Story by Michelle Baker
Photos by Joanne Maisano

The Hunt Country Tour ticket is much more than a ticket to visit equestrian centers. It is a two-day admission ticket to another way of life, a pass to a lecture, a ticket to a movie, a time to meet and greet with entrepreneurs, plus a VIP Pass to meet world renowned equestrians. The $35 Stable Tour Admission ticket is a weekend adventure.

(Above: Gum Tree Farm Designs owner Franny Kansteiner with Rosie in her on-site store.)

Today’s version of life on a farm is very different than 50 years ago. The 60th anniversary of the Hunt Country Stable Tour gave visitors a behind-the-scenes look at equestrian Virginia and a peek at the grandeur of some of the finest equestrian facilities in the world. Organized by three-time Chair Katherine “Kat” Gemmer, the event was held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on May 25 and 26, featuring autograph sessions, demonstrations, exhibitions, book signings and concerts and 150 volunteers per day.

(Above: Long Line demo of Roy Rogers at Orange Hill.)

“Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of farm owners and managers, the Stable Tour offers a remarkable opportunity to appreciate all of God’s creation and the interdependence of the land, animals, and people,” said Trinity Episcopal Reverend Edward O. Miller, Jr. “Observing this delicate balance provides both the refreshing day and implicit reminder that caring for the earth and for one another is imperative now and for the future.”

At Church: A Good Place to Start

On Saturday, those who stopped in Upperville at Trinity Episcopal Church to pick up their tickets were able to greet the Piedmont Foxhounds in the Bishop’s Garden and have a photo opt with some of the hounds and meet the Masters. It was also the place to enjoy some Rockland’s barbecue and visit the Lemonade Stand, manned by the church youth. On Sunday, visitors and parishioners enjoyed the Trinity Episcopal Church Cathedral brass quartet.

On the Farm

While the sheep shearer talked to visitors and worked, Gum Tree Farm Designs owner Franny Kansteiner packed the clippings both days and answered questions. The hands-on owner grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, and was happy to share her story with the curious crowd who asked everything from “does it hurt the sheep to get sheared” to what does “farm to fashion” mean.

(Above: Sheep of Gum Tree.)

“We thought, between the vegetable garden and the sheep, we would raise everything here and I was spinning and knitting and that is how we ended up getting into it,” said Kansteiner who bought three sheep and now owns hundreds. Today, she raises merino wool sheep on her farm, creates beautiful handmade items, and promotes the “farm to fashion” movement. Her business continues to expand with a new men’s line of vests, shirts and soon lined slippers.

Early tour birds who dropped by newly refurbished Middleburg Training Center in Middleburg watched thoroughbred horses being trained on the race track. The tour ticket included an opportunity to meet world-renowned equestrians at state of the art indoor arenas, like Chestnut Run Farm in The Plains where Alexandra Arabak entertained visitors. At Poplar Grange Farm in Marshall, Lindsay Kelley, a competitive international three-day event Rider, FEI winner and avid foxhunter with the Piedmont Foxhounds and Orange County Hunt performed dressage.

(Above: Poplar Grange.)

At Salamander Resort & Spa Equestrian Center in Middleburg, AQHA expert Mike Jennings introduced spectators to the Western style of riding. And at Saint Bride’s Farm in Upperville, the staff introduced a new addition to their stable. Sunday was the place to be when the Saint Bride’s farm team presented brand new foal Oceana and his mom Tua efele. Saint Bride’s Farm specializes in breeding, training and showing off world-class show jumpers.

(Above: Gum Tree Stable.)

Visitors to Oak Spring Garden Foundation Upperville, part of the Paul and Bunny Mellon estate, could view a movie about the gardens, see the work being done on site and tour the brooder barns. Peter Crane, a renowned botanical researcher and evolutionary plant scientist, and his wife, Eleanor, were onsite.

(Above: Tack Room at Chestnut Run Stable.)

“We are very fortunate. Sir Peter Crane and Lady Eleanor Crane have been here both days,” said Buckey Slater. The perfect way to end the two-day adventure was at Banbury Cross Polo in Middleburg for free Sunday afternoon polo. Hunt Country Tour Ambassador Betsy Crenshaw said some 800 tickets were sold over the two days. The church netted $53,000, which was on par with last year’s receipts.

(Above: Chestnut Run.)

It’s almost like being on a two-day outdoor classroom experience, Crenshaw said. “When you go to the barn to see different styles and different techniques, you are learning. I’m always interested in how people are doing things. You pick up pointers. And if you’re going to learn about the industry, you want to learn from the people who are doing it right.”

(Above L to R : Inside Saint Bride’s Stable and Orange Hill)

The organizers of the tour remembered one such gentleman, accomplished horseman S. Bruce Smart, who for decades welcomed Trinity Church Stable tour guests to their historic 530-acre horse farm, Trappe Hill. This year Trappe Hill was not on the stable tour, but the owner was remembered with a tribute in the program.

(Above: Future race horse from Chilly Bleak farm.)

This article first appeared in the June 2019 issue of Middleburg Life.