Tuesday, May. 21, 2024

The Upperville Colt & Horse Show

Compiled by Jackie Burke

The Upperville Colt & Horse Show
Details of the earliest Upperville Colt & Horse Show, first held in 1853, are lost in the mists of time. Accounts even vary between the 1857 and 1859 publications of The Southern Planter. All agree, however, that the show, which celebrates its 154th birthday this year, is the oldest in the country, that the founder was Richard Henry Dulany, and that this and every year’s show is held on the same sylvan glade in Upperville, Va., selected by Dulany.


Compiled by Jackie Burke

The Upperville Colt & Horse Show
Details of the earliest Upperville Colt & Horse Show, first held in 1853, are lost in the mists of time. Accounts even vary between the 1857 and 1859 publications of The Southern Planter. All agree, however, that the show, which celebrates its 154th birthday this year, is the oldest in the country, that the founder was Richard Henry Dulany, and that this and every year’s show is held on the same sylvan glade in Upperville, Va., selected by Dulany.

The Chronicle, founded on Sept. 1, 1937, missed covering the show that first year, but provided a colorful report of the Trinity Show held on the same show grounds.

Since 1938, though, the Chronicle has provided an accurate report of the show, written as the proverbial dust settled from the last horse on course (the show is held on grass rings). It’s this sort of coverage that has earned the Chronicle the right to proclaim itself the newspaper of record for the annual Upperville Colt & Horse Show.

Early Upperville Shows
June 5, 1953 (The Southern Planter, August 1857, Vol. XVII, p. 508)
The duties of the harvest field prevented us from attending the late exhibition of the above club [The Upperville Union Club for the Improvement of Horses], which took place, for the second time, on the 15th of June last.

[The club’s] object, which the title of their association sufficiently expresses, is a very laudable one; and no locality offers a fairer field for its accomplishment than the counties of Fauquier and Loudoun. They have fine stock there; taken as a whole, perhaps, the best in the State, and better than can be found anywhere else except in Kentucky.

To one thing we would beg leave particularly to direct their attention, the improvement of saddle horses. The large infusion of the Sir Archie blood into the racing stock of Virginia made sad work of saddle horses; the Eclipse cross, as in Boston, made matters still worse; and the blood horse now is considered unfit to ride. [I believe that these horses trotted and did not have a natural pace. Back then the desired saddle horse had a smooth pacing gait.]

Upperville Union Colt Club
(The Southern Planter, August 1859, Vol. XIX, p. 477)
The annual exhibition of the Upperville Union Colt Club came off on the 16th instant. Upperville, as you may probably know, is a village, beautifully situated among the green hills of Loudoun County and Fauquier, just at the foot of the Blue Ridge and in a section equally noted for its fertility of soil and beauty of scenery.

The hobby of the country is the horse, the love of which is a passion with this people. Old and young, rich and poor, white and black, have a ga-lau-gish look when in the saddle or handling the ribbons, and as a consequence, every thing with hair on it is made to move. It is thought by some that the children are born with spurs on their heels, and all the colts come as “natural pacers.”

For many years past much attention has been bestowed on breeding horses for the saddle, and such a commingling of pure riding blood was never known in any other country. Hiatoga, Robroy, Saltram, Tom, and Tom Telegraph hold place in affection of the people, and each is highly esteemed by his friends. It is a wonder that the product of such moving crosses ever stand still enough to get a saddle on.


Of late the attention of the horse breeders of this section has been divided between the saddle and quick draft horse, and the introduction of the Black Hawk, Messenger, Madison, Hunter, Cleveland, and Moss Grey. If in light draught you seek high style, great beauty, and perfect grace, here you find it in full perfection.
I predict that the influence of this Colt Club will be impressed upon the character of the horse throughout the State, and that these shows will become marts for the sale of fine horses. There were upwards of 80 entries in different classes, and the Club on this occasion distributed about $500 in premiums.

The History Of The Upperville Colt & Horse Show
1999 Upperville Horse Show Program
The Upperville Colt & Horse Show, grand-pere and a grand peer of the nation’s horse shows, dates back to 1853. Heretofore, horses, particularly stallions, had been exhibited for prizes at country and state fairs, but it is believed and accepted that the horse show, as a separate entity, was introduced on the American sporting scene at Upperville in that year.

There is no available documentation of the 1853 show. However, Col. Richard Henry Dulany, of Welbourne, its organizer, and head until his death in 1906, apparently spoke of its origin a number of times.

[The story goes] after a discussion with neighboring planters, a summer show—and premiums—was decided upon. The exhibition was scheduled for June in the oak grove at Number Six (Grafton), a centrally located Dulany property on the Turnpike about 2 miles east of Upperville.

The program of the 1853 show listed two classes—one for colts, the other for fillies.

Prior to the date of this first Upperville Horse Show, Mr. Dulany went to Manhattan to consult with silversmith Louis Tiffany as to suitable trophies. Tiffany was much in accord with this Virginia gentleman’s undertaking (and no doubt had enough foresight to see this type of sporting event as a future lucrative market for his business), and he graciously offered to donate the craftsmanship of the trophies, with Mr. Dulany charged only for the cost of the silver.

Upperville Colt & Horse Show, The First 150 Years
2003 Upperville Colt & Horse Show Program 150th Anniversary Edition
They came in buggies, carriages, and farm wagons. Others came riding astride and more than a few of them led their favorite young workhorse. They came from all over Fauquier and Loudoun County in large numbers. Under the shade of the old oak trees the ladies spread their blankets and set up make shift tables, preparing picnics. The day was warm, mid-June 1853, and the turnpike that passed just beyond the oak grove was dusty.

Bolstered by the success [of that first show] Richard Henry Dulany and a friend, Robert Carter, toured the New England fairs and shipped a Morgan stallion of the Black Hawk line to Upperville. In the fall of 1856 a four-year-old Cleveland Bay Stallion, Scrivington, was imported from England. Both stallions stood at stud, free of charge to area farmers.

Upperville was to become an important social, as well as a sporting event. The Fauquier Democrat reported crowds as large as ten thousand in the 1930s. Family reunions and picnics were regularly scheduled with everyone gathered under a favorite tree. Dignitaries and diplomats from Washington D.C. and abroad traveled to Grafton to see the finest horses Fauquier and Loudoun Counties had to offer.

Rapid expansion of the horse show facilities began according to the existing minute book of 1894. The grandstand was moved to its current location and enclosed in 1901.


Raconteur Receives 3-year-old Honors At Upperville Show
June 20, 1947
The oldest Horse Show went ahead on schedule, June 13 and 14 with the first day interspersed with showers while the 2nd day, spectators, exhibitors, judges and horses splashed around in mud as it rained steadily all day. The show was well attended and the fact that one had to be pulled into the show grounds by tractor or jeep and leave by the same route didn’t faze anyone.

If one wishes to see top breeding classes, go to the Upperville Colt and Horse Show. While half-bred classes were very well filled, breeding judge Janon Fisher said that the Thoroughbred classes on Saturday were the best he had judged. Skimming down the bloodlines listed which would be outstanding at any yearling sale and many of the yearlings at the show will be at the Saratoga Summer Sales come August.

Upperville Horse Show
Toni Brewer
June 21, 1957

The Upperville Horse Show must have caught Mother Nature off guard this year, for rain and cold prevailed over only one of the three days during which the show celebrated its 104th birthday. It is doubtful, however, that even a blizzard could keep exhibitors from Upperville, which is renowned as not only the oldest, but also one of the best shows in the United States.

It seemed, as the championship points were tabulated, that the victorious all had double winners. Mr. John Pettibone’s Hapgood [winner of green conformation and three-year-old championships] seems to be having no trouble following in the hoofprints of his famous stablemate, Duke of Paeonian. “The Duke”, however, had the coveted honor of taking the beautiful Founder’s Cup.

Spectator interest hit its peak when the $150 high jumping stake took place. By gradual elimination the contest was whittled down to Donald Snellings on Remodel, Cappy Smith on Magic Power, and Kathy Kusner (she won the Ladies’ Race at Rappahannock) on Freckles. On his second attempt, Snellings cleared the jump, now a formidable 6 feet 2 inches. Kathy and Cappy were nip and tuck, so reserve was left to a flip of the coin.

Upperville Colt & Horse Show
Jerry Helder
July 7, 1967

Back in 1853 when Col. Richard Henry Dulany inaugurated the first horse show in the sylvan, picturesque setting outside of Upperville, he had probably never even heard of an open jumper. At any rate it would be a long-shot bet that he ever dreamed that there ever would be an open jumper division there. But this year, the 114th show, there they were.

Oh, there was, a few years back, a class for jumpers. A high jump class or skyscraper class, whichever you prefer to call it. But it was not a full division. As a matter of fact, it was here that Kathy Kusner set a ladies’ high jump record of over 7 feet riding Mrs. A. C. Randolph’s High Noon jumping off with Wally Holly and a little grey mare named Freckles. [Jumper champion was Up Tight, owned by Mr. and Mrs. Harry Gill. ]

Upperville Colt & Horse Show
Penny Pearson
June 24, 1977

The Upperville Show, held June 6 through 12, included ponies and junior exhibitors and was truly an exhibitors’ show with close to 900 horses present.

Twelve exhibitors appeared to contest the hunter classic, which many observers thought the most exciting of the show…with four judges, a numerical judging system and two rounds, the second over a raised course. In the first round, the highest score was posted by Stocking Stuffer, owned by Mr. & Mrs. August A. Busch, with a 94.5. With the course raised, Stocking Stuffer put in another brilliant round.

Charlie Weaver, rider of Stocking Stuffer, said that the Upperville Hunter Classic was the most demanding in the country with the fences at a good 4’6″ to 4’9″. He said that the most difficult effort on the course was the in-and-out (two large square oxers set 27 feet apart).

Jackie Burke




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