Loudoun remains the beating heart of Virginia’s hunt country with more than 15,000 horses in residence, more than any other county in the Commonwealth. The reasons are many – it’s an affluent area close enough to D.C. to benefit from both true enthusiasts like Jacqueline Kennedy and mere hobbyists with the means to dabble. More importantly, the history of horse farming in the region is as old as the Republic, and a handful of locals have made it the family business for nearly that long.
Debbie Meighan, one such enthusiast, bought a 10-acre horse farm in Leesburg in 2004 so her daughter could grow up around horses, and now sits on the board of the Loudoun County Equine Alliance. She is such a passionate horse woman that those who know her well are surprised to learn that she doesn’t come from an equestrian family. “My parents didn’t ride and we weren’t wealthy, to be honest. My grandfather used to exercise thoroughbred race horses though, so maybe it’s in my blood!”
As virtually any “horse person” could relate, she doesn’t remember that the first time she set eyes on a horse as a child she was intrigued by them. When she finally had the chance to touch and smell one – “I fell in love and just wanted to be part of that world more than anything.”
Raised in Danbury, Connecticut, she worked on a horse farm to pay for riding lessons. After moving to Virginia and marrying a home builder, she at last had the means to realize her dream of owning horses along with the ideal place to raise them. Her daughter who shared her love of the animals became an accomplished rider. “We had a great time, and she even bred her own pony. We did many things together that we never would have if we hadn’t had our own place,” Debbie says.
Her own farm has a five-stall barn with a tack room, wash rack and training ring, demonstrating that horse ownership doesn’t always demand estate-level acreage, but it does take commitment. Debbie explains, “I love my dogs, trust me, but there is something so special about being near a horse and taking care of it yourself – it’s a very special relationship and having a horse farm helps to deepen that connection in many ways.” Horses don’t care when you’re sick or if there’s a snowstorm and the trough is frozen – they need your full attention. “I remember fighting my way to the barn during Snowmageddon when the drifts were up over my hips,” Debbie recalls. “If you’re buying a horse farm, you need to be prepared that it’s a true lifestyle choice, not a pastime.”
For the last several years, her own passion for horses has been channeled into helping others live the life she and her family enjoyed as a Realtor with Washington Fine Properties. Last year Debbie sold 13 horse properties, worth more than $19 million, so she’s clearly expert in the process. “Purchasing a horse property is a process that can take some time, so it is only the most determined buyers, only the most motivated and committed buyers, who are going to be successful,” she says. She says there is always availability for the determined buyer, but cautions that preparation is key because the competition is so stiff that a property may come on the market on a Thursday and the owner is reviewing offers by Sunday. Fortunately, Debbie often is made aware, long before a listing occurs, when horse farms of various sizes and price points may be headed to market.
Debbie’s advice to the would-be buyer: Step one: Align yourself with a realtor experienced in horse properties. Her horse community roots coupled with experience in helping both buyers and sellers through the process are key. But Debbie also points to her own strong work ethic as one of the keys to her success in facilitating horse farm ownership.
Step two: The devil is in the details. Are the farm’s fences and gates properly tended? Is the arena well weeded and the surface properly prepared? Is the floor in the horse barn level and fitted properly with rubber matting? How recently were the stalls refinished? What are the contours of the property – is it gentle and rolling? How much of it is open pasture and how much of it is wooded? Do streams or ponds bisect the useable pasture? How many horses can it accommodate? Are there any restrictions on the land use such as conservation easements or rights of way that could impact how many horses could be boarded? Those are just some of the questions that can help the buyer make the right deal.
Step three: Find the right lender. Here, Debbie’s YouTube conversations with Steve of the Bank of Charles Town and Matt Donnelly from PNC Bank are highly instructive. BCT is more inclined to view a farm, even one with large acreage, as residential instead of commercial, so long as the owner lives on the property as his or her primary residence. Both BCT and PNC Bank retain their own portfolio of properties, which allow them to write their own rules on qualifying buyers. PNC doesn’t have an acreage limit on financing a horse farm, so long as it can get comparable prices for an appraisal, and has a High Net Worth program that can offer “significant savings.”
To contact Debbie and explore your options, call Debbie at 571-439-4027, email her at Debbie.firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on YouTube: @debbiemeighanrealestate, Instagram: @debbiemeighanrealtor or Facebook: @debbiemeighan.
Virginia’s Point-to-Point racing season kicks off March 7 with the Rappahannock Hunt and continues with events every weekend through the end of April. The Loudoun Hunt point-to-point season starts April 18, http://www.loudounhunt.com/point-to-point-races.html.