When Children Played With Ponies

Once upon a time, the tiny Virginia town of Middleburg experienced a golden age of enthusiasm for riding and equestrian sport. After The Great Hound Match of 1905 put Virginia on the map as prime foxhunting country, several hunts began operating in the region and the countryside transformed into an optimal landscape for riding.

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“Children and Ponies,” Undated photograph by Dove Hayes. In the Gerald B. Webb, Jr. Archive, National Sporting Library & Museum. Caption reads: “Left to Right: Polly Baldwin and ‘Merry’; Bobby Baldwin and ‘Star’; Barry Hamilton and ‘Jock’; Jimmy Hamilton and ‘Mountain Music’; Eve Prime and ‘Spoogie Woogie’; Christie Thompson and ‘Dummie.'”

Middleburg became a close-knit community in the heart of Hunt Country in the 1920s and 1930s. An excellent first-hand account of Middleburg in this era can be found in The Way It Was: Middleburg in the 1920s and 1930s by Catherine Hulbert Harts (a copy is in the NSLM collection). There really was no age barrier to participation in horse sports: children rode on ponies as soon as they were able to sit up in the saddle.

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The Hunting Diary and Guide, 1930-31. National Sporting Library & Museum, gift of Christopher McClary, 2016. Foxhunting directories often included hunt diary sections for riders to record daily activities. This copy belonged to Jane Stevenson McClary, who was eleven years old in 1931.

A recent donation to the NSLM collection is a British-printed copy of The Hunting Diary and Guide, 1930-31. The entries were made by a young lady named Jane Walker Stevenson, who rode in and around Middleburg. Jane was eleven years old in 1931, and was quite the accomplished rider, foxhunting with the Orange County Hounds and riding with friends from Foxcroft School.

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An afternoon of hide-and-seek, misadventures, and apples. In 1931, children played with their ponies in and around Middleburg.

Jane’s entries are both charming and opinionated. “Nancy and Barbara Iselin, Louise Dillworth came over on ponies,” she notes in her entry on Friday, March 6, 1931. “Played hide & seek on ponies. Barby fell off and I was going to lead Atoka over a jump and he pulled away from me twice. Jumped the four ft. post & sail. Atoka knocked the top rail off. Gave horses apples.”

The following day, Jane was out with Orange County, starting from the No. 18 School House in Marshall, and cutting across country to Rectortown, some five miles away.

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“Number 18 School in Marshall,” 2011. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons. The Orange County meet began at this one-room school house, which still stands in Marshall, VA today.

“I was so mad at Nancy Smith,” writes Jane, “she said she was such a great rider and nonsence [sic] and she fell off on a chicken coop about 3 ft. My! She can boast.”

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A “Collossal Run with Orange County,” March 7, 1931.

The episode didn’t ruin the day, though. “Lovely Mrs. Filly was out and she *is* lovely. GREAT Day and nice,” she writes.

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An impressive roster! Jane lists all her hunting outings, and every horse she rode during the year. She terms it “a truly grand season.”

As for Jane Stevenson, her practice at writing evidently paid off. After attending The Hill School in Middleburg, she went on to marry Robinson McIlvane and write for The Washington Times-Herald and Fortune.

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Jane grew up to be an accomplished journalist and author. Her book To Win the Hunt was illustrated by her husband, Nelson McClary.

After her first marriage ended in divorce, she returned to Middleburg, eventually marrying Nelson McClary and she rode again with the Orange County Hounds. She wrote regularly for Middleburg Life and published over a dozen books during her lifetime. After Nelson passed, his son Christopher donated the family’s books to NSLM. Jane’s childhood diary was included in the donation, and we’re pleased to preserve the stories she recorded from the days where children kept pace with some of the best riders in the country.


Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail

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  1. My father grew up in Warrenton and would have been a contemporary of Ms. Stevenson – He spent his entire life foxhunting with the Warrenton Hunt and was involved in the Va. Gold Cup and the various Steeplechase races until his death in 1989. I wish he had kept a diary, but I’m sure that if he did it would have read very similarly to this!

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