The Youngkins Celebrate the Spirit of the Horse in Upperville

Article by Melinda Gipson

Photography by Melinda Gipson, Christian Martinez

Originally published in Leesburg Lifestyle

Here, in the dappled light of the winner’s circle at the 169th Upperville Colt & Horse Show, on a blazingly beautiful day in June, they aren’t His Honor the Virginia Governor and First Lady Mr. and Mrs.Youngkin; they’re just Glenn and Suzie. But the day is no less momentous because the Youngkin's are recognizable “horse people” – she is the Director Emeritus of Meadowkirk at Delta Farm Retreat Center in Middleburg, founder of Normandy Farm LLC, an equine training center in Great Falls, and even a former competitor in the Upperville show ring.

No, this day is exceedingly rare. For, it turns out that, for a place where memories run as deep as the rings on the stately oaks that line the Grafton Show Ring, nobody can ever remember a sitting governor attending the event.

They’ve come to pay tribute to Upperville as the oldest horse show in the nation, to recognize local citizens for making it the iconic international draw that it has become, and, in the First Lady’s case, to inaugurate a new trophy, the “Spirit of the Horse Award,” to recognize a woman and resident of Virginia who “demonstrates exceptional service or dedication to, or promotion of, the equine industry.” The award will be given annually at the Upperville Colt & Horse Show, “in celebration of Virginia’s robust agriculture and equine industry.” The award included an engraved bowl, a gift certificate to a Virginia Governor’s Cup award-winning winery, a reception for family and friends and a $1,000 donation to an equine charity of choice. UCHS leadership will partner with the governor “to help identify and champion unsung heroes and celebrate the fact that Virginia is for horse lovers.”

This year’s recipient is herself a local icon, Dorothy “Punkin” Lee, chosen for her more than 30 years of volunteer service in helping run the show and serving as a board member. A Middleburg native, she says she can’t remember summers without the show playing a prominent role in her childhood. “This award was quite the honor,” said Lee, who says she was totally surprised by the award, “But it is really everyone working together that makes this show what it is. We are not one of the cookie-cutter shows—we’re a community show with international participation, run by the community.”  Lee plans to give the donation to a local therapeutic riding organization.

Chatting afterward, Suzanne shed light on why she said to her husband in his opening remarks on “the competition of which we do not speak,” in which she competed a decade ago. She recalls, “I was here with my off-the-track thoroughbred... I had someone train him and he was a good boy. But we got into the ring and there are like 35 horses, and he was a nightmare. He’s hopping around kicking out, pinning his ears back, unlike the docile, lovely animal he was. He went Hollywood!... I’m on this misbehaving horse thinking, ‘isn’t this fun?’ I’m really angry so I went over to the warm-up ring and rode him for 45 minutes until he literally had his nose on the ground and he was the quietest animal again. Isn’t that so typical?”

Not for those who haven’t experienced it, but we stand on notice that the First Lady is not someone who backs down from a challenge. Together, they look like they could take on the world. With gracious smiles, engaged intellects – and comfortable boots – they might be at home anywhere.

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