Hunt Stable Tour 2011

Photographs and text by Michael Broschat

It started out as a proposed tour of some galleries downtown, but then someone realized that it was Memorial Day weekend, and all kinds of Unwelcome Things were happening downtown, and who wanted to be caught among them. So, Cheryl went looking for something to do, and uncovered the 52nd Annual Hunt Country Stable Tour.for 2011.

Despite our often incredibly urban environment, we Virginians and Marylanders actually live among those who partake of the area's "horse country" and, yes, that means money. Just looking at a picture or two from the current collection should confirm that. One of the "farms" in this tour is Rokeby, which belonged to Paul Mellon, in his day one of the world's richest men. In fact, he died some ten years ago in one of the neighboring towns. I realize now looking at suggestions of what the tour began as more than fifty years ago that the horsey part of the tour is rather downplayed at present. We did walk into one stable, where a very nice horse wanted to come play with us, but in no way during the tour did I get the feeling that it was about horses and what you do with them. But that is probably how it got started.

Now, it's a fund-raising event for a local church that does not appear to draw all that many people. After all, how does one even discover that such a thing exists? Whatever, it seemed an ideal adventure on a reasonably lovely day (we were in the beginning of what would become heat advisories over the next few days, but this was more for humidity than for raw heat).

I don't recall how far the drive to Middleburg was—probably an hour or so from my place south of DC. Cheryl had some instructions (see link above), and when we encountered a large group of the local gentry gathered in a tent at our first stop, we were sure we had reached our goal. Soon we learned that we had just crashed a wedding party, and that we were not among the invited guests. We could take a hint.

We then stumbled into the true start of our tour, and it was from there that I took the picture of the tent, the gentry, and our false start. Lovely country, isn't it? There are actually several such areas in the lands surrounding the DC area, but many have been sold off as housing developments (remember the housing boom?). In this other tent picture, we see some of the lesser gentry who have been assigned to greet the unwashed masses and direct them away from the tent.

There were several events scheduled for the weekend—you know, showing how the other 5% lives, but several had taken place only on the previous day. We went looking for something that hadn't happened yet. And, truth be told, just driving on those roads was a kind of reward in itself. Seeing the picture of the horses watching one of their own walk by with a lady human astride reminded me that one of those lesser gentry kiddingly asked her to hang around to provide some local color. "I think I'll go home and take a nap," she responded.

Next was a visit to some alpaca animals. This sort of thing (with folks selling alpaca yarn and the like) was more what the tour has become, and that was fine. It's where we come from, and it's always more comfortable being among your own. Besides, the alpacas are cute. And the cloth made from their fur is truly amazing, but you probably knew this already. Our local guide confessed that times have been better, but they're still banking on the sometimes furry erstwhile pack animals for a better future.

I think the true "event" of our visit was the beagling. I didn't hear much of what was said by way of introduction, but the puppies were sweeties and seemed to know their business (which did include looking for dog treats). The master of the hounds talked a bit and released her charges into the field, where they were guided along by some kind of formation. I guess that point was to locate rabbits or something, but the dogs settled for treats. Anyway, it was a lovely day just to hang out in the countryside with a pup or two at your side.

We also visited Boxwood Estate Winery ('estate' turns out to mean that they only bottle their own grapes), which was truly impressive (and I'm not a wine person). I even bought a couple bottles. Follow the "Winery Website" link, to see some of what we saw. My overwhelming impression was that there was more money spent on this winery than the output could justify, but if so it would not be the only instance of such a phenomenon. I just did a mental calculation based upon what they told us about their output, and if they generate an annual income of $50,000, they're doing well. We saw about a half-dozen young people who we presumed are full-time employees, and several million dollars worth of equipment. Enough said. I hope the wine is good!

We ended our day with a visit to Chrysalis Winery, which can be difficult to find (roads are often unpaved in this area) but evidently not so for the lots of people already gathered there for wine tasting and general picnicing. The pictures of the wines show the relative maturity of this winery. Tastings are held by groups, in the various tented areas around the grounds.

Anyway, quite an adventure in more or less rural Virginia (I could be wrong, but my guess is that southern Virginia probably has a more rural feeling than any place in the northern half of the state). One of these days, I'll let Miya take me there again...