Meet the man behind the horse and flag
Monday, Nov. 24
Whorton at home with one of his horses.
Fauquier Times Staff Photo Hannah Dellinger
As the sun rose over Fauquier County on Veteran’s Day, drivers traveling on U.S. 211 north of Warrenton saw a striking, patriotic symbol in the amber light. A man, his horse and a flag stood stoically on the center divider, their breath visible in the chilly morning air.
Forrest Whorton of Castleton carries the flag atop his horses every year on every patriotic holiday, and has done so for the past 20 years in Fauquier, Rappahannock and Culpeper counties. He does it each year to give thanks to the men, women and animals that serve our country.
“I think the flag says it all,” he said on Wednesday afternoon on his lunch break from stone masonry work in The Plains. “People see me and they feel the message. It’s not me,” he said. “I don’t want anybody to ever think that I’m anything, because I am nothing. I can do it and that’s why I do it. As long as I can, I will.”
Whorton believes showing his appreciation to the armed forces is important enough to put everything else on hold for an entire day.
“I appreciate our country and those that have given their lives, the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom,” he said. “When it comes to Veterans Day, I just quit everything I’m doing to go and ride with the flag. Today I’m paying for it at work, catching up on things, but it is always worth it.”
Each year Whorton trailers one of his horses and parks on Ashland farm, crosses U.S. 211, and makes his way down the median. He likes to trailer into Warrenton later in the day. He rides up Hospital Hill to the memorial to have lunch and then goes to Walmart to ride in the grassy area next to the shopping center until the sun goes down.
Whorton said that he likes to come into Warrenton so that people can have a chance to get photos more safely than it would be if the stopped on the highway to do so. People come up to Whorton to talk to him and thank him, and he says that he is fine with that, but tries to remain solemn.
“A lot of people come and thank me,” he said. “A lot of them will be in tears almost.”
Whorton said that he is especially honored when veterans and their families stop talk to him.
“There was this one lady and her husband who came to me right after 9/11 and she said that her daughter was training to become a Marine,” Whorton said. “They come every year now and bring my horse carrots and apples. This year their daughter came and she has already gone to Afghanistan. She said that she’s going back again soon.”
Mary Ellen Druckenmiller, a Fauquier County resident, is always moved to see Whorton on his horse each year.
“Seeing this very peaceful image of Mr. Whorton always makes me feel good and gives me an emotional connection to this great country of ours,” she said on Wednesday afternoon. “As I've said many times before, this has always been one of my very favorite images. It says it all and speaks so proudly.”
The first rides
Whorton said that he got the idea of carrying the flag on a horse in 1994 from his brief stint participating in Civil War reenactments. He bought all of the gear and tried his had at war reenactment, but it just wasn’t for him.
“Whenever I did it, it just didn’t quite click with me,” he said. “I wanted to be more of a frontiersmen. Just somebody that is always looking for something new.”
Whorton started riding his horse with the flag on election days, but decided that he would rather have a non-partisan message that everybody could enjoy: a love and appreciation of America.
So he started riding on the Fourth of July in the Culpeper parade, then on Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day and eventually on Sept. 11.
“When 9/11 happened, I went out a day or two later,” he remembers. “Everybody was just thinking about it.”
While Whorton never served in the military himself, his father, uncles, cousins and many friends did. He said that he has always had an appreciation of military service.
His father, Roy Whorton, served in the army during the Korean War in the first Cavalry Division.
Whorton currently has three horses on his 18-acre Castleton farm: Zeke, Cobra, and Jazz, all appaloosas.
Zeke and Cobra are Whorton’s go-to horses for flag-bearing rides. He said that Zeke enjoys his patriotic duty the most and will stand still happily as cars, trucks and tractor trailers zoom past and honk.
“Zeke knows exactly what I’m doing when we get there,” said Whorton. “He knows where we’re going, I can tell it. As soon as I pick that flag up, he heads straight for the highway.”
Whorton grew up around horses on his grandmother’s farm in Castleton. When he had children of his own, he decided to indulge their interest in equine sports as well.
“After my son Jonathan showed an interest in horses we went to a sale and I come, home with six horses,” said Whorton. “Out of the six, I had about one or two that was good and we kept them.”
Whorton had enough land to start breeding and raising his own horses and did so for years.
His daughter, Esther Critzer, works as an exercise rider at a private farm in Little Washington. Critzer and Whorton often ride in local parades together on the family horses. Most years they make appearance in the Flint Hill parade in August and the Middleburg, Marshall, Warrenton, Little Washington and Orange Christmas parades.
Whorton said that he will continue to ride with the flag for as long as he can. He hopes that his show of thanks will inspire others to remember those who fight for our freedom.
“I think we should honor veterans in any way we can,” he said. “Everybody has their own way of doing it. This is mine.”
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