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Great Meadow purchases Fleming Farm for $1.8 million

Wednesday, Mar. 5 | By Betsy Burke Parker
The Great Meadow Foundation in The Plains cleared a huge hurdle Friday on the way to hosting an expanded menu of world-class equestrian events.

Last Friday, Feb. 28, Great Meadow completed the $1.8 million purchase of 174-acre Fleming Farm, a property adjacent to the 200-acre Great Meadow.

The sale nearlyy doubles the size of Great Meadow and allows the outdoor center to host selection trials for the Olympic equestrian discipline of three-day eventing. Three-day is a former cavalry test that combines scores from three distinct phases – dressage, show jumping and cross-country. Cross-country is a jumping and endurance test that requires many miles and hundreds of acres to fully test competitors.

“This place is a natural to host international competition,” Great Meadow Foundation president Rob Banner said. “We needed more room to be able to (build) a full cross-country course, but now we have it.”

Up until a decade ago, Great Meadow hosted lower-level horse trials, but the elite levels require more room to run, and more room for spectators. Banner says both are key to making the land transaction pay off for the center, county, region and nation.

“It will put The Plains on the map,” he said.

Once a big, active crop and cattle farm south of The Plains at Old Tavern, the land that makes up both Great Meadow and Fleming Farm was purchased by Arthur “Nick” Arundel in 1982 to provide a permanent home for the Virginia Gold Cup steeplechase. The historic event was in jeopardy when the Broadview course near old town Warrenton was sold for development.

That year, Arundel divided the one farm into two parcels, separating enough land to build the racecourse and establishing a 501(c)(3) non-profit foundation. He donated the 200 acres that make up Great Meadow to the Great Meadow Foundation.

Fleming Farm became a unique rental property: the handsome stucco farmhouse, small stable, silo and pastures are visible at the east edge of Great Meadow's timber course.

Arundel died in 2011 and recently, his heirs put Fleming Farm on the market. Banner saw that by reacquiring the critical land, the foundation could expand the facility to include the highest level of three-day eventing.

Helping out is David O'Connor, an Olympic gold medalist, U.S. eventing team coach and a neighbor of Great Meadow.

Sydney and Hong Kong Olympic course designer Michael Etherington-Smith will design the cross-country jumping course, which will be fully irrigated, starting later this month.

Other improvements include an all-weather arena which will be built in a relatively level pasture behind the existing house.

“It's in a sort of a natural bowl,” Banner said. “It looks a lot like the new (jumper course) arena at the Upperville showgrounds. It's raised seating for spectators around a central arena.”

Banner said dressage and show jumping will be conducted in the arena, and the start and finish lines of the cross-country will also be located there. “It keeps with our plans to be 'spectator-based',” Banner said.

The farmhouse, he added, will likely be converted into administrative space and VIP seating, similar to Great Meadow's Summer House overlooking the racecourse.

Great Meadow hosts some 40 events and draws more than 200,000 spectators annually.

In addition to being permanent home to the Virginia Gold Cup and International Gold Cup, the Great Meadow calendar features polo, show jumping, wine festivals, rocketry competition, cross-country foot races, and a July 4 celebration.

Fleming Farm will not be ready for competition until summer, 2015.

The long-term goal for the Fleming expansion is to host selection trials for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and future international-level events.

“The real (hope) is to host the FEI-sanctioned Nation’s Cup of eventing,” Banner said. “That is really the prize because it brings European competition here, rather than us having to go to Europe.”

If the Great Meadow project goes according to plan, it will be a game-changer, Banner added. When the work is completed, Great Meadow will place the entire property into conservation easement.

Major donors helping fund the purchase include Maggie Bryant, Jacque Mars, Bill Ballhaus, Darrin Mollett, Naj Hussain, Sheila Johnson, Irv Naylor, Chuck and Dee Akre, Jackie Ohrstrom, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Hall and Mr. and Mrs. Michael Crane.

“I want people to know that fundraising continues” for this project, Banner said. “There's a lot more to do to make it work.”

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