A Middleburg woman was shot early yesterday after what authorities said was an apparent dispute with her ex-husband at their estate in the heart of Loudoun County's opulent hunt country.

Carole Vandergrift Carter, 50, was in fair condition last night at Washington Hospital Center after surgery for a gunshot wound to the neck, officials said. They said she was wounded just before 3 a.m. at Greenwood Farm, a 210-acre property of trees and rolling pastures where Carter and her former husband own thoroughbred racehorses.

William Douglas Carter, 55, the president of a McLean communications company, was arrested yesterday afternoon in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., on a charge of malicious wounding, according to Lt. Greg Stocks, a spokesman for the Loudoun County Sheriff's Department.

The Carters were divorced Feb. 3 but remained embroiled in a legal dispute over the distribution of their assets, including Greenwood Farm, which has a value of at least $2.3 million, according to documents on file in Loudoun County Circuit Court.

The couple lived in different houses on the estate, which lies on Rte. 629, east of Middleburg and south of Rte. 50, Stocks said.

In granting Carole Carter a divorce, Judge Thomas D. Horne ruled that William Carter had committed adultery with his wife's foster daughter from 1977, when the girl was in high school, through 1985, according to court documents. Carole Carter's divorce complaint alleged that her husband had a "violent temper," that he owned two guns and that "in certain situations he would be capable of using them."

Court papers alleged that William Carter became verbally abusive to his wife during bouts of heavy drinking, and said that he enrolled last year in an alcohol treatment facility in Prince William County.

William Carter's divorce attorneys did not return telephone calls yesterday.

Investigators had no witnesses to the shooting, but issued an arrest warrant for William Carter upon gathering undisclosed evidence, Stocks said.

The spokesman said two women living in Carole Carter's house, identified as Suzanne Culver and Jacqueline Morrow, said they ran downstairs after hearing gunfire and a scream, called authorities and drove the victim to the nearby Aldie firehouse.

Carter was taken by ambulance to Loudoun Memorial Hospital in Leesburg and later flown by helicopter to the emergency trauma facility at Washington Hospital Center.

William Carter, president of T-Cas America Inc., 1749 Old Meadow Rd., was not at work yesterday, a company employe said.

It was at least the second marriage for both Carters, according to a friend who asked not to be identified.

Domestic violence among Loudoun's high society has drawn attention before. In 1985, former American University official William (Bull) Evans-Smith was convicted in the strangulation of his wife Barbara at their farm.Special correspondent Donna Acquaviva contributed to this report.