Upperville – Shady News Thurs A.M.

Greetings! Upperville Colt & Horse Show is younger than ever for all it is 159 years old!!! The last few years have seen a physical makeover from the grandstands on the hunter side to the new footing of the hunter rings and now the new jumper ring – we are so impressed by what Upperville is doing to keep its rural tradition alive and well in the 21st century!

Lots going on and several photos to post with this morning’s entry about the new jumper ring and a few words about Upperville from Joe Fargis. He happens to be one of our all-time favorite rider/trainers, but he has a thing about not talking about himself. If Joe weren’t such a gentleman, we think he might run like blazes when he sees yours truly about to approach him. We’re sincerely sorry, but we respect and admire and like Joe: he gets it right and we know for a fact that the horses come first, thanks to stories shared by a good friend who has improved his riding immensely, thanks to Joe.

We really like this photo of Joe, snapped a few years ago while he walked the Upperville grand prix course and paused to contemplate the jump beyond this one. Grand Prix is huge in terms of size and spread of fences, and many riders might feel called, but not every one will make it or even be successful at it. Joe has been very successful and he knows what it takes for horse and rider to keep going.

A fact of life in the show world is that jumper riders need good footing and prize money. Upperville has a unique ring system in that it has the oaks on the hunter side and grass, but rain during the show – often torrential downpours that had no time to sink into parched earth – can be hazardous on many levels: even properly studded – variously sized screw-in caulks used on the horse’s shoes to give them traction in whatever the footing can’t really help a horse when it has to leap out of mud. However, even hard ground covered by thick grass can be slick as black ice, especially when a half-ton of horse rocks back on its hocks to launch itself and rider into the air from a brisk canter or hand-gallop. If one foot slips – and the horse’s engine is in its rear end so those hind feet are crucial to lift-off – well, the consequences can range from a dropped rail (four faults) to injury, and even a strain is enough to put a horse on R&R for weeks or months.

The point of all this is that when rains decimated the grass and footing not once, but several years in the last six or seven years of Upperville, the Upperville gang decided that changes were in order or else risk losing the big horses on both sides of the ring. The hunter side got its makeover first, and then the jumper side. Everyone involved with Upperville pitched in on every level, but one person in particular, who loves the Upperville Colt & Horse Show, proved instrumental in getting this new jumper ring funded so it would be ready in time for this year’s edition of the Upperville show… Yep, you guessed it: Joe Fargis.

“I don’t know if I was instrumental or not, but I sure did ask a lot of people for money, to tell you the truth,” admitted Joe. “We’ve raised almost enough to build the ring. We still owe, and we’re still asking. I’d like to say “thank you” to the people who have given – thank you, thank you, thank you!”

The science behind how this footing works is fairly complex, but Joe managed to make it easy to understand.

“A friend of mine named David Steffee who did the ring in Cleveland, Ohio – that’s my favorite footing. I put David together with the committee here and they hired him to do the ring,” replied Joe. “He did the ring and he did it well. David Steffee has done a couple rings around the countryside. He did Travers City in Michigan, and he has his own ring. He’s done a few rings. He’s just very good at it. He’s meticulous.”

Fair enough. Joe’s statements led to our next question: what’s so special about this footing, compared to other footings that are in use and well-regarded?

“I think they’re all good – it’s just David Steffee’s recipe and it’s good,” stated Joe. “The difference in this footing is that it’s watered from underneath. It has some sort of piping. You don’t need a water truck. You fill the pipes from underneath and the level of the water goes up. If we have [a flood] and you want to empty the ring because it’s too wet, then you open the pipes and the water drains into the pipes and leaves – there’s s collecting area down there for that.”

A switch determines what the system does: someone gets to decide whether the ring needs to be drained or watered. Steffee’s recipe is sheer genius, of course, because the best rains are slow and steady, soaking the earth and getting deep into the root base and well below to replenish the water table. Unfortunately, this part of Virginia in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains tends to experience extended spells of drought so that the earth hardens to concrete and then when it does rain, there is massive run-off and little soaking in. Several years ago, daily downpours turned the footing on both sides of route 50 into mousse-like mud. Tommy Lee Jones had a helicopter come in and hover over the grand prix ring early Sunday morning in order to wick up the moisture for the Upperville Jumper Classic taking place in the afternoon. The chopper worked, but in the long run the Steffee Surfaces footing provides the best solution to the ongoing barometric risk of precipitation in the Piedmont.

The jumper riders must be thrilled. Wonder if they’re going to ask for the Upperville Jumper Classic to be moved to the new ring…

“I haven’t heard anything yet. All I know is that we’re just testing,” said Joe. “It’s just one day at a time and everybody’s very very happy.”

Then, we had to ask: will this footing add to the longevity of the Upperville Colt & Horse Show?  “There’s no question – it’s going to get bigger starting now,” stated Joe. “I would say this ring combines tradition with good footing and the recipe’s all for success.”

The new jumper ring, according to Joe, provides good back-up for the grand prix ring “if we have a flood.” The grounds provide ample parking and plenty of space for box seating. However, paramount in this horseman’s mind is the fact that the options provide safe footing for the horses, period.

We had to use a few seconds out of our four fabulous minutes with Joe by asking why Upperville is so special to him.  “I first came here in – I want to say – 1959 or ’60, and I’ve been here ever since,” said Joe. “So, it’s like I’m part of it."

When we asked why Upperville is so important for riders to experience, Joe’s reply was to the point and oh, so sweet: “It’s a good, good horse show!”


Stay tuned for another post tonight when we recap the action, mention some division winners and post more photos.  Follow Lauren's blog for all the highlights!

For full results – please note there are two links, one for hunters, the other for jumpers: HorseShowsOnLine.com

Come on over to UPPERVILLE!!!

Photo:  Joe Fargis - world class all the way, just like his Olympic gold medal horse, Touch of Class, and all his other great jumpers. © Lauren R Giannini; Mrs. Mary B. Schwab and OEJI Farm's Diams III and Joe Fargis en route to winning the 2010 Upperville $25,000 Welcome Stakes the day after winning the 1.40meter Jumper Stake. Note the rich grass of the T.A. Randolph grand prix field - it's great for the horses as long as the footing is "good" - not too hard, not too soft/muddy. © Lauren R Giannini.  By the way, that photo does not show how big that fence is – about five-feet tall and some of them are six feet wide, to boot.