Wednesday, Apr. 15
EDITORIAL: Riding side-saddle into the future
Given the crazed loyalties for “our” professional football team you’d think the buzz this weekend would have been about the governor’s plan to build a football stadium for the Redskins in Loudoun County.
Not at the Loudoun Hunt’s Point-to-Point Races at Leesburg’s historic Oatlands.
There the question was: “How can you possible stay on a horse while riding, racing and jumping side-saddle?”
The riders in two exhibition races made it look easy. They rode elegantly through the hilly, steeplechase course on the Oatlands grounds, posture perfect, hardly a ruffle out of place on skirts draped daringly over the left side of their steeds. They set a course, controlled the race, and but for a few uncomfortable bounces, defied gravity.
The all-women race was the first of its kind in the U.S. since the 1930s. To some, it was a revival of a long-lost sport celebrating feminine skill and elegance. To others, it was a nostalgic side-show straddled and jumped by the modern-day athletic achievement of women equestrians and athletes.
But for the thousands who lined the rails along the Oatlands course, it was simply a special Loudoun moment. “Where else can you see this?” asked one excited spectator, snapping photos and sipping wine in the tent outside the Oatlands Mansion where the winners received their ribbons and 6-year-old Hayley Rees posed proudly, side-saddle, on her pony.
The Loudoun Hunt has been staging its Point-to-Point races for 49 years now, and the event shows no signs of becoming an anachronism. Millennials in funky sunglasses, colorful garb – or an ordinary pair of jeans – mixed and mingled with the horse-and-hound set dressed in their hats and classic Virginia finery. They moved from tailgate to tailgate along the rail, sampling Virginia ham-biscuits catered for the occasion, or a box of Kentucky Fried Chicken acquired on the ride in. Shared by all, Loudoun County wine was a staple at everyone’s tailgate.
It was the mix of people that made the event so interesting, so social, so universally appealing. “The best day for Oatlands in 20 years," said Michael O’Connor, the chair of Oatlands board.
“The best day” warrants more than temporal fulfillment, but an outlook for the future. Time moves so swiftly in Loudoun County that it is hard to appreciate our heritage and know where it leads. Preservation or development? Year after year, the county evolves as the question lingers.
From the rail along the racecourse, you can watch the riders and their horses traverse the hills and the landscape among the trees. At one point they disappear near a valley where the roofs of step-and-repeat houses plot a course toward Oatlands.
Who comes next to the race?
Perhaps there’s a better way to ask the question: “How can you possible stay on a horse while riding, racing and jumping side-saddle?”
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