Virginia's Horse Country
Welcome to Virginia's Horse Country - where scenic horse trails, elite competitions, thrilling races, hunts and the Chincoteague ponies have established Virginia as one of the best destinations for equine activities and events. Horse enthusiasts can find all breeds of horses, used for all purposes from trail riding to competition, to breeding and hunting, racing and training, all across Virginia. Nearly a million horse lovers and admirers travel to Virginia each year to enjoy and participate in some 1,200 events, shows, hunts, races, and trail rides.
Virginia's Legendary Heritage
Long before Secretariat won the Triple Crown and the wild ponies in the factual book, Misty of Chincoteague, became famous, Virginia's horse industry had already established itself as the birthplace of some of America's first horse legends and breeds. In fact, Virginia's partnership with horses began back in 1610 with the arrival of the first horses to the Virginia colonies.
Forward thinking Virginia colonists began to improve upon the speed of the short stocky native horses acquired from the Indians by introducing some of the best early imports from England to the local bloodlines. Brought to the Old Dominion before the English Stud Book was established, Janus was an instrumental sire in improving these local running horses. Many breed historians consider these first improvements to native stock as the true beginning of the American Quarter Horse.
As Colonial Virginia prospered, horse breeders imported more of the new English breed, the Thoroughbred, to blend with the local American bloodlines and fast Indian ponies. Bulle Rock, the very first imported Thoroughbred, arrived in Virginia in 1730. Diomed, an English racing legend, sired enough progeny to be considered the father of the American Thoroughbred.
During wartime, several hundred thousand Virginia horses served in the military, often going hungry, as did troops, and sometimes even dying in battle. Soldiers, lives and military maneuvers depended upon the endurance and stamina of Virginia-bred horses. Stables across the Old Dominion lost over 100,000 horses during the four years of the Civil War in Virginia. Two of the Civil War's greatest steeds, Traveler, owned by Robert E. Lee, and Little Sorrel, owned but "Stonewall" Jackson, are both buried in Lexington, VA.
Virginia continues to celebrate its legendary equine heritage and its promising future at the Upperville Colt and Horse Show. Beginning in 1853, it is the oldest horse show in the country, and still takes place today at its original site in Upperville, VA.
Still Running Strong
For almost 400 years, horses have contributed to the state's economic success and stability. Providing horse power in the fields and transportation for goods and people, horses were the backbone of the first Virginia Colonies. Today, the role of horses has changed dramatically, yet horses are still a vital economic factor influencing the lives of millions of people who reside in and visit Virginia.
Caring, grooming, feeding, transporting, training, sheltering, and providing equipment and land for over 215,000 horses is big business in Virginia. It involves numerous industries and individuals from farmers who grow the feed to the veterinarians who care for the horses.
The average Virginia horse owner spends $4,060 per horse yearly. Horse owners spend $873 million in annual expenses and support approximately 16,000 jobs statewide.
Even the tourism sector of Virginia's economy benefits from Virginia's active horse industry. Some 1,200 equine events are held in Virginia each year, attracting nearly one million participants and spectators. These events generate $25 million in revenue.
In total, Virginia's horse industry has a $1.2 billion impact on the state's economy according to the 2011 economic impact study conducted by the University of Virginia's Weldon Cooper Center.
Virginia Horse Council
The Virginia Horse Council is the driving force behind the Virginia Horse Center, pari-mutuel horse racing, trail development, area and statewide education seminars, and much more. The Council is a nonprofit organization formed by Virginia horsepersons, and is the spokesperson for the expanding Virginia horse industry. The membership and Board of Directors represent all breed groups. With a goal to promote the common interests of the entire industry, the Council has committees that are active in Research and Development, Communication, Youth Programs, Trail Development, Land Use, Health Programs, Education, and Legislation. Visit the Virginia Horse Council at:
Come, Follow a Virginia Trail
Searching for that perfect horse trail? Look no further! Virginia offers over 285 public access horse riding trails across the state. It is not surprising that recreation and trail riding is the number one use for Virginia horses. Trails are located throughout the state at a multitude of public locations including state parks, national parks, historic battlefields, and city parks and cover a variety of terrain from sandy and hilly, to mountainous, flat and rough. For more information about trail riding in Virginia, visit the Virginia Horse Council at: www.virginiahorsecouncil.org
Off to the races
Horse racing has always been popular in Virginia, especially during Colonial times when one-on-one matches took place down village streets, country lanes and across level pastures. Some historians claim that the first American Quarter Horse races were held in Enrico County (now Henrico County), Virginia, in 1674.
Looking toward the future
Recognizing the importance and scope of the industry, horse owners established the Virginia Horse Industry Board, through a statewide referendum in 1994, to promote and economically develop the industry. The Board is compromised of leaders in all segments of the industry including breeders, association presidents, and commercial and professional service providers. Together they work on behalf of the various breeds, disciplines, interests and related businesses to promote Virginia's equine industry. Operating through the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Board focuses its work on such areas as education, research in horse health, business management issues, and marketing the industry to various public. Financed by the Virginia Horse Industry Promotion and Development Fund (which is generated by an assessment on each Equine Infectious Anemia Test and equine feed checkoff monies), the Board awards grants in the areas of education, research and marketing. Since 1995, the Board has awarded more than $2 million to qualifying projects that promote the overall Virginia horse Industry.