Horse-drawn vehicles with names such as sporting-dog cart, Brewster road coach, roof-seat brake, and shooting brake, will roll down the main street of Middleburg, Virginia, this Saturday at noon.
It's the town's "Jump Into Spring" and the festivities -- a pleasure vehicle driving exhibition, hunt ball and, on Sunday, a steeplechase race -- will be as much a celebration of the horse as it is of spring.
But you don't have to be a member of the landed gentry to enjoy the weekend. A ticket to the races is $3, and the carriage parade and other horsey hoopla are free.
Early Saturday morning, ladies in Saks Fifth Avenue linen suits and gentlemen in top hats and bowlers will gather at one of the estates to participate in the cross-country coaching exhibition.
The drivers, or "whips," will be dressed according to the type of vehicles they ride. The gentlemen on a "sporting cart" will wear tweedy "cubbing" clothes -- sports jacket, nickers and a bowler. Those on larger coaches will sport a grey suit and matching top hat.
Tradition dictates that the lady riding next to the whip be his wife. (Last year, one Middleburg matron refused to allow a television reporter to ride in the parade next to her husband.) Not all the vehicles will be driven by men, though there's no rule saying the woman whip's husband must be in the next seat.
Spectators should plan to arrive in Middleburg early for the carriage parade. (The best place to park is the lot behind the Middleburg National Bank.) While waiting for the parade, visitors can browse in the posh boutiques in town -- the Iron Jockey, Dominion Saddlery and the Tack Box. b
On Sunday, activity shifts to Glenwood Park, just outside the village. (From Washington go north at the blinking light on Route 626 -- about two miles.) The caravan of coaches and carts arrives about noon for yet another special exhibition, which will include some of the leading contenders for a U. S. team that will compete at the World Driving Championships in Windsor, England, in September.
Post-time for the first of six afternoon races if 1:30. Sleek thoroughbreds with some of the nation's top jockeys aboard will charge over split-rail fences up to five feet high in the world's richest timber race, the $8,000 Middleburg Hunt Cup.
The owner of the winning horse in the feature race, the $5,000 James L. Wiley Memorial Steeplechase, will have, for a year, his racing silks painted on the iron jockey standing on the northeast corner in town. (You can buy tickets to the races at a booth that will be set up next to the jockey.)
Most of the year, Middleburgers guard their privacy. On this weekend, however, they put on their good-to-see you smiles -- as long as they don't have to see you for too long. "We love for them to come," one long-time resident said recently, "but we also like to see them go."