The date was June 9, 1974, and the “Redhead from Virginia,” Rodney Jenkins, riding Harry Gill’s legendary Idle Dice, bested a field of twenty-seven horses to win the very first Upperville grand prix. It was also the first time for show jumpers competing at Salem Farm, where 50 years later, they still remain. Jumper competitions at the Upperville Colt & Horse Show date back to the 1890s, where “High Jump” classes were open to all horses. They were discontinued for some years but re-introduced one final time in 1958 and won by Kathy Kusner, who set a record jumping 7’3” on Tommy Lee Jones’ Freckles, and went onto be a three- time Olympian in show jumping.

In the 1960s, UCHS president, Joe Fargis, recalls “very elementary” jumper classes on the Grafton Farm showgrounds with basic jumper jumps set in the Main (now Parker) Ring, under the iconic Upperville oaks. During this same time, the United States’ strong presence was being felt in international show jumping, which had been dominated by Europeans in the post- war era. The American Grand Prix Association (AGA) was formed to promote Olympic- style show jumping, and the Upperville Colt & Horse Show was among its founding members. The need to build a course to support this cause was apparent and through the generosity of the A.C. Randolph family, Salem Farm, the land on the north side of Route 50, opposite Grafton Farm, offered the solution.

Since 1974, each next decade has brought changes and improvements to the Upperville Jumper championship, from better jumps and international competition to increased prize money made possible through sponsorships. After two years as the American Show Jumping Championship, this top jumping class became the Upperville Jumping Classic in 1976, which it remains today.  After rain soaked “Mudderville” in 2003, when a helicopter was employed to dry the grass jumping field, a graded ring was constructed with composite footing that would sustain any sort of weather, and in cases of bad weather, allowed competition to remain “equal to all.” A second all- weather ring was added in 2010, to accommodate the growing number of recognized jumper divisions. A renewed, long- term lease agreement with current Salem Farm owner Shelby Bonnie (grandson of Mrs. Randolph) has guaranteed continuity and authenticity for Upperville, at a time when most major horse shows have moved to permanent “mega-facilities.”

By luck or fate, the date of the 50th Upperville Jumping Classic, in 2024, is again, June 9. The prize money, which in 2023 was in excess of $265,000, is a far cry from the $15,000 offered in 1974. And while so much has changed, much still remains the same. The very best in international show jumping still return to Upperville every year, with multiple Olympians as past winners, including Fargis, whose 2004 win on Caucalis is certainly among his favorite memories, though he said that his “memories are all good, of every year.” The incomparable backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The large crowd of spectators, from fellow riders to horse enthusiasts, to the local Middleburg community.

When asked what the next fifty years will look like for the Upperville Jumping Classic, Fargis replied, “Who knows?” But the long- and short-term goal (of the horse show), he said, “is to make it last another 170 years!”