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June 16, 2011

Marking The Years At Upperville

The oak trees provide a signature backdrop to the Upperville Colt & Horse Show, the oldest horse show in the country. Photo by Mollie Bailey.

It was an unusual—if not the most advisable—way for a new intern to start the summer.

“My mother said to tell you that I grew up riding in the same Pony Club region as you,” said our summer intern on her second morning on the job.

“Oh?” I said, unpacking my computer bag. “How does your mother know me?”

“Well, she’s read the Chronicle for a long time. She even wrote for it some back in the 80s,” the intern reported.

“Well, I certainly wasn’t here in the 80s,” I replied.

“Oh, I know,” she said. “My mother is just a little older than you.”

Your mother? Just a little older than me? I wasn’t even sure she was talking to me for a moment. I mean, this young woman has almost finished college. It hasn’t been that long since I was…well…as I did some quick computing, I realized that, had I led a somewhat more misguided youth, I could, perhaps, have brought her into this world.

But it wasn’t likely, and I’m still pretty sure her mother does not share a generation with me, since she is about 20 years older than my daughter, and I was in grade school writing book reports in the 80s, not producing copy for publication.

A few days later, this intern headed on her first assignment to the Upperville Colt & Horse Show, just a few miles down the road from the Chronicle’s building in Middleburg.

Upperville has long marked the start of summer for those of us at the Chronicle. It seems like one day it’s Upperville, and the weather is just getting warm, and you have all of summer ahead of you, but the next thing you know, summer’s over, and we’re gearing up for the fall indoor shows.

I remembered my first year at the Chronicle, 16 years ago, how I was also sent to cover the show. I interviewed Elizabeth Busch Burke and Betty Oare and was thrilled when Betty wanted to buy a photo I’d taken. I remember the thunderstorms, the extreme heat, the heavy rains.

After that first year attending as a reporting intern, I came back in following years, sometimes teaching the next intern the ropes, sometimes visiting with friends who were in town for the show.

As the years went on, I remember the time a helicopter had to dry out the rain-soaked grass grand prix field, the many times I cheered on coworkers as they competed, the excitement of bringing a date to the Sunday grand prix one year, the many times I couldn’t attend because I was busy competing my horse somewhere else, and then the year that I missed it entirely because I was having a baby. It may have only been 45 minutes down the road, but the world of Upperville seemed like a far away universe from my climate-controlled, sterile hospital room that June.

This year, since the weather for Sunday’s grand prix looked like it wouldn’t be unbearably hot, I thought I’d take my 2-year-old daughter and attend for the first time in a while. I uncharacteristically dressed her in a frilly pink (and heretofore unused) dress she’d been given by friends, causing my husband to refer to her all day as a “toddler in tiara.”

Maggie enjoyed her first Upperville with her mom, Chronicle editor Beth Rasin.

Running around after her, trying to keep her cool and happy, was a far different experience than I’d ever had at the show. Just another way Upperville has marked the passage of time, with its own unchanging backdrop of the Blue Ridge mountains contrasting with our fluid lives. It’s just those of us who return to the show who are a little older, a little different, each year.

Even though I feel in many ways a long way removed from the intern I was in 1995, I’m sure that, 10, 20 or 30 years from now, I’ll look back fondly on the time that I took my 2-year-old daughter and think that those were the days.

A traditional, ageless show like Upperville—it’s a timeline allowing you to look back at where you’ve been each year at that time, as reliable as the changing of the season it brings. I’m sure there are many more manifestations of Upperville for me to experience in the future; and while it’s inevitable some day, I just hope it will be a really long time before I’m mistaken for the parent of a college student again.

Beth Rasin

The Chronicle staff is always having adventures of one sort or another when we're out traveling to bring you horse sport news coverage from around the world. In the Chronicle staff blog, we take the opportunity to share some of the more interesting behind-the-scenes stories of an equestrian journalist on assignment that you won't find in the magazine.