The Warrenton Pony Show celebrates its centennial with five choice days from June 26-30 and you’re invited. It’s the oldest pony show in America, a rare one-ring show “A” rated by the U.S. Equestrian Federation, Virginia and Maryland Horse Show Associations (VHSA, MHSA). Designated a USEF Heritage Competition, Warrenton Pony Show will be honored with a special presentation.
Everything about Warrenton Pony Show is special from its interesting history of tradition and sport to gracious Southern hospitality and neighborliness. It’s a wonderful social occasion with tailgate parties all around that venerable oval, especially for Friday’s VHSA Medal classes and Saturday’s $2500 Country Chevrolet Pony Hunter Classic. It’s a great show for both exhibitors and spectators.
Open to Junior and Amateurs, the prize list covers the gamut of classes for ponies and horses under saddle and in hand, for riders from toddlers to teens and adult amateurs. Sunday’s Leadline and Short Stirrup will debut divisions with three classes each. The show has atmosphere and nostalgia: vibrant spectacle by day, almost magical under lights at night. The Pony Show, which benefits Fauquier SPCA, is essentially an educational experience for local young riders, who participate as members and appointed officers of the Junior Committee.
“The Pony Show is unique because it’s run by kids,” explained Tommy Lee Jones, longtime manager of three shows: Warrenton Pony, Warrenton Horse, and Upperville. “Our aim is to make those kids better exhibitors. The Junior Committee does all the work, with a senior committee to advise them throughout the year. The kids run the meetings and do everything from selling ads in the show program to painting jumps to handing out ribbons. They communicate with officials and sponsors. It’s a junior and amateur show, and the kids get to see everything from the operational side, including the show office. A lot of kids have used their experiences to help them get accepted into college. We also want them to get more respect for people working in the office. It’s important that they understand that managers and exhibitors can work together. It’s a cooperative effort.”
A year-long commitment, Pony Show is also fun, thanks to Tommy Lee. The Casanova huntsman is smart, funny, hardworking, as honest as the day is long, and a great storyteller. He makes even hard work feel like the best fun you’ll ever have. He’s a great “leader of the pack” and mentor, a vital element of the Pony Show’s family and community vibe, and takes every opportunity to enthuse about various supporters and volunteers, too many to include everyone here, but these local folks provide amazing continuity.
Mrs. Wilma Hoovler, a genuine Southern gentlewoman credited with saving the Warrenton Pony Show, has been involved more than 50 years, starting with her daughters Cindy, Karen, and Shelley, then with Cindy’s daughter Lauren whose three children will add a third generation.
“The Pony Show is a great tradition and it keeps the flavor of small-town America alive,” Wilma said. “I had my children, but you’re there for all the children, who are in your care while they work on the show. I love seeing the children absorbing things. They’re like sponges. They do it all. They’re assigned tasks and chores. They decide what hats and shirts to buy, then handle paying for the order. They work with Tommy Lee. They might get to work or sit with the judge. They learn life skills. When they leave, if they paid attention, they know how to run a horse show.”
Pam Baker, a successful trainer of pony, amateur and equitation riders on the AA-circuit, wasn’t a Pony Show kid, but started bringing her students in the early 1970s and moved home base about 30 years ago to Hillcrest Farms in nearby Bealeton.
“Tommy Lee is a REAL horseman who has lived every aspect of this sport,” Pam said. “Tommy and my brother Jimmy Cantwell both showed jumpers as very young boys. Tommy Lee cares about these shows and is hands-on as a manager. He’s always a gentleman and always pleasant, no matter how tough the going. I can’t say enough good things about him, and I keep coming back because it’s Warrenton! I love the old Virginia shows. I love the tradition and spirit of Warrenton, and spectators come to enjoy it.”
Teresa Ramsey has been the official photographer for many AA-rated shows but enjoys being closely involved for more than 25 years with Upperville and Warrenton Pony where she’s also a member of the show’s board.
”Warrenton Pony is one of my all-time favorite shows, and I think this year’s centennial show is going to be a lot of fun,” Teresa said. “I like the kids and the concept of the show. The Junior Committee has kids from six to when they age out by turning 18 by December 1 of the current competition year and they have a lot of responsibility. I also love the fact that it’s a one-ring show. When you go in, everyone is watching you.”
This small-town one-ring experience has inspired many young riders, including Jane Gaston, this year’s artist for the 100th-anniversary poster. Raised in North Carolina and an enthusiastic exhibitor during her junior years at the Warrenton Pony Show, Jane became a permanent resident of Middleburg in 1998. She competes in Amateur-Owner Hunters, winning many championships and top honors such as Horse of the Year with Sign The Card, Lumiere, and Because. When Jane isn’t riding, she’s working on a backlog of commissioned watercolor paintings for private collections. Her works have graced official posters for horse shows such as Upperville, Washington International, California HITS, and the National in New York.
“It means a lot to me that my painting was selected to commemorate the Pony Show’s 100th, my first for Warrenton,” said Jane, who will be on hand, signing posters. “I have many memories of Warrenton as a child, riding and showing there throughout the years. It’s been a place that I had a lot of fun at, for a lot of reasons — good friends, good competition, good horses. I’ve shown young horses there and I won the VHSA Medal in 1968, I think. Living in North Carolina, it was quite a big deal for us to come up to Warrenton to show. I have many wonderful memories.”
Another veteran of the Pony Show, Bill Prime, brother to the late Eve Prime Fout and a horseman in his own right, recalled his turn as Junior Committee President in 1952: “Some of the lessons we’re learning how to knock on doors and cold-calling to sell ads for the program,” he said. “I can’t say I ever really needed those particular skills later in life, but it was interesting, helpful and fun.”
The Pony Show has established itself as a generational community event. “It’s a feeling and a tradition,” Bill said. “There are a lot of volunteers, a lot of people who were involved when they were kids and they’re staying involved in the background, but still making sure the kids get done whatever needs to be done to pull the whole thing off.”
Responsible for hiring the judge, Bill acted on his sister’s suggestion and called William P. Wadsworth, MFH-Huntsman of Genesee Valley Hunt, on course to legendary status, writing a timeless gem which still enlightens enthusiasts: “Riding To Foxhounds in America: An Introduction for Foxhunters” (privately printed in 1959; published since 1962 by Chronicle of the Horse).
Bill recalled that Wadsworth was “a wonderful guy, a real character and he apparently knew what he was doing.”
Apparently, yet not surprising: Warrenton Pony Show’s annals read like a veritable Who’s Who in the horse world, with many names recognizable even today. Tommy Lee recited a roll call of past Junior Committee presidents: Tommy Stokes, Mike Calvert, Eve Fout, Billy Prime, Helen Wiley, Johnny Hughes…
Join the celebration, bring your kids, neighbors and co-workers, and make memories as Warrenton Pony Show leaps into its second hundred years.