside by the show ring, but exhibitors and spectators also camp out for the week in style. Salamander Resort and Spa provides luxurious accommodations nearby. Nestled into the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the 340-acre property features 168 rooms and suites, all comfortably spacious with outdoor patios or balconies. You can even bring your best furry friend, as many of the rooms are pet-friendly. Resort activities and amenities include complimentary Audi transportation to local vineyards, including Greenhill Winery and Vineyards, Boxwood Estate Winery, and Cana Vineyards, as well as forays into historic Middleburg offering mouth-watering cuisine and distinctive boutiques and museums. Salamander even features exclusive equestrian-themed activities; Families can take part in a horsey scavenger hunt at the stables and guided tours of the equestrian center. Each guest receives a complimentary photo of their favorite horse or pony, and special “meet & greets” on the Grand Lawn feature Cupcake, the resort’s resident miniature horse.

Add Upperville To Your Calendar

As the Upperville Colt and Horse Show celebrates in the heart of Virginia’s horse country each year with a healthy dose of tradition and class, the show continues to inspire generation after generation of equestrian talent. You’ll often find riders who have competed at the grounds for the duration of their careers and consistently come back with the same enthusiasm and love for the show as they did as children. This timeless gem of an event returns next year from June 6-12, 2022. Add it to your calendars now—you won’t want to miss it.