Saddles and Scenery: Touring Loudoun’s Horse Country
Loudoun County is horse country. In fact, with an equine population of 20,000, there are more horses in Loudoun than in any other county in Virginia, and Loudoun has the third largest horse population in the United States. Olympic riders live and train here. Derby winners were born and groomed here. And the Kennedys rode here.
There are many ways to take in our horse country. On any day you can drive through horse country, and on most days you can take a leisurely horseback ride along a scenic trail and visit a museum showcasing a collection of historic and antique carriages. During the warmer months, there are special events including the thrill of a steeplechase race, an exclusive insider’s look at some of the country’s most elegant and luxurious horse farms, and the oldest horse show in the country.
Whether you are watching horses fly over fences at one of Loudoun’s steeplechase races, watching the precision of a dressage competition, or taking a nice drive through the scenic countryside, there is something for everyone in Loudoun’s horse country.
The easiest way to take in Loudoun’s horse country is to simply drive some of our most scenic, tree covered, winding, country roads, which take you past stacked stone fences and countless horse farms where you will find galloping and grazing horses and a backdrop of lush rolling pastures and beautiful barns and stables. You may even catch a glimpse of a stately mansion or historic home. Just be prepared – even though Loudoun is one of the nation’s richest counties, some of its roads are still dirt – because it’s better for the horses.
Drive 1: Take Rt. 50 one mile west of Middleburg and turn left onto Zulla Road. Follow Zulla approximately seven miles. Turn right onto Route 55. Travel about two miles and turn right onto Rectortown Road. Drive four miles and turn right on Atoka Road. Follow Atoka about five miles back to Route 50.
Drive 2: From Aldie (Rt. 50) take Snickersville Turnpike (Rt. 734) north. Turn left onto Sam Fred Road. Turn right onto Rt. 50 and drive into the town of Middleburg. Take a right onto Foxcroft Road (Rt. 626) and follow it to Snake Hill Road (Rt. 744) and turn left. At St. Louis Road (Rt. 611) turn left and take it to Rt. 50. Turn left onto Rt. 50 back to Middleburg and Aldie.
Drive 3: Take Champe Ford Road south from Rt. 50 to The Plains Road and turn right. Take The Plains Road to the town of Middleburg.
Drive 4: From Rt. 50, take Greengarden Road (Rt. 719) north. Turn left onto Trappe Road (Rt. 619) which will take you back to Rt. 50.
Other horsey roads: Rt. 50 west of Aldie, Snickersville Turnpike (Rt. 734) from Aldie to Bluemont, St. Louis Road (Rt. 611) from Rt. 50 to Purcellville.
After your drive, visit the town of Middleburg, the unofficial capital of horse country in the nation, where the horse country is reflected in the names of many of its establishments. Stroll through the historic main street of the town and stop in the many boutique and antique shops. You may see a few locals in riding breeches or in vehicles pulling their horse trailers, and will probably walk past a statesman or writer, or two. Have lunch at Market Salamander, a working chef’s market that offers amazing sandwiches and other gourmet menu items. The market is reminiscent of the village markets scattered throughout the Italian Piedmont, and offers seating in an indoor café or outside under the wisteria covered pergola. Stay for dinner and experience the famous Red Fox Inn, another Loudoun Destination Restaurant, that is also the oldest continually operated inn in the United States. Each of its restaurant’s six dining rooms feature paintings of foxes, hounds, and horses, pointing to the hunt country tradition of the area. Make sure to have the peanut soup!
National Sporting Library & Museum
This research library and art museum in Middleburg is awe inspiring. It preserves and shares the art, literature, and culture of horse and field sports, and is the home of more than 15,000 volumes, one of the largest collections in the world. Its walls are adorned with sporting paintings, and intricate bronze sculptures are displayed. It also hosts rotating equine art exhibits from other museum collections. National Sporting Library, 102 The Plains Rd, Middleburg, 540-687-6542, nsl.org
Horses and Mules Memorial
In the middle of the courtyard at the National Sporting Library & Museum in Middleburg stands a three-quarter life-size bronze sculpture of a war-weary horse to honor the 1,500,000 horses and mules that lost their lives during the Civil War, many of which perished within 20 miles of Middleburg in the Battles of Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville in June of 1863. It is the only monument that pays tribute to the equine contributions and losses of the war. The sculpture was commissioned by Paul Melon, an American philanthropist and thoroughbred racehorse owner and breeder, who lived in Loudoun and hired renowned sculptor Tessa Pullan of Rutland, England to create it. She had previously produced a three-quarter life-size bronze of Sea Hero, Mellon's 1993 Kentucky Derby winner, for him. Paul went to great lengths to ensure that the sculpture was realistic. The horse is exhausted and half-starved, and is carrying historically accurate equipment. National Sporting Library, 102 The Plains Rd, Middleburg, 540-687-6542, nsl.org
Museum of Hounds & Hunting North America
The Museum of Hounds & Hunting North America is located in the recently renovated north wing of Historic Morven Park. It preserves and displays the art, artifacts, and memorabilia of the centuries-old sporting tradition of fox hunting. Its educational exhibits are designed to promote public understanding of hunting with hounds. Highlights of the collection include original art by Lionel Edwards, one of the twentieth century’s foremost sporting artists; a graceful curved copper and brass horn that once belonged to Samuel Ogle, Proprietary Governor of Colonial Maryland; and General George S. Patton’s Hunting Diaries. Morven Park , 17263 Southern Planter Ln, Leesburg, 703-777-2414, www.morvenpark.org and www.mhhna.org
Winmill Carriage Museum
Located at Historic Morven Park, this museum is named for Viola Townsend Winmill of Warrenton, Virginia. The museum displays many of the 120 antique horse-drawn carriages she collected during her lifetime, including a vide variety of vehicles used from the mid-1800s and the early 1900s. Included in the exhibits is a Hansom Cab, most commonly hired in New York City in the late 19th century by society bachelors. But a skilled driver Viola was not! After two serious accidents including one that broke her father’s collarbone, she was convinced to give up the big coaches and drive something more manageable. So, don’t miss the child-sized miniature coach that she purchased from Tom Thumb of the Barnum and Bailey Circus. Viola drove that carriage pulled by six Welsh ponies and made appearances at every horse event in the area to show off her “coach and six.” Other notable carriages in the collection include the 19th century hearse that was last used in 1975 for Viola’s funeral, a Silsby Fire Engine, and the park carriage used by Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco in the filming of The Swan . Morven Park , 17263 Southern Planter Ln, Leesburg, 703-777-2414, morvenpark.org/carriage.htm
One of the best ways for visitors to experience horse country is by attending one of the many steeplechase races during the spring and fall. These thrilling events, held at historic locations such as Glenwood Park in Middleburg and the Morven Park Equestrian and Event Center or Oatlands Plantation in Leesburg, feature colorfully-clad jockeys riding galloping horses through courses of obstacle jumps, ditches, hairpin turns, and high-speed home stretches. Steeplechase racing began in Ireland in the 1700s when owners would race their horses to the church steeple in the distance. General admission tickets are sold, as are “rail spots” where you can park your car and tailgate. One of the best parts of the steeplechase races is elaborate spreads and large hats!
Hunt Country Stable Tour
The Hunt Country Stable Tour is an annual two-day self-guided driving tour event on Memorial Day weekend that gives visitors an opportunity to wind their way through the county along scenic byways and walk right through the gates to discover some of Loudoun’s finest historic estates and premier Thoroughbred breeding farms and training facilities that are not normally open to the public.
Upperville Colt & Horse Show
In early June, just beyond Loudoun County on Rt. 50 is the country’s oldest horse show, the Upperville Colt & Horse Show. Since 1853 some of the world's most elite and expensive equine athletes have come to compete during this week-long event. The main ring is surrounded by a grove of stately oaks, and spectators are seated in a covered wooden grandstand that was built in 1895. Bring a chair, though, because the action is simultaneous in several areas. The most exciting events to watch are the two jumping classes. The movements of "hunter jumpers" are as elegant as figure skating, whereas "jumpers" are more like hockey players and focus on power, speed, and excitement.
Middleburg Christmas Parade
On the first weekend in December is the Middleburg Christmas Parade, something that everyone should put on their calendar. This festive parade in the capital of horse country is led by a hundred or more hounds sauntering and sniffing their way down Washington Street, followed closely by the horses and riders in their colorful hunting attire. This event is a local favorite!
Other Equine Events
To find information on equestrian events in Loudoun County, go to the events page on VisitLoudoun.org and select “Equine Events.” Fox Chase Farm is a premiere equestrian event facility just outside Middleburg that hosts many horse shows throughout the year. Glenwood Park in Middleburg claims to have “the best view in steeplechasing.” Oatlands Plantation and Historic Morven Park near Leesburg are historic properties that host multiple major equine events each year. Each of these sites hosts steeplechase races, combined training events, and other activities.
Fox Chase Farm, 23323 Fox Chase Farm Ln, Middleburg, 540-687-5255, foxchasefarm.net
Glenwood Park, Foxcroft Rd, 1 mile north of Middleburg, 540-687-6545
Oatlands Historic House & Gardens, 20850 Oatlands Plantation Ln, Leesburg, 703-777-3174, www.oatlands.org
Morven Park Equestrian & Event Center, 41793 Tutt Ln, Leesburg, 703-777-2890, www.morvenpark.org
One of the best ways to experience horse country in Loudoun is to plan ahead and book a trail ride through Loudoun’s scenic countryside. Two Loudoun facilities offer rides for visitors – Serene Acres in Bluemont and Chase Run Stable in Hamilton.
Serene Acres, 19312 Walsh Farm Ln, Bluemont, 540-554-8618, sereneacres.com
Chase Run Stable, 40333 Charles Town Pk, Hamilton, 540-882-4821, chaserun.com
Overnight accommodations in Loudoun have a distinctly equestrian flair. The elegant Goodstone Inn & Estate, a historic hunt country estate, provides upscale lodging for both guest and horse just north of Middleburg. Some of their finest guestrooms are located in an old stable. A bed and breakfasts in Loudoun can also accommodate you and your equine companion – Idyll Time Farm, Cottage & Stabling in Leesburg. The Red Fox Inn in Middleburg, which has been offering hospitality to travelers since 1728, making it the oldest continually operated inn in the United States. Each of its six dining rooms features hardwood floors and stone fireplaces, and its walls are adorned with paintings of foxes, hounds, and horses. The newer Lansdowne Resort is noted for its golf, spa, and unique dining experiences. If you need separate accommodations for your horse, both Chase Run Stable and Serene Acres, noted previously for their trail rides, offer overnight boarding as well. Rest assured that you and your horse will be taken care of properly in the nation’s horse country!
Goodstone Inn & Estate, 36205 Snake Hill Road, Middleburg, 540-687-4645, www.goodstone.com
Idyll Time Farm, Cottage & Stabling, 43470 Evans Pond Rd, Leesburg, 703-443-2992, www.bbonline.com/va/idylltime