As Loudoun County continues to develop, much of its farmland shifting from agriculture uses to new planned communities and suburban uses, the county’s equestrian industry continues to thrive.
According to the Office of Rural Economic Development, Loudoun is home to more than 20,000 horses, which is more than any other county in commonwealth, and the horse industry provides employment for approximately 2,480 people. The county's equine industry contributes an average of almost $4,000 per horse per year or approximately $78 million to the economy, according to a report commissioned in 1995 by the Virginia Equine Education Foundation.
With the more than 5,000 people who attended the first annual America’s Cup Polo event at Morven Park in Leesburg, Saturday, May 12, Loudoun is continuing to redefine it’s place in the country’s equestrian history.
ONE OF THE biggest aspects of Loudoun’s equestrian history is the foxhunt, which has been held in Virginia for more than 200 years.
"Foxhunting is an expensive sport requiring traditional clothing, tack, a properly trained horse, transportation to and from the hunt for hunter and horse, and subscription or capping fees," Nancy Kain wrote in her 1993 article, "A History of the Loudoun Hunt." "Hunting, therefore, has often been viewed as an endeavor of the elite. There are other interests in which many people tie up just as much time and capital, but there are few sports so rich in history, tradition and excitement."
Loudoun foxhunting was born in Middleburg in approximately 1748, when Thomas Fairfax, the 6th Lord Fairfax, set up the first pack of foxhounds in the method of the present-day hunt. Currently there are 10 hunts in Loudoun, including the Middleburg Hunt, the Orange County Hunt, the Piedmont Fox Hounds and the Loudoun Hunt.
The Loudoun Hunt was created in Leesburg in 1894 and included members Henry Fairfax of Oak Hill, William C. Eustis of Oatlands and David B. Tennant of Red Gate. Tennant served as the Loudoun Hunt’s first Master of the Foxhounds, a position that still exists today.
OF ALL OF THE famous horsemen and women who lived and worked in Loudoun County, few are more famous that Gov. Westmoreland Davis and his wife, Marguerite Davis. The Davises moved to the 1,200-acre Morven Park in Leesburg in 1903.
"Upon obtaining the property, Gov. Davis began to transform Morven Park into an agricultural show place," Mary Fishback wrote in her book "Northern Virginia's Equestrian Heritage." Davis was "[a] avid equestrian and foxhunter," Fishback wrote, who served as chairman of the Hunts Committee of the National Steeplechase and Hunt Association and as Master of the Foxhounds for the Loudoun Hunt from 1906 to 1908. Westmoreland Davis was also a founder of the Masters of Foxhounds Association in 1907.
"He let it be known that he was interested in becoming involved in the organizational side of the hunt," Carolyn Green wrote in her book, "Morley: The Intimate Story of Virginia’s Governor and Mrs. Westmoreland Davis." "[Westmoreland] and Marguerite participated in the English-American Foxhounds Match. For two weeks in November of 1905 they followed the hounds over a territory that stretched from Upperville east to Leesburg." Marguerite Davis was one of the only women to finish each day’s chase.
Now, Morven Park continues to preserve Loudoun’s equestrian heritage, through the Winmill Carriage Museum, which displays Viola Townsend Winmill’s collection of carriages and the museum of hounds and hunting.
"The mansion at Morven Park has several rooms set aside to honor the huntsmen and the hounds," Fishback wrote. "This is a tribute to past huntsmen held in high regard by their peers and those who made outstanding contributions to the sport of hunting."
BESIDES HUNTING, Loudoun has also been fertile ground for both horse shows and polo.
The Dulany family lived at Welbourne, near Middleburg, and one of the county’s first polo fields existed near the estate from about 1918 until 1932. Located along the Goose Creek, the field, the only flat ground between Middleburg and Upperville, was used by William P. Hulbert and the Middleburg Polo team. In 1932, the team moved to Phipps’ Field, which is now known as Kent Field. The polo field was renamed for Redskins’ owner Jack Kent Cooke, who purchased the land from Paul Mellon and Sen. John Warner.
It was Richard Henry Dulany, of Welbourne, who founded the Piedmont Hunt around 1840 and went on to found the Upperville Horse Show, which is still held today at The Oaks.
"[T]he horse show began in 1853, after Richard noticed that farmers weren’t treating their mares properly when in foal," Eugene Scheel wrote in his "Loudoun Discovered" series Volume Three. "He offered a silver cup to the farmer with the best colt and when [Dulany] went to see jeweler Louis Tiffany in New York, Tiffany recognized a new potential for silver and donated the first cup and presented it to the winner."
MUCH OF LOUDOUN’S equestrian history is still in existence today. From the Foxcroft School for Girls founded in Middleburg in 1914, to the various hunt clubs to the equestrian center at Morven Park, the equestrian industry continues to honor the organization and people who placed the county on the map, while moving into the future. With Virginia Tech’s Marion DuPont Scott Equine Medical Center at Morven Park, one of the country’s most innovative veterinarian centers, and the America’s Cup Polo match, the eyes of the country will continue to be on Loudoun’s equestrian industry for decades to come.
"It is a way to make people aware of the equestrian history in this part of Virginia," Morven Park’s Tracey Gillespie said.