Some weeks ago, our friend Viviane brought us a packet to read. “Save it for a rainy day to look it over,” she told me. With the surfeit of precipitation this month, I found ample opportunity to take her up on the suggestion.

Inside the packet were three comb-bound publications of memories, each taken from a hunter’s hunting diary. Equestrian sports are chock full of passion and excitement, and often those elements are overlooked by those who don’t directly participate in these sports. Hunting diaries are a great way to experience the close-up history of foxhunting, as many who ride to hounds keep meticulous track of their exploits.

Called Entries From an Orange County Hunt Journal, the pages in the packet were full of personal accounts from the local sporting scene. Memories are poignant and humorous, and reflect the experiences on horseback, and were compiled by the late R. Moses Thompson, who moved to the Middleburg area in 1991. Thompson wrote one entry about falls while hunting, including a tale about his own unusual fall:

At a gallop, going east across the open pastures from the corner of the Zulla and Rock Hill Mill, my horse, to avoid a ground hog hole that he had seen but I had not, leapt to the right, suddenly, dropping his head and shooting off in a near right-angle trajectory. True to my studies in physics, my body kept going in the direction it was headed, with forward momentum of a horse in full gallop, just without the horse. Jerking to the right, my horse had dropped his head low so that my right leg slipped over his neck and I flew forward, leaving my horse cleanly, hitting the ground on my feet, spontaneously breaking into a very fast run, legs churning, to prevent burying my face in the dirt.

Excerpt from an Orange County hunt diary, 1947. National Sporting Library & Museum.

The recounting of hunting tales from hunt diaries is not new. NSLM has many hunt diaries in its collection, the earliest dating back to the early 19th Century, but quite a few from the 20th Century as well. Old hunting directories often included a calendar-based diary section for all-in-one note taking.

The childhood diary of Jane McIlvaine McClary, detailing her adventures riding with the hunts in the Middleburg area.

Keeping a diary of riding activities is a great way to keep track of adventures (and misadventures) and range from formal accounts of a rider’s activities to the heartwarming or humorous personal entries.

An anonymous British hunting diary, 1816. National Sporting Library & Museum.

For researchers, these diaries are a treasure trove of local history: names, dates, and landmarks are chronicled in a single document. The practice has continued for hundreds of years, and for those who study history, we hope it will continue in the future. Do you keep sporting or riding diaries? To view some of the NSLM’s hunt diaries collection, you can contact me to arrange an appointment.

Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head 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 

This week’s blog is written by National Sporting Library & Museum Intern Finley Stewart.

Finley Stewart was a summer 2018 Photography and Marketing Intern. She is a graduate of The Hill School and Mercersburg Academy and is a rising Sophomore at the College of William and Mary.

Please visit our website to learn more about NSLM’s internship opportunities.

I am lucky enough to have grown up in Middleburg, just a block away from the National Sporting Library & Museum. After spending eighteen years in this one-stoplight town, I felt pretty confident that I knew every stick and stone, but then I stumbled upon the NSLM website on a chilly Wednesday in January. I realized that I was completely ignorant to the most interesting attraction of Middleburg; the artistic specificity and depth presented in the National Sporting Library & Museum is unparalleled to anything I had seen before. I was delighted to learn that there was a summer internship program offered. I promptly applied and was accepted.

On my first day, I spent a full fifteen minutes looking at Shark with his Trainer Price by George Stubbs, a painting  that was on view at NSLM as part a the traveling exhibition organized by Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, A Sporting Vision: The Paul Mellon Collection of British Sporting Art from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. I had never spent so much time in front of one piece of art, and in my silence, I discovered the artist’s voice. Although it was a short interaction in a busy day, it made all the difference. During my six-week internship, I realized that a patient, learned respect for art – whether  a painting, sculpture, or photograph – is specific to the experience at the National Sporting Library & Museum. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to appreciate not only the Museum as it is presented to the public, but the ins and outs of the permanent collection and its documentation process.

Paintings on view in permanent collection gallery  – right: John Bucknell Russell (Scottish, 1820-1893), The Day’s Catch, 1864, 21 x 29 inches, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Timothy J. Greenan, 2011, photo by Finley Stewart

My internship was a hybrid between digital photography and marketing. When I was not actively photographing, I had a front row seat to the workings of the Museum, as my station was situated between the offices of Curator of Permanent Collections Nicole Stribling and George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Curator of Art Claudia Pfeiffer. Through watching them navigate everything from the climate of the Museum to possible vendors, I realized all the moving parts that have to come together to present a united front. In other words, the introspective, didactic experience I had with the painting on my first day was anything but coincidental; it was carefully orchestrated by the staff of the NSLM.

Herbert Haseltine, (American, 1877-1962), Percherons: Messaline and Her Foal, 1957, bronze on marble base, 11 1/2 x 14 x 6 inches, Gift of Jacqueline Ohrstrom, 2011, photo by Finley Stewart

For the first project of my internship, Ms. Pfeiffer taught me the groundwork of photographing art. Until this point, my photo experience ranged from film to digital, yearbooks to art magazines, and I felt as though I knew everything there was to know. My perceived omniscience was interrupted when I stepped into the studio with Claudia.

I realized my work was entirely creatively based, and that there was a whole other realm of factual photographic documentation. The priority was to make the photograph as close to the actual piece of art at hand— an objective only achieved with meticulous light set-ups and positioning. The first collection I worked with was by Reuben Ward Binks. This collection varied in size and dimension, thus requiring constant adjustment of the lights and camera.

Reuben Ward Binks (English, 1880-1950), Black Labrador with Pheasant in Water, watercolor on paper heightened with gouache, 10 ½ x 13 ½ inches, Bequest of Elizabeth D. Clark, 2017, photo by Finley Stewart

After I completed photographing the forty-five watercolors, Ms. Pfeiffer taught me how to properly post-process them. Previously, I had only used Adobe Photoshop® CC to add imagination to my photographs, but Claudia taught me how to revert back to a realistic standard. As a result of the diligent set up and careful post-processing, my photographs held a sense of realism and authenticity that they never had before.

Michael Lyne (English, 1912-1989) Middleburg Hunt, Full Cry with Blue Ridge in the Distance, 1950, oil on canvas, 16 x 20 inches, Gift of Mrs. Felicia Warburg Rogan, 2008, photo by Finley Stewart

For my next project, I was assigned a collection of sculptures. Photographing 3D objects proved to be an entirely new ball game. With more volume and a curving surface, there was more opportunity for unwanted shadow and distortion.

Edward Marshall Boehm (American, 1913-1969), Percheron Work Horse, “H.S. Finney from Maryland Draft Horse Breeders Association,” porcelain, 10 x 12 x 4 ½ inches, Gift of Marge Dance and family of the late Humphrey Finney, 1995, photo by Stewart Finley

Ms. Pfeiffer and I had to get creative to bounce light onto the sculpture to, ironically, produce the most realistic picture we could. During this session, I realized the essence of art photography: it is not the absence of creativity and imagination, but the application of innovative thinking behind the camera to produce a realistic photograph. The artistry is more elusive: the creativity is not obvious in the final product, but extremely present in its preparation and implementation.

This past month-and-a-half has been invaluable to my photography knowledge, creative experience, and art appreciation. I’m eternally grateful to Claudia Pfeiffer for taking the time to teach me how to photograph realistically, while slipping in creativity when needed. Looking forward, I primarily photograph outside, and with more light and color there is opportunity for creative voice. Now I will be careful keep Ms. Pfeiffer’s commitment to realism in mind, certain to prioritize the accuracy of the subject above all else. – Finley Stewart, July 2018

J. Clayton Bright (American, b. 1946), Red Fox (Vulpes Fulva), bronze, 14 x 31 x 6 inches, Gift of an Anonymous Donor, 2013, photo by Finley Stewart


A couple of years ago, one of our Library regulars was Dr. Amy Schmidt, an historian with a doctorate in history from Kent State University who enjoyed a long career at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Like many of our researchers, Dr. Schmidt was laboring over a publication project, and a labor of love at that. Last month she was kind enough to send a copy of her newly-finished book to the Library to add to our collection.

Saddle Club Stories, Amy Schmidt, 2017.

Saddle Club Stories is both intimate and comprehensive in its scope. It chronicles the history of the Alamance Saddle Club in Alamance County in North Carolina. The club was founded in 1944 and closed its doors in 1972. During its 28-year run, the club was a touchstone for hundreds of young riders who learned to care for horses, ride them, and compete in the club’s horse shows.


Each chapter covers an aspect of the club and its history. But in addition to the engaging historical text, Dr. Schmidt assembled hundreds of personal accounts and photographs that make up the bulk of the book’s illustrations.


It’s easy to see that Dr. Schmidt’s own experiences riding with the Alamance Saddle Club left their mark. The personal accounts and narratives are much more stories of the heart (working hard, making friends, learning to bond with a horse, growing up, and saying goodbye) than sporting accounts. And these stories reflect how important the club really was to its many members. Reading the book is a chance to share in the reminiscence with kindred spirits across the country.


Signed, limited-edition copies of the book are available for purchase directly from Dr. Schmidt at Purchase price is $50, plus $4 for shipping.

Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head 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 

In just two weeks the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department’s annual carnival will culminate in the world famous swimming of the horses.  Firemen will become “saltwater cowboys” and drive a herd of wild horses across a narrow channel from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island and auction off the foals to raise money to support the fire department.  This event was made famous by Marguerite Henry whose 1947 book, Misty of Chincoteague, describes the pony swim and remains a favorite of children today.

Marguerite Henry and Misty.  From Wikipedia.

I’ve seen the swim covered on the news and I’ve visited the horses at Assateague Island but I’ve never been to see the pony swim.  I wanted to find out more about this interesting event and the herd of horses that lives at the beach.  The Library yielded up several books on the topic.  Most helpful were, Wild Horses of the Dunes by Rich Pomerantz (2004), and Hoofprints in the Sand: Wild Horses of the Atlantic Coast by Bonnie S. Urquhart (2002).  For this week’s blog I thought I’d share some of what I learned.

Postcard depicting one legend of how horses arrived on the barrier islands.  From The Chincoteague Ponies

Assateague and Chincoteague Islands are part of a long chain of barrier islands that stretches along most of the eastern shore of the United States.  These narrow islands have sandy beaches on their ocean side, and piney forest and marshlands on the side facing the mainland.  Although horses are not native to Assateague Island, they have been there since at least the 17th century.  How they got there is a bit of a mystery.  There are several romantic tales involving herds of pirate’s horses, or horses that survived shipwrecks just off shore and swam to the island, but the more likely solution has to do with tax evasion.  In Colonial times the English levied a tax on fences.  In order to avoid this tax, people moved their herds of horses, cattle, sheep, and even chickens, over to barrier islands like Assateague.  Here the animals had natural “fences,” and were free from both predators and the tax man.  Today there are feral descendants of these hidden herds on many of the barrier islands off the Atlantic coast.

Horses on Assateague.  From Wild Horses of the Dunes by Rich Pomerantz (2004).  National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of The Chronicle of the Horse.

Assateague Island is divided in half by the state line between Maryland and Virginia.  A fence marks the border and separates the horses into two herds.  The northern Maryland half is a National Seashore and State Park and is maintained by the National Park Service.  The horses here are generally left to their own devices, aside from a birth control system administered by dart.  It is easy to visit and see the horses here and one can even camp among the dunes.

Map of Assateague Island.  Chincoteague Island is the island between the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and the mainland of Virginia.  The horses swim across the narrow channel at the southern end.  From Pryor Wild.

The southern half in Virginia forms The Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, and is run by the United States Fish & Wildlife Service.  It is a frequent stop for migrating birds and to protect the habitat necessary for the birds, the horse herds are restricted to certain areas.  This makes them somewhat more difficult to view than those on the Maryland side.  The Virginia horses are owned by The Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department, Pony Committee, which actively cares for the herd.

Although animal penning and swimming has been going on at Assateague as long as people have kept animals there, it wasn’t until 1925 that the people of Chincoteague, searching for a way to raise money for their new volunteer fire department, hit upon the idea of adding a pony penning and auction to their annual fund raising carnival.  Today this event is world famous and thousands of spectators attend, hoping to get a good view of the horses as they make the swim across from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island.

Rounding up the horses.  From Wild Horses of the Dunes by Rich Pomerantz (2004).  National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of The Chronicle of the Horse.

The process begins several days before the swim.  Members of the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department trade in their fireman’s helmets and hoses, for cowboy hats and bull whips.  They begin at the northern edge of the refuge and slowly drive the horses south where they are penned together in a large corral.  Each horse is checked by a vet and on Wednesday, after a day or two of rest, the entire herd, excepting pregnant mares, the very old or very young, and any sick animals, is swum across the channel to Chincoteague.  It has become quite the media circus and the horses’ route must be carefully protected from fascinated tourists.

The horses swimming to Chincoteague.  From Chincoteague Ponies.

Once across the channel the horses rest and then are herded down the street to the auction pen at the carnival grounds.  The auction of the year’s foals takes place on Thursday.  Each year between 50 and 70 foals are auctioned off both to raise money for the fire department, and to keep the population of the herd under control.  In recent years, the average price of an Assateague pony has been about $2500.  In addition to bidding for purchase, visitors can also bid on “buyback” ponies.  These are auctioned with the stipulation that they will be donated back to the Fire Company and returned to Assateague Island to join the herd.  People that win a buyback pony also win the right to name the pony.

Horses after the swim, parading through town on the way to the carnival grounds.  From Chincoteague Ponies.

The day following the auction the remaining horses are swum back across the channel and are released for another year.  They quickly form up in their family bands and disappear into the dunes, marshes, and piney forests.

Horses on Assateague.  From Wild Horses of the Dunes by Rich Pomerantz (2004).  National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of The Chronicle of the Horse.

If you’re interested in getting more detailed information I encourage you to stop by the Library and take a look at our books on the topic.  We have information not only on the Assateague horses but on a variety of feral horse populations.  If you’re in the area and would like information about attending the carnival, the swim, or the auction, you can view the guide to the 2018 event here.

Erica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. 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 Erica by e-mail

In June, NSLM won an award! We won the Business Equine-Related Custom Publication (Print) category of the Equine Media Awards for the exhibition catalog for The Horse in Ancient Greek Art. The catalog, which features scholarly essays and beautiful images from the exhibition, is available for purchase through NSLM’s online gift shop. The exhibition is still on view at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, but it closes July 8, so take advantage of this last chance to see it!

NSLM’s 2017 Equine Media Awards winner’s plaque, with certificate for NSLM Curator Nicole Stribling for her efforts on the publication.

The Equine Media Awards are part of the annual conference for American Horse Publications, an organizations dedicated to excellence in equestrian publications. The conference, held each summer, is a great opportunity for networking and idea-sharing. NSLM has been a non-profit member of AHP for years. The Equine Media Awards are the highlight of each conference, with dozens of categories for competition. See the entire award winners list here.

AHP’s annual conference is a great place to swap ideas and get to know the hard-working folks who produce the equestrian magazines and websites we know and love

On the Library side, we were thrilled to announce that we have received a grant to begin work on one of our long-range goals: digitizing rare books from the NSLM collection. Digitization is a huge avenue toward greater accessibility to the collection and it also reduces wear on titles in the Library.

Digitization work has already been done in small portions. Several years ago, the Library digitized its microfilm collection. The first book to be digitized was last week, as our neighbors at Paratext dropped by to take images of the Index to Engravings in the Sporting Magazine by Sir Walter Gilbey.

Paratext Editor Grayson Van Beuren creating digital photos of a rare book in the NSLM Main Reading Room. Paratext is an independent library information and research company based in Middleburg.

The grant will go toward a more comprehensive project that includes the purchase of rare book scanning equipment and the development of an online platform to allow researchers to read the digital books.

Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head 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