City Lifestyle

Want to start a publication?

Learn More
Taylor Exhibits Blue-Ribbon Form

Featured Article

Forever Friends, Under the Oaks

Riding Into the Inner Circle in Upperville

Sometimes, with special groups of people who are surrounded with traditions and protocols, it helps to have an introduction. For the Upperville Colt and Horse Show(UCHS) – the oldest horse show in the U.S., dating to 1853 – our introduction came from Anna Connors and the Connors Coverage Group an insurance agency specializing in insuring Equestrian Operations and horse properties.

Anna discovered her love for horses when her seven-year-old daughter Sophie began taking riding lessons. She quickly realized there was a need in the market for insurance agencies specializing in Equestrian operations. Already a multi-line insurance specialist in property, casualty and personal lines, she quickly adapted her company’s already extensive packages to serve horse properties, and now specializes in all forms of equestrian operations – everything from riding stables, training facilities, breeding farms and horse properties to educational facilities like Equus Can Educate. She’s particularly proud of her ability to offer professional equestrian liability for horse trainers.

Horses are valuable of course, but she is more concerned with the liability of the horse owner for what can go wrong if their animals are involved in an accident with a person. “I really do it because it’s a passion for me to help others. Protecting their property for horse people is protecting their way of life. I’m here to provide them the proper insurance coverages to give them the peace of mind they deserve so that they can sleep well at night."

As the membership coordinator at the Loudoun County Equine Alliance, she also advocates for horse owners in the area. LCEA recently negotiated member access to trails at Oatlands and helps to make sure that economic development in the county takes into account the needs of horse owners. The association also helps train first responders and veterinarians how to help horses in emergencies. (See https://bit.ly/LCEA911 for this month's session.) It’s that kind of personal dedication to the welfare of her clients that has earned her two recent achievement awards.

The best reward? The smile on her daughter’s face as she rides in her first “leadline” competition at Upperville. 

The Ultimate Horseman

Joseph Halpin “Joe” Fargis IV is most famous as an individual and team gold medalist in showjumping at the 1984 Summer Olympics, where he and his mare Touch of Class set an Olympic record for clearing 90 of 91 hurdles. He then took a showjumping team silver at the 1988 Summer games. Amid countless triumphs, he broke his leg and was fitted with around 18 pins and screws, which he said bothered him so he had them removed.

To hear him tell it, all his riding prizes and honors are “behind me. That’s history.” All he’s ever wanted to be considered is a horseman. He fell in love with horses and with riding in second grade and "that was it." That he gets to travel the world and help train other horses and riders is just a bonus.

He owns a horse farm three miles from Upperville's center ring, and serves as president of the UCHS board of directors because, he says, what happens there is rare. “It’s not mass produced or a big corporate business. It’s a one-week community event that involves everyone in town to make it work.” More than 1500 numbered entries and dozens of classes daily for a week require a high degree of coordination, even without the uncertainty of COVID.

It may well have been the absence of the event in 2020 that reinforced the extraordinary nature of the Upperville show and its centrality to the horse world. During the off-year, Dr. Betsee Parker donated to enhance the footing of the central horse ring, to make its competitive footing state-of-the-art. The ring now bears her name – the first national level ring named for a woman – as a testimony not only to her generosity but her sportsmanship. The rider of the only junior horse in the history of the show to score 100 in the ring, she established the “Way Cool Scored 100” Trophy for junior hunters.

Another of Joe’s friends, Catherine Brown, heads a committee working on a capital campaign called “Jumping into the Future” geared to ensure the historic Grafton Farm Show Grounds remains host to the show for the next 170 years. She is most concerned about preserving the iconic oak canopy for future generations. Several of the oaks that were alive when the Declaration of Independence was signed have already needed to be replaced.

It's all worth it because, as Joe puts it, “Horses are the most beautiful, giving, loving creatures on the planet. They do whatever people want them to do. They go to war. They take these incredible jumps. We ask them to do a three-day event, and they comply. They’re police horses and work horses. They are simply marvelous, marvelous animals.”

Meet the DeVaux Farm Family

It’s like in the fairy tales, all little girls love ponies,” says Jenna Barbe the trainer at DeVaux Farms in Berryville, to explain why she became a horse trainer. The farm’s brand promise is, “Building confidence, trust and relationships.” Sometimes those relationships are with horses, but they also serve to forge a unique “farm family” where everyone feels like a member of a team supporting each others’ goal to be better horsewomen or horsemen.

“Typically, someone decides they really like horses and has an interest in riding, and then they figure out whether they want to be on the competing side of it, or just pleasure riding for fun,” she explains. “Those who want to compete in it as a sport really stick with it. But it’s a really big commitment because it takes a lot of time and practice. You’re not working with just yourself or even other people; you’re also dealing with the personality of an animal, which can be challenging,” Jenna says.

Beatrice Lynch, 10, (“call me Bea”) has a horse with a challenging personality, but she’s learned to be patient. “We had a stable near us and I took a couple of lessons and I must have loved it.” She may not recall, as she’s been riding since she was three. 

Jenna laughs and says that her son who is 17-months-old would be “competing” in the horse Leadline class for ages 1-3. “At that age it's more about familiarization with the animal and comfort around them – just working on balance and such. They’re not really learning a lot besides how to care for the animal.” But the one thing it dispels is fear.

Jenna also has been riding since she was three. After graduating college in 2006, she and her mom started their business helping to train riders, beginning with small children, and often staying with them through college. "It’s exciting to watch them grow. Girls like Lauren Rock (now 17, who has been riding for 11 years) I've known since they were very young.” She enjoys not just their progress as riders but, “I like watching them grow as people. They have to overcome a lot of challenges and frustrating things in the sport and it's really cool to watch them do it.”

Sarah Lynch, Bea’s mom, says that the earlier kids start to ride, the slower the progress may seem early on. “You train and you train and you train and then, all of a sudden, they're doing something you never imagined them doing. They’re posting or trotting and then cantering and before you know it they're jumping and competing.” 

Generally speaking, Jenna says kids aged 4-6 start getting comfortable with horses then at 8-10 they develop the ability to ride and compete. At Upperville Colt and Horse Show this year, the DeVaux girls entered several events. Among them, Bea rode North Winds Midnight Dream in the medium pony local pony hunters’ class. Jordan Schneider rode her pony, One in a Million, in the Local Large Pony class. Addison Beliveau (“call me Addie”) rides Good Time Charlie in the Children’s Hunters’ class, along with Lauren Rock on Limelight and Taylor Beliveau on Red Velvet (a.k.a. Anna). Ashley Moran rides Fox Creek’s Chorus Doll (Dolly) in the Small Pony, Local Pony Hunters’ class.

What they like most about competing was summed up by Ashley Moran, “It's just kind of a thrill getting to ride your pony, and when you're riding it feels like you're in another world almost. You're beside yourself, looking in from the outside.” 

Taylor adds, “This is all about training your horse, and your horse training you. It’s all about teamwork. If your horse isn't getting the correct signals from you – if the communication isn't there -- it's not going to go so well.'

Beginning riders start with a horse that’s easy going. If you ride them for a while and like them, then leasing or buying them is an option. Highly trained horses are more expensive, so typically, it works exactly how Taylor suggests – the rider and the horse learn and train each other over time.

It’s the unexpected – wins and losses – that provide the air of expectation and excitement around each event. Lauren says, “Every time you walk in the ring, you're going to have something else thrown at you, so it's always a surprise. But you work and you learn and, what can I say? It’s just always a surprise.”

Kristin Rock, Lauren’s mom adds, “They work really hard. Sometimes the reward is big, sometimes it's small but it definitely teaches them to be resilient. You can have the most fantastic day but your horse can't deal with it, or something else happens outside of your control like a loud noise -- a car could backfire as you're approaching a jump and your horse gets distracted -- and there goes that class." Addie exclaims, “But when you’ve done the work and it pays off, even in the rain or when something goes wrong, it’s a good feeling because you know that you’re getting somewhere.”  

Jordan says, “I don't think our friends at school understand how much work we put in with our horses. They think, ‘oh you go in the ring and like it's easy,’ but it's really not. You have to be very organized with your horse and very disciplined. The ultimate goal of all that is to make it look easy and effortless."

They all compete in several shows a month through the Virginia Horse Shows Association, but nothing compares with Upperville, one of the oldest and grandest shows in America. Kristen says, “It’s always a joy to compete here and be part of the tradition. Riders dream of being at Upperville and travel from other states and even other countries, but these girls are lucky enough to be here every year, just a short drive from the action."

Where to Ride

  • Sophie Connors Ready For Her First Competition
  • The DeVaux Farm Family
  • Jenna and Her Horse
  • Taylor Exhibits Blue-Ribbon Form
  • And the Horses Love Their People
  • Taylor After a Blue Ribbon Performance
  • Bea Polishing Saddles
  • Joe and Barbara Planning the Next 170 Years
  • Oak Saplings To Ensure The Future Under The Oaks
  • Ashley Moran Earns Reserve Champion Honors On Fox Creek Chorus Doll (Dolly)