Where: Warrenton, Va.
Why: Down-home ponies and upscale hogs.
How Far: About 50 miles, or one hour and 15 minutes from Arlington.
I knew Virginia was for lovers. (I think it's all the wine.) But it's also serious horse country. Some trainers and riders live and work far closer to the Beltway than you might suspect. For a slightly horse-shy city girl like myself, that proximity means equine adventures can be had without saddling up or straying too far from home.
Where to start? The Warrenton Pony Show, which takes place Wednesday through July 3, seems a perfect pick. The century-old competition is simple yet charming, and you can get close to all the action as you sit outdoors on wooden bleachers and watch ponies of different breeds compete in classes for jumpers and hunters. It's the only A-rated (that is, nationally recognized) show put on by junior and amateur riders, so you'll see kids as young as 3 caring for the small horses and helping run the event. During the week, there's plenty of jumps to see, but try Saturday for some stiff competition, as ponies and riders from all over the country vie for championship ribbons. July 3 features a full-size horse competition, kids parading on ponies and a chance to see Irish-bred Connemara ponies -- the largest breed, known for its jumping ability. Though admission is free, spectators can bid on goods donated by local merchants at a silent auction: Proceeds go to the Fauquier SPCA.
Along the way to Warrenton, look for the retro sign that marks Merrifield's Wonder Bread Thrift Store. Inside you'll find a plethora of carbo-loaded goods -- at discounted prices -- from Hostess cupcakes to the spongy white bread itself. Then continue your tour of Americana at Patriot Harley-Davidson in Fairfax. You don't have to be a prospective owner to browse the hogs out front or check out the cool riding apparel and boots. Of course, after a look at the best . . . who knows? (Financing is available.)
The kitsch continues in downtown Warrenton. From the outside, the Madison Tea Room still appears to be the barbershop it once was, but inside you'll find elaborate table settings primed for high tea. The interior still retains a bit of its history -- the original barber chairs are in the corner, though one now features a dressed-to-the-nines mannequin enjoying a relaxing cuppa. And if you're in need of an equine find to mark the day, walk across the street from the pony show for a horse-inspired clock or bookends at Through the Looking Glass, which also brims with beachy buys.
The Warrenton Pony Show, Warrenton Horse Show Grounds, 60 E. Shirley Ave., Warrenton, 540-253-5593. June 29-July 3 at 8 a.m. until 4-8 p.m.