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By Deborah Jane Lamberton
What do a peg-legged stallion, a former Redskins quarterback and a self-taught award-winning rider have in common? All play a role in the history of one of Middleburg’s most famous equestrian landmarks, Fox Chase Farm. Purchased in 2000 by the Hanley family, Fox Chase Farm, like the rest of Hunt Country’s environs, has witnessed many changes over the years—changes that include the farm’s own name.
Historical records indicate the property, known as Mill Hill Farm, dates back to 1876. A hand-written deed in flowing script documents sale of the land to Henry T. Harrison on May 7, 1879, when it became Cottage Farm. Despite changing ownership several times through the ensuing decades, both farm names persisted into the early 1950s.
Then in 1965, what was perhaps the most fateful purchase of the property was made by a young horseman named Benedict “Benny” Patrick O’Meara, who brought The Colony Corporation to Middleburg. From his start as a Brooklyn-born groom and blacksmith to legendary horse dealer, show rider and trainer, O’Meara’s meteoric equestrian career was tragically cut short the following year, when the refurbished World War II fighter plane the 27-year-old was piloting crashed shortly after takeoff from the Leesburg airport.
Posthumously inducted into the Show Jumping Hall of Fame in 1989, Ben had successfully trained horses including Jacks Or Better and Untouchable, the horse that famed equestrian Kathy Kusner brought to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, and three years later rode to the Ladies’ European Championship. In a 1998 article for SPUR magazine, L.A. Pomeroy quoted USET chairman of the board emeritus Bill Steinkraus regarding O’Meara: “I don’t think I ever saw anyone develop faster than he did, both as a rider and as a person, or in more original ways.” And in a phone interview earlier this month, Benny’s younger brother Frank O’Meara stated, “Benny could take a horse and in a matter of days turn him into another horse. He learned from watching the best, and won everything he ever did.”
According to Frank, Benny died without a will or insurance, and the O’Meara family stepped in to run the farm until November, 1975, when a group of investors joined the O’Mearas to create the Virginia Stallion Station. Redskins football stars Billy Kilmer and Pat Fischer, Leesburg-born trainer Stanley T. Greene, and Lucien Laurin, best known as Secretariat’s trainer, were among the new owners. The sixty horses at the farm included the stallions Beau Marker, Issue, and the corporation’s first purchase, Spanish Riddle, famous for sporting a leather brace and artificial hoof on his right foreleg after losing his foot in a racing mishap. After his death, the celebrated stallion was buried at the farm.
In mid-May, 1985, the farm’s 115 acres were purchased by newspaper visionary Allan H. Neuharth, founder of USA TODAY, and the Virginia Stallion Station became Paper Chase Farms. It was during the Neuharth’s ownership that the farm’s focus changed from a strictly horse-centric barn to an instructional facility for equestrians and non-equestrians alike.
“Most of our clientele was not from the community, but from the DC area,” said Al’s daughter Jan Neuharth, an attorney, equestrian, and hunt country suspense novelist who makes her home in Middleburg with her husband, horseman Joseph Keusch. “Middleburgers already knew how to ride, so we taught adults who just wanted to learn, as well as those who wanted to ride better. It wasn’t their career.” In addition to lessons, Paper Chase Farms presented clinics, as well as offering individual training and boarding. “We got real fulfillment from sharing our love of equestrian activities,” said Jan, adding that Paper Chase Farms became relevant to city folk who eventually moved to Loudon County, owned horses, and even joined the area’s Fox Hunts.
In 2000, the Neuharth family sold Paper Chase Farms to area business owners and horse enthusiasts Timothy and Eileen Hanley, who renamed it Fox Chase Farm. Their eldest daughter Maureen became director of operations, but once again the farm would witness the untimely death of its owner. Suffering a sudden brain aneurysm, Timothy Hanley died just eighteen months after acquiring the property, at the age of 67. A mere ten days later, the farm endured another setback as an outbreak of the EHV-1 virus, which lays dormant in most horses, ravaged the barn. “It was April,” said Maureen, “and the temperature went from a bone-chilling 28 degrees up to the 80’s within a week.” According to her vet, the wild temperature fluctuation could have been the stressor that unleashed the virus in the barn.
Maureen immediately isolated the farm, receiving top marks from the state veterinarian for implementing procedures to contain the virus. But boarders were understandably wary of the historic farm’s new owners, not realizing that Hanley had decades of equine experience, including as caretaker of the high-maintenance Olympic horse Calypso. It took an exhausting regimen of bleach baths, quarantine and round-the-clock vetting by Maureen and trainers Lauren Griffith and Judi DeMichele, who volunteered their time over several weeks, to finally arrest the outbreak and safely reopen the farm.
After this harrowing episode, Hanley, an experienced public broadcasting producer, realized she could manage the facility much better by staging events, horse shows, and clinics rather than concentrating on individual boarding. In 2009, she offered Fox Chase as the first farm in Virginia to sponsor a “Susan G. Koman Ride for the Cure,” generating a then-record breaking $130,000 for the Komen breast cancer foundation. Soon after, Hanley instituted a division at her horse shows called The Benefit Hunter Division, with proceeds going to charities including the Robert Duvall Children’s Fund.
Other major changes to the farm followed, with a total renovation of the main barn and replacement of the acrylic skylights which, for the first time in decades, brought natural daylight to the indoor arena. “What Benny O’Meara built was a Cadillac of an indoor,” says Hanley. “The arena is over 50 years old, and we’ve only had to replace the roof and hip rafters.”
Farm upgrades continue, including new footing, custom-made jumps, and the recent installation of a state-of-the-art watering system which, at the push of a button, can make any of the three arenas dust-free.
“Running Fox Chase Farm has been a labor of love,” says Hanley. “It’s a unique space in a great location—it’s got a famed equine history with individuals who’ve all made significant contributions to both the farm and Hunt Country. My goal is to make Fox Chase accessible, not only to equestrians, but also to non-horse people who can see a signature facility, watch world-class athletes compete under the lights in our new Sunset Jumper shows, or take a special tour to experience the area’s remarkable equestrian history. I’m grateful to continue the legacy of my father and that of all of the farm’s owners, as Fox Chase Farm celebrates its fifteenth year, with many more to come.”
Middleburg is known for its small town atmosphere, quaint shops and quiet way of life but, to most, this area's best known residents will always be the horses. Middleburg is the center of Virginia’s horse country and for over fifteen years, Fox Chase Farm has been a centerpiece of Middleburg’s equestrian life playing host to hundreds of horse shows and special events.
Our historic equestrian facility also features newly renovated entertaining spaces suitable for weddings, rehearsal dinners, children’s pony parties, corporate events or any occasion and can accommodate any size from small groups and coach tours to 1000+ functions. Fox Chase Farm is more than just one of Middleburg’s most famous landmarks. With an easy location on John Mosby Hwy (Route 50) just minutes from the town, Fox Chase Farm is the ideal location for anyone looking to hold an event in a unique and historic equestrian spot.
Fox Chase Farm is well known now for top quality horse shows, special group tours as well as a unique rustic elegant event space for Special Events like weddings, parties and corporate events.