of the horse show: 1899.
A picture of Emily Hutchison from the 1934 society pages of the Washington Herald proves that the Warrenton Horse Show, 100 years old next month, elicited nostalgia even in its youth.
In the photo at the show grounds, a smiling Hutchison and her cousin Jane Wilbur are wearing dresses from the 1890s.
"I suppose those were my mother's clothes," said Hutchison, 83 and a Middleburg resident, as she looked at the photo, part of a large scrapbook she keeps. "We were dressed as the 'Gay Nineties.' Of course, nothing is as it used to be."
It wasn't then, and it surely isn't now, as the show prepares to celebrate its centennial. Way back when, according to Hutchison and a handful of others with long memories, it was both a sporting and a social event for the locals, a way for Fauquier and Loudoun farmers and riders to show off their horses and party.
"Today it's all about money and winning a prize," said Morton "Cappy" Smith, 84, a Middleburg breeder who--to be fair--won several prizes at the show in the 1940s and '50s. "It isn't as local as it used to be."
Although it now draws competitors from across the country for prizes in the thousands of dollars, the show's dates--Sept. 2-6 this year--are still circled on many local calendars. In addition to the competition, a parade and parties will be held to celebrate the show's tradition.
Hutchison is a repository for many tales from the show, having competed from when she was 3--in 1919--through the 1980s.
She remembers, for instance, an elderly woman from Keswick who in the 1920s wore a wide, straw boater when she rode and always made a scene. "If she and her horse didn't get a ribbon, she would think nothing of using her crop on the judge," Hutchison recalled, laughing.
Then there were "Tipper" Morris and Frost Anderson, of Fauquier County, wonderful riders who also were not young and enjoyed a drag of the drink from time to time. "When Frost was too tight, he had to be taken off the horse, and then I would be put on," Hutchison said.
Units from the Mexican and Irish Free State cavalry would make appearances, according to newspaper clippings. And from the 1910s through the '30s, cavalry units from the Army installation at Front Royal would thrill the crowds by riding bareback and jumping through fiery rings.
"Our poor ponies would suffer because we would try to do the same thing that the Army did," she said--and remembering her own charge, she added, "Poor Cobweb."
Sally Tufts, 74, of Warrenton, remembered the larger import of the Warrenton Horse Show, which, in its day, dwarfed the Gold Cup races for pomp.
"It was the social event of the year, at least in the 1930s," Tufts said. "My aunt always used to tell the story of the time they were in Ireland about the time of the Dublin Horse Show and my grandmother said: 'Heavens, no, we can't go there. It's time for the Warrenton Horse Show--that's much more important.' "
Tufts' grandmother, Baldwin Day Spilman, occupied the center box for the days-long event that used to attract special trains from Washington.
It was begun in 1899 by a group of local horsemen and grew large enough that a grandstand was erected at its current site on Shirley Avenue, near Culpeper Street. In its heyday, the rooms of the Warren Green would be full of riders, and teas and parties and balls would be held in the best houses. Guy Lombardo and his band were among the entertainers who performed at various halls around town.
And then there were the horses, which were not just for show.
"In the old days, you rode your father's horses around the farm, learned to ride a little, then would bring them to the show," said Cappy Smith, a Connecticut transplant who moved to the area after World War II. "In those days, you'd use what you have and you weren't so serious about it."
This year's event is expected to attract 500 entries, although there are no longer stables on the grounds for them and the grandstand is long since gone. There is some disagreement now whether it was pulled down or burned down.
For Helen Wiley, 53, the show has been part of her family's history. She was president of the show from 1984 to 1991; her stepfather held that post from 1966 to 1977; and her father was president in 1951. Her earliest show memories are of elegant dinners and graceful riding. And then there was the year that Patsy Cline sang at the show from atop a concrete bench.
Those days have gone, Wiley said, but the show remains a powerful magnet for many.
"The farmers aren't here because they don't have the horses that they used to. It's a sign of the times. We have Wal-Marts and Kmarts instead," Wiley said. "But this still is the social event."