Photo by Joanne Maisano
Since 1853, when Col. Richard Henry Dulany organized the first event, the Upperville Colt and Horse Show has been an annual rite of summer. It is celebrated as the oldest horse show in North America and on June 5-11, the 164th iteration of the show will take place.
On the eve of that event, Middleburg Life caught up with board president Mike Smith and show manager Tommy Lee Jones to find out more about the history and future of the event.
According to Jones, “The show started as part of an effort to improve the care of young horses over the winter and improve the general care of horses overall. That was Col. Dulany’s vision.”
Smith explained that the event really “started out as a breeder’s horseshow. In a world before automobiles, it was a big deal to show off their horses.”
“The show traditionally featured the horses of the day,” Jones added, “and included draft horses, driving horses and in-hand classes.”
“The horse show has observed traditions, but changed over the decades,” Smith was quick to point out. “We have had great horse people in this part of Virginia and great visionaries who can make things happen,” he went on to say, “and a lot of great businessmen and horse people have kept the event alive and made it successful over the years.”
It was Mrs. A.C. Randolph, in the early ‘80s, who brought in Jones to manage the jumpers. Jones has been involved since 1980 and has managed the entire show since 1982. Since that time, the horse show has continued to evolve.
In the late ‘90s, riders began going more and more to Europe and the importance of North American events diminished.
When Smith took over, he began an effort to counter that trend.
“We have done so much in the last four years upgrading the grounds, the prize list and sponsorships,” Smith told us. “The money that is needed today to get the top riders has changed dramatically in the last 10 years.”
The board worked to bring in the International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI) and get world-ranking points to encourage top riders to participate.
The show has since become FEI rated and “in the last four years,” Smith proudly pointed out, “the show has gone to a 4-star grand prix with world ranking points. Top riders have begun to recognize Upperville as a great show because of the ranking points and the money they were able to bring back to the purses.”
The future looks bright for the Upperville Colt and Horse show. “Looking forward,” Smith concluded, “is a difficult question, the only thing I can envision is to stay at a very competitive level and to show American riders that they can stay in North American and compete.” ML