If you love history and horse books, head to the historic town of Middleburg, Virginia and visit The National Sporting Library and Museum located on the edge of Washington Street. It will delight you. I went last summer to see the Storied Friends exhibit about the careers of Marguerite Henry and Wesley Dennis.
The National Sporting Library and Museum preserves, promotes and shares "the literature, art and culture of equestrian, angling and field sports." The library is not a lending library. However it's open to the public for on-site perusal of books, art and historic archives. Fox hunting paintings, horse sculptures and artifacts such as fishing poles and lures adorn the walls. Desks with built-in outlets and cozy chairs nestled in strategic corners invite both researchers and readers alike. I thought I was in heaven with all the horse books from various disciplines.
First Trip to The National Sporting Library
In 2019, a horse pal and I visited Middleburg to ride as guests in a nearby fox hunt. We dropped in at the museum and fell in love with the decor and vibe. That's when I learned the library is home to Teddy Roosevelt's fox hunting diaries. I made a mental note to one day go back to read them. They also house archives related to fox hunts, including Chicagoland's Mill Creek Hunt, one I have ridden to hounds with as a guest twice.
During my first trip, I donated a copy of my memoir Horses Adored and Men Endured to their collection, attended a fancy reception where we snacked on appetizers and met a Middleburg woman who rides sidesaddle.
Storied Friends: Marguerite Henry and Wesley Dennis
Two exhibits beckoned me during my second visit. The first was A Decade Afield which showcased equestrian art from the museum's collections. The second Storied Friends, a tribute to the 20-year collaboration and friendship between author Marguerite Henry and illustrator Wesley Dennis. Both shows were excellent.
Highlights from A Decade Afield, celebrating ten years of the musuem and its permanent collection, were paintings by Munnings, a sculpture by Haseltine and a silver four-in-hand model.
This 1921 sidesaddle painting by Franklin Brooke Voss captured my attention. Mrs. Elida Bonnell Langely, a Middleburg resident atop this gorgeous bay, rode with the Meadow Brook Hunt, Orange County Hounds, Cedar Creek and Piping Rock clubs on Long Island. She also hunted in England and Ireland!
Highlights from the Marguerite Henry-Wesley Dennis exhibit were two illustrations thought to be "deleted scenes" from Justin Morgan Had a Horse. I also enjoyed seeing postcards Dennis used to send in response to his mountains of fan mail.
The museum staff were incredibly friendly. I asked which pieces of A Decade Afield were notable prior to my walk through. The curator gave me a quick overview of what she found most interesting. A curious collection of dog collars was on the list.
I saw a small barrel worn by working St. Bernards, a World War I collar with tubular message containers and a metal collar rimmed with pointy teeth (meant to keep a dog safe from a predator), a sampling of a larger collection.
My morning diving into horses and history rocked! I hope to make it back to Middleburg soon. After all, Teddy Roosevelt's diaries await me, and all the other horse books. I need to plan a trip to stay for a week.
For more equestrian travel tips and trips reviewed, visit saddleseekshorse.com.