This spring’s Foxfield Races are slated for Saturday, April 26th, continuing an outstanding tradition that has been highly popular in Charlottesville for more than 30 years. The beautiful and challenging Foxfield course attracts Thoroughbred owners, trainers, and jockeys from several states to a full day of racing near the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Foxfield Races also focus attention on the increasing demand for horse properties in Central Virginia.
REALTOR® Donna Patton of Better Homes & Gardens Realty III, a rider since she was five years old, notes that people travel a considerable distance to race their horses or simply to enjoy a day of racing. “They come from other areas and the races may spark an interest in living here,” she declares. “A lot of people go to the races, so it’s always a good time to reconnect with people and see the horses—magnificent animals!”
The site of today’s Foxfield racecourse was once Charlottesville’s local airport and the hangar is still there. For the past three decades, however, this has been home to steeplechase and is recognized by the National Steeplechase Association for maintaining an excellent equine course. The term “steeplechase” dates back about 200 years to the days when riders racing cross-country navigated from town to town by sighting on church steeples.
Patton observes that some people like to get close to the starting point for a good look at the horses, while others prefer to watch from later in the course. “Then, “ she says, “you see them just flying past.” There are both steeplechases and flat races.
“Lots of people tailgate,” she adds. “Some pay extra to be on the rail in a special section where there’s a contest for the best tailgate set-up. Some people bring a picnic basket and there are also caterers. The whole day is just a lot of fun.”
Central Virginia is Horse Country
“Our area in Central Virginia is probably one of the top five horse regions in the country,” observes John Ince, President of the Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors, an Associate Broker at Nest Realty, and President of Charlottesville Country Properties. Ince, a long-time “horse person” and Foxfield fan, lives on his own small horse farm near Barboursville. He spent ten years of training, breeding and showing Arabian horses before embarking on his real estate career.
“There are Olympic quality trainers and breeders, excellent farriers, and many purveyors of feed and tack,” he says. “There are a great number of equine vets and you couldn’t ask for better. They make middle-of-the-night house calls like old country doctors.”
“The area around Charlottesville has a history of horse keeping and breeding back to the seventeenth century,” chimes in Janet Matthews, founder of Charlottesville Town and Country Homes. Matthews has ridden all her life and bred and raised thoroughbreds and A-show ponies. “We have a mild climate, we’ve got a central location between New York and Florida, and many equine disciplines are practiced in the area.”
There are hundreds of different horse shows in the area, she continues, from “A” shows to back yard shows. “No matter what your specific equine interest is you can find it in our region,” she says, listing polo, fox hunting, eventing, hunter/jumpers and a number of top Western trainers.
“The region has everything from hobby farms perfect for people that want to have their horses at home to large estates with full facilities including indoor arenas and cross-country courses run by professionals,” she explains. “Olympic medalists live and train here and you will find trainers of all levels in your discipline to suit your level.”
Central Virginia is also fox-hunting country, including the Keswick Hunt, the Farmington Hunt, and hunts in Madison and Nelson Counties. In fact, most rural areas of the Commonwealth have hunts. They make a point to be sensitive to their neighbors and always have landowners’ permission to be on their properties.
Patton, a Foxfield fan, is one of many enthusiastic trail riders in the region. “There are many wonderful trails in the area, both public and private.” she says. “There’s Preddy Creek Trail Park with ten miles of trails in Albemarle County,” she says. “Fluvanna County has 1000 acres with horse trails and in Louisa, there are horse trails at Lake Anna. You can even ride from Crozet all the way to the Blue Ridge.”
Mild Virginia summers prompt some horse owners from deep southern states to bring their animals here during the summer’s heat and humidity. Since there are so many hunts in our area, some owners even purchase a second property in this area to pasture their horses during the hunt season.
All these activities make a very positive contribution to Virginia’s economy. A major study, completed several years ago by UVa’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, showed that Virginia’s horse industry has an economic impact of well over one billion dollars annually.
Finding a Horse Property
Is it difficult to locate a great horse property? Fortunately, there are a number of REALTORS® in the area in and around Charlottesville who are themselves “horse people.” They end up specializing in farms and horse properties because they understand exactly what potential buyers of horse properties are looking for. For example, CAAR president Ince, who has his own small horse farm, knows what just is needed to keep horses.
“There are always ‘turn-key’ listings in Albemarle and the six surrounding counties where you could move your horses today,” he says. He adds that the closer to Charlottesville a property is, the more expensive it is likely to be. “The important thing is how comfortable your animals will be.”
Requirements generally include a minimum of two acres per horse and it’s good to have enough land to rotate stock among pastures to maintain healthy grass. Other necessities are secure fencing, provision for water, and sufficient weather protection for animals such as a barn or at least a run-in shed. Beyond the basics, some people might want a riding ring, tack room, level land, easy access to riding trails, or even a specific school district.
Ince recommends purchasing an established property. “It’s better value-wise to find a property with existing fences and horse shelters,” he says, “because ‘horse’ improvements depreciate more rapidly than houses.” An added bonus when moving into an established property is that you don’t have to board your animals while improvements are made with their almost inevitable delays.
On the other hand, many people buy something suitable for turning into a horse farm because they love the property and are willing to undertake the necessary improvements. Fencing and shelter are immediate needs, but other improvements can be made over a period of time.
Of course, buying any horse property is considerably more complicated than simply buying a house, points out Matthews of Charlottesville Town and Country Homes. Different jurisdictions often have different requirements for keeping horses and those requirements can change from one year to the next. In addition, there may be restrictions or easements on an individual property.
“When looking at horse properties be sure to keep in mind the expense of any deferred maintenance which can be quite costly,” she cautions. Fencing, water lines, painting, and pasture maintenance all fall in to this category. “The acreage of your property will determine how many horses you can keep. The average rule of thumb is two acres per horse, but ideally you will have adequate fencing to rotate your pastures so they can recover after grazing. Running water in the pastures is always a bonus. Creeks are ideal, while ponds are not.”
It’s interesting to note that potential buyers often ask to see the facilities for horses before they even look at the house. “Shelter for the animals can range from a run-in to a center-aisle barn with dozens of stalls,” observes Matthews. “As you inspect properties, decide if you want room for expansion and choose something that accommodates that. Conversely, if you are downsizing, be sure you are comfortable with existing facilities for your planned move.”
Some developments in the region are specifically designed as equine properties, continues Matthews. “Glenmore—once a famed horse farm—is now home to an on-site equestrian center with a boarding barn, training arena, and professional show ring,” she says. “The Farms of Turkey Run is also a development well-suited to horses,” she says. In addition, a number of properties in Keswick have direct access to community riding trails and lots up to 12 acres.
Finally, “horse” properties can also be home to ponies, llamas or even alpacas. So whatever a home buyer’s motivation—whether seeking a property just large enough for a child’s pony or a professional operation with stables, rings and spacious pastures, Central Virginia is prime horse country.
“The variety of available properties in our area is significant,” concludes Matthews, “but finding something on the market at the time you need to buy might be a challenge. Be patient and be willing to compromise.”
Marilyn Pribus, an active volunteer at the Paramount Theater, is delighted to know the Paramount will be the recipient of some of the proceeds of this spring’s Foxfield Races.