Twice a year, in the spring and fall a select group of women ( and a couple of men on their best behavior) gather on a beautiful plantation on a breezy hill in Virginia, with ponies, horses, carriages, food, wine and a lot of energy and passion. I was fortunate to have been invited into this very private sisterhood.
I came with 3 ponies, two carriages and my carriage companion dog Bird. With the big Kentucky Three Day Event and Martin’s Auction beckoning that weekend, I accepted the invitation knowing that this journey into the unknown would create new memories.
There was a full schedule of lessons, taught by longtime horsewoman Pam Umberger of Copper Crest Farm, but it was emphasized over and over, “We are really here to eat, drink, and have fun.”
We were given the royal treatment, first class stabling, and access to a lush big field for turnout (which was not long for ponies). Joining my friend Cheryl Payton Bess, we were placed in a charming magical house filled with all sorts of treasures, cozy corners, walls filled with prints and rugs that all told a story. The kitchen and bar were stocked, but there was no time to eat or drink there.
On the first evening, after we all gathered and had our orientation lessons, we had a wonderful feast prepared by a chef with all locally grown organic food. We toasted with champagne and lemonade, then gathered on the deck, a total of about 25 people in attendance. Everyone in the group was assigned a meal detail. Cheryl and I were teamed up for breakfast the first day. My ever supportive husband, Wayne Humphreys prepared his egg and sausage casserole in advance while I was busy packing 3 ponies and all their gear at home.
At meals we all went through a “Comments and Questions” exercise, sharing our gained insights and asking questions as well making requests for what we wanted to learn in the next day. This was a great exercise done throughout the weekend when we met in the evenings at dinner. In the mornings during breakfast we worked on our schedule and wish list for the day. It made you think throughout the day what comment came to mind, and what questions to ask.
An array of horses, ponies and minis provided enough of a safe selection for all in attendance who did not have their own to drive. All the equipment and items related to learning more about carriages, harnessing and driving was there. The roomy covered arena shielded us from the hot Virginia sun as temperatures rose to the mid 90’s on Saturday, but the low humidity and hilltop breeze kept everything pleasant. There was extensive review on harness information and proper fit. Then our surprise “exam” was to form teams for the harness challenge. Pam had taken several single harnesses from participants and took them them apart, sometimes adding an extra piece or two to throw us off. We all “passed” and celebrated with another great meal.
There were several exercises set up then reworked each day involving serpentines, cones, some challenging, some easy, all fun. For myself, after a winter of heavy duty training and competing my ponies at the FEI Advanced level, this was a welcome and relaxing way to spend time with them and new friends.
In the sport and recreation of driving there is always something to learn. I have been on the fast track in the competitive driving world. I have always had a trainer to make adjustments to harnesses, suggest bits, and put the pieces together. This weekend was invaluable, as we learned from Pam harness parts and the why and how of their function. Now in my day to day training shifting harness and bridles to different ponies.
Among many of the milestones reached that weekend was that of Debbie Downs, co-organizer. Her ten year “team dream” of putting her four minis to her own crafted and designed carriage was achieved, with the help of all in attendance. By the second day she was driving them on her own around the arena. Brought to tears, her eyes were glowing as she reached a pinnacle in her passion.
Deb’s creative flair contributed to our magical welcome boxes, all handcrafted and filled with treasures. Scarfs from recently departed Mothers related to the group, were shared and recycled. Piled on the living room table in the main house where we all converged were many scarves, as well as other items from the group to recycle with each other. She also had an Easter egg hunt with 75 eggs placed throughout the property, all with handwritten questions to answer. Example “What do you call a group of turkeys?”
As I got to know Deb in the time leading up to our visit, and then during the experience I kept chastising her for not using the computer, Facebook, texting, and rarely doing e-mails. All week I kept thinking “Where does she find the time, with four minis in training, a home, farm, garden and family, to also do all these creative things?” Then it dawned on me, she doesn’t do computers, emails, Facebook, texting or e-mails.
The land we were on is part of a large plantation which thrived in the pre Civil War days. The owners have preserved this magical part of Americana, which is privately owned, and shared on occasion for special weekends like this one. As I was treated to tour of the property and plantation home and other outlying buildings I kept marveling how blessed we are to have the people who were our hosts preserving, protecting, and sharing such an enchanting corner of the country.
On the property, and becoming overgrown is an entire show/training facility. Including a full Premier dressage arena, seating, floodlights, stone dust footing, and underground wiring to judges boxes for computer scoring. Currently not in use, the owners are looking for the perfect partnership, preferable a driving trainer. On Sunday, when Wayne came to pick me up, we were given a private tour of this, as well as the Plantation home, and nearby "kitchen house". All the way home we talked about the possibilities of reviving this facility, and what life could be like living at this magical place. If interested in learning more, contact me Mary Phelps firstname.lastname@example.org. It could be a great opportunity for the right person.
You know when you have an experience and it continues to linger with you in your thoughts, mood, and memory? Or have a movie or book that continues to swirl in your thoughts? The magic of this weekend on a private retreat with so many special humans and equines continues to linger. Some of the photos below capture a fraction of the weekend.