Hunt Country

Blackthorn & Brook introduces Virginia to its luxury English riding holidays.

Photo courtesy of Blackthorn & Brook

Blackthorn & Brook’s hunt country expeditions have found a appreciative audience in Virginia riders.

Red jackets glow in the wintry english sun. Horses paw frosted grass. A horn calls out, the hounds take up the chase, and the hunt is off. For hundreds of years, the call of the foxhunt has drawn many to the English countryside where, during the winter months, riders show their mettle following chorusing hounds through woods and farmland. (The practice of chasing and killing foxes was banned in England in 2004, so hunts use synthetic scent to create trails.)

Lately, thanks to a determined pair of young British entrepreneurs and hunting enthusiasts, Virginians have been joining them. Blackthorn & Brook’s luxury hunting and riding tours see guests participating in full-day hunts, including hundreds of horses and dogs leaping through woods and brush, or in riding outings of just a few hours. (Riders are matched with mounts appropriate for their skill level, Blackthorn & Brook  promising that guests will be “neither under- nor over-horsed.”) 

The business started about three years ago when Ben Darlington and a friend, Megan Corp, found themselves at sixes and sevens. Both had grown up in England hunting and riding, and after graduating university (he from Oxford, she from Trinity College Dublin), moved to London for work that turned out to be unfulfilling. So, the pair hatched a plan to host luxury hunting and riding holidays in the ancient forests and fields of Somerset, where Corp’s family has lived for two centuries. Their business has grown through word of mouth.

The pair’s interest in Virginia began after Corp spent time in the Middleburg area and noticed there a keen interest in English traditions. She says she saw “this little pocket of Americans who love hunting and love all things English.” Today, Corp and Darlington hope to make Virginia horse country their American headquarters. 

Charles Luck IV, CEO of Virginia-based Luck Stone Corp., hired the business recently for a vacation centered around his daughter’s love of riding. “Each day was unique,” he explains, “the conversation, pubs, history, food and special touches.” (Guests stay in local pubs and hotels.)

An eight-day tour can run $13,000 per person, airfare excluded. But those dollars have a wider impact says Darlington: “Every dollar our guests bring over helps assure a future for rural England.”

This article originally appeared in our Dec. 2014 issue.

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