The annual Spring Foxfield Races slated for Saturday, April 27, attracts not just regional horse owners, but those from surrounding states as well. So this is a perfect time to focus on both the tradition of Central Virginia steeplechase races and the increasing demand for equestrian properties.”
“It’s thrilling to watch the horses at Foxfield,” declares at Foxfield,” declares REALTOR® Pam Dent of Gayle Harvey Real Estate, Inc. “They have a wonderful inbred joy to run.” Dent moved to Charlottesville when she was a child and explored the area on horseback, coming to deeply appreciate this part of the world as a wonderful locale for horse properties. She has since raised her two daughters in her Albemarle County country home complete with dogs and ponies.
“The Foxfield Races are popular for a variety of people,” she continues. “There are studes wo go to party and maybe never see a horse running. There are horse lovers who love the social aspect of bringing friends and lots of food and watching every single race. Many people are very knowledgeable about horses and are very serious.” She explains that there are 5-7 races a day, some “on the flat” and others with hurdles.
The site of the Foxfield Races was once Charlottesville’s local airport and the hangar is still there. For the past three decades, however, this has been home to steeplechase and is recognized by the national Steeplechase Association for maintain an excellent equine course. The term “steeplechase” dates back about 200 years to the days when riders racing cross-country navigated from town to town by slighting on church steeples.
John Ince, an associate broker at Charlottesville’s Nest Realty, is a long-time “horse person” and Foxfield fan. He hastens to say the Montpelier Races each November are equally prestigious. “Both are major steeplechase tour races with top riders,” he says. “The Montpelier Races are in a magnificent setting and visitors really enjoy the paddocks.” The track is adjacent to Montpelier, James Madison’s handsome historical Orange County estate, which has recently been restored to its colonial elegance.
“This is fox-hunting country, too,” adds Pam Dent. “In Albemarle, the Keswick Hunt reaches into the Rapidan area of Orange County. The Farmington Hunt is west of Charlottesville with kennels in Free Union. There are also hunts in Madison and Nelson Counties, as well as in most of the rural areas of Virginia.” She says these hunts are very careful to keep good relations with their neighbors and always have landowners’ permission to be on their properties.
Horse Properties Popular
“The area around Charlottesville has a long history of horse keeping and breeding back to the seventeenth century,” says Janet Matthews, founder of Charlottesville Town and Country Homes. Matthews has ridden all her life and bred and raised both thoroughbreds and A-show ponies. She ticks off a number of reasons why this is perfect horse country: our mild climate, our central location on the Atlantic seaboard between New York and Florida, and the many equine disciplines practiced in the area including dressage, polo, hunting, steeplechase and other racing. “There are hundreds of different horse shows,” she adds, “from ‘A’ shows to backyard shows. There’s something for everyone.”
She emphasizes that a good equine support network is crucial and this area definitely has one. “We have an amazing army of veterinary services,” she says, pointing out that the U.S. Olympic team’s vet is headquartered in Orange.
“Our area in Central Virginia is probably one of the top five horse regions in the country,” chimes in Montpelier Races-supporter Ince who spent ten years of training, breeding and showing Arabian horses before embarking on his real estate career. He agrees with Matthews’s assessment of the support system. “There are Olympic quality trainers and breeders, excellent farriers and a great number of equine vets,” he says. “You couldn’t ask for better. They cover for each other and even make middle-of-the-night house calls like old country doctors.”
There are many purveyors of feed and tack as well. “One interesting place is Crawford Saddlery in Ruckersville,” Ince continues. “It’s a great tack shop—half is Western and the other half is traditional English tack. They have everything for show riders, trail riders and pleasure riders.” The Dover Saddlery in Charlottesville’s Seminole Square is another source for tack.
Not only is the area great for horses, it’s great for horse lovers. There are dozens of inviting trails and many hunts, races and horse shows. Our mild summers prompt some horse owners from Florida and other deep Southern states to bring their animals here during the seasonal heat. Since there are so many hunts in our area, a number of horse owners purchase a second property in this area to pasture their horses during the hunt season. All these activities make a very positive contribution to Virginia’s economy. A major study, completed in 2011 by UVa’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, showed the commonwealth’s horse industry has an economic impact of well over one billion dollars annually.
Is it Hard to Find the “Perfect” Property?
The basic requirement for keeping a horse generally includes a minimum of two acres and it’s better to have enough land to maintain the grass by rotating pasture usage. Other necessities are secure fencing and protection for animals from the weather such as a barn or at least a run-in shed.
Ince of Nest Realty lives on a small horse farm in Barboursville himself. “It’s not hard to match people to properties,” he says. “There are always ‘turn-key’ listings in Albemarle and the six surrounding countries. Ready to move your horses today.” The closer to Charlottesville a property is, he notes, the more expensive it is likely to be. “The important thing is how comfortable horses will be.”
He recommends purchasing an established property or something well suited to turning into a horse farm. “It’s better value-wise to find a property with existing fences and horse shelters because improvements depreciate more rapidly than houses.” An added bonus is, when moving into an established property, you don’t have to board your animals while improvements are made with the almost inevitable delays.
Finding a horse property is considerably more complicated than simply buying a house, Dent with Gayle Harvey Real Estate points out. For one thing, different counties may have varying requirements for keeping horses and those requirements can change from time to time. In other cases, there may be restrictions or easements on the land itself. In addition, some people want a state-of-the-art riding ring, tack rooms and hay storage. Others seek a certain kind of fencing or want natural water or level land or a specific school district.
An interesting thing Dent has found time after time, she says, is that buyers want to see the land and horse facilities first. “If all of that suits, then they’ll see the house,” she says, adding, “In fact, if the house isn’t quite what they want, most people will just make the best of it to get what they want for their horses.”
“It’s important to consider how will your horses live,” she continues. “Do you want show horses in stalls who are just turned out briefly or animals who will be out all the time?” Other things to consider: the quality of nourishment from grass or feed, how many horses the property can support. Do your ride in a ring or cross-country? In some cases, she says, you could have a smaller farm if you have permission from neighbors where everyone knows everyone. In other cases you’d be limited to trails or your own property.
Some developments in the region are specifically designed as equine properties. Matthews of Charlottesville Town and Country Homes cites Glenmore-once a famed horse farm, and now home to an on-site equestrian center with a boarding barn, training arena and professional show ring—as a good example. “The Farms at Turkey Run is also a development well-suited to horses,” she says. A number of properties in Keswick have direct access to community riding trails and lots up to 12 acres.
An interesting sidelight is that it’s not just horse people seeking horse properties. Perhaps they have llamas or alpacas or a couple of ponies or maybe they just want the space. Whatever their motivation, whether buyers are seeking a property just large enough for a pony or two or a professional operation with stables, rings, and spacious pastures, Central Virginia is prime horse country. By Marilyn Pribus