From the vertical files: Upperville Colt and Horse Show

Downstairs we have a file cabinet that houses the Library’s vertical files: documents that don’t necessarily belong in an archive collection, yet have significant value and are used as ready reference material to supplement our book and archive collections. Some of the subjects in our vertical files include a variety of horse associations, hunt clubs, and biographies of the artists and writers. Usually the documents in vertical files are a mix of grey literature: brochures, newspaper clippings, maps, catalogs, etc. At the NLSM our vertical files also contain a few research papers and drafts of articles that appear to have been written with the intent of publication, but for whatever reason, never made it to that stage.

Today, I am sharing portions of a draft paper from our Upperville Colt and Horse Show vertical file written sometime after the publication of Nina Carter Tabb’s article which was published in 1937. I have not been able to determine whether this piece appeared in print anywhere, but I thought it was a great summary of the show and includes all sorts of interesting historical tidbits. The author was a judge at the 1905 show, and appears to have judged later shows as well. Enjoy!

When Colonel Richard Hunter Dulany imported his Cleveland Bays from England, ten or fifteen years before the War between the States while the South was in its glory, to interest his neighbors and friends from afar in the breeding of high-class horses, he founded the Upperville Colt and Horse Show. In 1852, the first exhibition was held, as told me by Rozier Dulany, “at a place known as ‘The Vineyard’ in the suburbs of Upperville, which–as near as I can ascertain–is the same location under the giant oaks on the Grafton plantation, where the show has been held continuously ever since, except when discontinued on account of the Civil War.”

Christopher J. FitzGerald, one of the best authorities on the thoroughbred of America and who, for a number of years, had charge of the publicity of the Jockey Club–had never known much of Virginia except from hearsay, but after he had judged at the Upperville Colt Show, was as enthusiastic as the friend who had told him in the Palm Room of the old Boston Club in New Orleans about the great thoroughbred-loving breeders of Loudoun and Fauquier.

“Chris” wrote, “When honored with an invitation to serve as judge at the Upperville Colt Show a few years ago, I got my first glimpse of the country so lavishly praised by my friends. A few hours in company of those responsible for the perpetration of the Show, which had its inception long before the Civil War period, was an inspiring as it was revealing.”

By far the best history of this Show was written by Mayme Ober Peak in the Loudoun-Fauquier Magazine; and so that the interesting facts gathered by her may be saved for all time in book form, I quote from her writings:

On June 11, 1931, crowds again gathered for the annual exhibition of the Upperville Colt and Horse Show, on its grounds a little east of Upperville, much as they did over three-quarters of a century ago. What a contrast is found in this brilliant assemblage, and that first picnic crowd of horse lovers who gathered in the grove on the outskirts of Upperville, Va.

Then the entries comprised less than a dozen heavy drafts, shaggy mares and green hunters; there was no music except from the throats of the birds, and no grandstand seats except Fauquier stones and lap-robes on the ground. But when the lunch baskets were brought from the buggies and buck-boards, and their contents spread under the trees, no more enthusiastic spirit could have been found than among the little group of gentry and farmers, who, all unconsciously, were making turf history. For on that fine day in June, 1852, when was held the first colt show in the country, seed was sown from which grew the great Association of American Horse Shows.

The development of the show is an interesting story. The organizer and moving spirit of the idea was Colonel Richard Hunter Dulany, whose estate ‘Welbourne’ is a few miles from Upperville and who, before his death, was one of the largest landowners in this section of the Blue Ridge.

A gentleman of the old school — a hospitable, generous, public-spirited, he wielded a big influence in the community. His love for horses was a tradition. this love was inherited from his English ancestors, and handed down. The hunters Colonel Dulany bred and rode to hounds were always the envy of the neighboring gentry.

The idea of having an annual colt show and offering prizes for the best purebred colts exhibited was suggested to him by seeing such a show in connection with a county fair in Canada. Calling a meeting of the gentry, he laid the plan before them and it was met with instant and hearty cooperation.

Silver loving cups being decided upon as the most attractive prizes, Colonel Dulany went all the way to New York to purchase a supply. In those days Tiffany’s was almost as famous as it is now, and the Colonel went straight there to do his shopping. As it happened, Mr. Tiffany himself waited on the Virginian. When he found out for what purpose the cups were intended, he was highly interested and excited. in the breast of the Gotham silversmith, it seemed, also beat the heart of a sportsman; “I would consider it a great honor,” he said, “if you would permit me to contribute workmanship on the cups so they would cost you only the weight of the silver. Your plan appeals to me strongly and I would like to aid you in carrying it out.”

[The author continues with several more pages from Mayne Ober Peak’s article, but I will end her article here].

The Upperville Colt Show has undoubtedly played a great part in giving Virginia horses their place in the sun; but as it came in the hot days of June, I had never seen the Colt Show until I was asked to judge hunters there in 1905, and never shall I forget the interesting day. The paragraphs that follow tell of what happened then and also when I was judging later, while the guest of the President of the show, George Slater of Rose Hill.

The Show grounds are attractively laid out parallel to the old pike leading to Middleburg, and in the early days–as all can well remember–the dust from the road used to blow over the grandstand and make all those in attendance unhappy. This, of course, the cement covering has now eliminated. The stand backs on the road and with its enclosure guards one side of the show ring which is railed off from the grounds–which was part of Grafton, formerly “Number Six”–and is shaded by the beautiful oaks, planted a hundred years ago by some tree-loving ancestor. To guard the grounds proper, as the Show increased, horse boxes had been built which give a uniformity to the layout.

The breeding classes come in the morning and are attended by many; but the first great function is the luncheon which, like that of Epsom Downs on Derby Day, everyone brings for himself and his friends. History tells us that since the first Colt Show in ’53 the Dulanys have had their luncheon party come to one particular oak; the Carters just beyond; the Glascocks on farther. Not far away was the “Josh” Fletcher party; the Slaters under the tree beyond; and I am frank to say I never appreciated what find sportsmen and agriculturists lived round till I judged that Show in 1905.

Hot, hot, hot! Yes, piping hot! The ladies in the grandstand fanned themselves and brushed off the dust. There might have been a guard at the ring gate, but how could he stop anyone going into the ring when they were all friends of his and all interested to watch the judging and get a close view of the horses? So, in they crowded. The Dulanys; the great farmers; Colonels and Generals in the War; diplomats from Washington — all filled up the little ring and made it almost impossible to judge the jumping classes, as from the center of the ring you could not see any of the jumps except as the hunter rose in the air, and if you went over to one line of jumps, those on the other side were obscured from you. But it was always been that way. The dear old Colonel was here, there and everywhere, his kindly face shrouded in a grey beard and one arm crippled while leading the Virginia cavalry in Pickett’s Charge, that memorable day at Gettysburg when Lee’s valiant efforts to whip Meade were rendered impossible by Longstreet who, because his plan was not adopted, sulked in this tent.

Miss Ober tells of the beautiful Tiffany silver cups, one of which I had on exhibition at the second Sportsmen’s dinner in New York in 1912, when from all over America, trophies of the Turf and the Chase poured in. The illustration shows the beauty and simplicity of the Colt Show trophies which were so strongly battled for in 1852.

Bell-horses, bel-horses, what time of day? One o’clock, two o’clock, three and away!

The use of bells was first brought about for road warnings of the old convoys and before that by pack horses. In Central America I have heard them as the lead mule guides his pack train down the steep incline of the Andes.

It was a grand sight to see the great four and six horse teams in the ring at the earlier shows. The driver, astride a saddle on the near-wheeler, controlled the team by a jerk line which was attached to the off-side bit of the leader. The team was controlled as perfectly as Howlett controlled a six or four-in-hand, with all the reins in his left hand and his right about the collar of his whip, as he sat on the box of his coach in Paris.

Some of the teams were got up in the most imposing manner, the old-fashioned hames with balls of brass on top, the bell frame over the saddle, the plaited manes and tails with colored ribbands, and on a few the polished brass harness ornaments which were riveted onto the cheek pieces of the bridles and elsewhere…

At that time, 1905, there were few dealers present; now and then one from Philadelphia; but when fox-hunting came in strong–there are ten or twelve packs of hounds within thirty miles of Upperville–the breeding, breaking and selling of hunters has run up to thousands and thousands a year. I shall never forget two most important classes which I judged at one of the later shows. On being asked by George Slater to judge, I wrote down and explained to him the value of an outside course for hunters and jumpers. he accepted the idea and going down a day or two ahead of time, we laid the present course out, which has proved of great value. At that time David Gray, a fine three-quarter bred grey horse was –although twelve or fifteen years old–considered unbeatable. he could seemingly jump all day and never make a mistake. When his class was called, he put up the usual perfect score, but few entries later, came a three-quarter bred chestnut mare Miss Soliloquy bred by Jim Ferguson of Mountsville, which also went perfect, making a sparkling performance.

This chapter of the Upperville Colt and Horse show continues for a total of thirteen pages. There are great details here about the making of mint juleps, the families involved in the show, and descriptions of country life here in Virginia. I have included photos in the vertical file from the Washington Star dated June 5, 1949.

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