Loudoun County prosecutors decided yesterday to drop, at least temporarily, a murder charge against a well-known Middleburg horse trainer accused of killing a male friend of his estranged wife last month.

A spokesman for the commonwealth attorney's office in Leesburg said the decision to nolle pros a first-degree murder charge against 28-year-old Theodore Gregory for the slaying of Howard LaBove, a 30-year-old Loudoun County horse dealer, was a "tactical" one. "This doesn't mean the charge will not be heard. The commonwealth is just not proceeding with it at this time," said the spokesman.

Gregory is still scheduled to face a preliminary hearing today in the county's domestic relations court on three additional felony charges resulting from the Aug. 20 shooting of LaBove with a .45-caliber handgun. Gregory is alleged to have fired several shots at his wife, 25-year-old Monique Gregory, who was with LaBove at his house at the time of the late-night shooting.

Although Monique Gregory was not wounded by gunfire, the riding instructor did suffer cuts while escaping from the house through a broken window, said county authorities. She was treated at Loudoun Memorial Hospital.

Both Gregory and LaBove worked at the Middleburg Training Center at the time of the shooting. Both men and Monique Gregory were well liked by residents in Middleburg, where the horse set dominates the social scene.

Friends of the Gregory couple say the two separated last June after an incident on a Middleburg road during which Gregory allegedly assaulted his wife. The commonwealth attorney's office has filed misdemeanor charges of assault and battery, destruction of private property and reckless driving against him in that incident.

The three felony charges he faces are attempt to commit first degree murder, breaking and entering with the intent to commit murder while armed with a deadly weapon, and use of a firearm in the commission of attempted murder.