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Sport: Mane Attraction

Bill Whitman

It takes only a short stroll along Middleburg’s leafy streets to confirm that you have arrived in one of America’s equestrian capitals. Washington Street, the main road of this 18th-century Virginia village, is lined with shops dense with the scent of fine leather from boots, saddles, and riding gear. Other shops, such as the Finicky Filly, feature ascots, club ties, tweed jackets, and everything you would need to suit up for the next point-to-point race.

A twisty road from Middleburg will lead you past white-fenced farms, riding rings, and imposing manor houses on your way to the Goodstone Inn & Estate, a secluded retreat that embodies the legendary refinement of Virginia’s hunt country. Goodstone’s main lodge is, in fact, a converted carriage house, in which hardwood floors reflect the fire’s glow and guests can relax on chintz couches while gazing out at the Virginia woodlands. The two wings extending from the Carriage House are Goodstone’s former stables, which have been converted into three suites, each decorated in English style, brightened by the gleam of burnished wood and sprays of wildflowers, and furnished with four-poster beds. On the paneling in the Stallion Suite, once a stall, you will find hoof marks that were left by a previous (and definitely unruly) occupant.

Seekers of even more solitude can settle into one of Goodstone’s three outlying cottages, including the French Farm Cottage, a three-bedroom rustic retreat with beamed ceilings and thick stone walls paneled with century-old wood rescued from a local barn.

The handsome red building across from the Farm Cottage brims with creature comforts, but those creatures stand on four, not two, legs. This is, after all, horse country. "Around here equestrian sports go on all year," says Goodstone manager Chris Crane. "The opportunities for riding, fox hunting, and jumping are endless." If you bring your own steed, it can stay in one of Goodstone’s 14 stables. Whether you are traveling with your own horse or renting a mount from one of the nearby farms—Goodstone will handle all of the arrangements for you—your horseback adventure might include a ride through Goodstone’s 265 acres of woodlands and upland meadows. There you can enjoy a spectacular view of the Blue Ridge from the saddle.

Always an American fox hunting capital, Middleburg now attracts a growing number of European riders and hunters. If your skills are above average and you would like to join them, Crane will arrange for you to ride with the exclusive Middleburg or Piedmont hunts. If you are game for even more extreme equestrian pursuits, consider saddling up for one of Middleburg’s many steeplechases or jumping competitions.

For more sedentary options, visit nearby Great Meadow, a vast open turf that offers extensive programs of summertime polo matches and year-round horse shows with some of the world’s top riders. Twice a year, Great Meadow becomes the Super Bowl of the steeplechasing world when it hosts the Virginia Gold Cup and International Gold Cup competitions.

Even nonriders can enjoy the ultimate in horse-watching by settling in at Goodstone’s pool, cocktail in hand, to view local hunt clubs riding after hounds through the adjoining meadow. Because this is Middleburg, be sure to request that julep in a stirrup cup.

The Goodstone Inn & Estate, 540.687.4645, www.goodstone.com

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