As luck would have it Alex Bigler, a transplanted Californian as well as a member of the Board of Directors of the
Western States Trail Ride, had recently moved to Northern Virginia, bringing with him a sincere desire to
organize a ride similar to the WSTR in Virginia. Pete Fields (Maryland) was one of several East Coast riders who
traveled west to compete in the WSTR, meeting Bigler there. Upon his return to Virginia Bigler subsequently gathered together a small group of local distance
enthusiasts to discuss the creation of a Virginia endurance ride.
That unique and motivated group of Alex and Ida Bigler, Pete and Beverly Fields, veterinarian Dr. Jack Howard, Dixie Engelhaupt of Maryland, and Pat Horrocks, a local equestrian trainer, laid the
groundwork. The organizational intent was to establish and incorporate a conventional 100 mile endurance ride based on the WSTR model.
Fields was charged with devising an award that would set the Old Dominion 100 mile Ride apart; give endurance riding a tough but doable challenge.
The Cavalry Award was the product of that tasking. Additional goals set by the organization were to sponsor research and education to further the state of knowledge of the athletic horse.
The most important step was to design a trail. The historic Morven Park in Leesburg was chosen as the focal point from which a trail would radiate in a large
100 mile loop through the beautiful foxhunting countryside of western Loudoun County before returning to Morven Park. This trail would encompass a pristine area of
large estates, open farmlands, and deep woods bounded on its western border by the Blue Ridge Mountains with the Shenandoah River only a few miles further west, and
criss-crossed with well over 300 miles of interlocking gravel roads.
It was the perfect setting for a 100 mile ride.
The group incorporated a 501(c)(3)[not-for-profit] organization under the name "Old Dominion 100 Mile
and a seven member board of directors
was elected consisting of Alex Bigler (president), Dr. Howard (v-p), Ida Bigler (Secretary), Pete and Beverly Fields, Pat Horrocks and Dixie Engelhaupt.
The task of creating a workable continuous circular trail was made easier by Horrocks's and Howard's connections with local landowners. Both
to acquire permission for the trail to cross private land to better connect the trail to the wonderful gravel road network that spanned the entire
western expanse of Loudoun County. The trail also included a historic 1741 byway over the Blue Ridge that connected to the
gravel roads in Clark County leading down to the Shenandoah River on the other side of the mountains.
While the new Old Dominion ride was born of an idea based on the WSTR, it was Bigler's dream to have it follow the structure of a
cavalry ride. At Bigler's request Fields devised a Cavalry Award for the horse and rider team that rode the ride with the least outside assistance.
In later years the criteria changed to the horse/rider team that was judged as the best conditioned among the competitors that rode "independently".
The newly fledged organization announced their first ride would be held the following year (1974) on the 2nd weekend of June. Competitors came from as
far away as the Midwest, although most of the riders were more or less local to Virginia and the surrounding states. Ride day dawned with the riders
drenching rainstorm. Downpours continued well into the late evening, but that did not dampen the enthusiam of the competitors. First and second place finishers were the wife/husband team of Winkie and
Matthew MacKay-Smith of Clark County, VA, the latter eventually sitting on the OD Board for many years. Despite the discouraging weather conditions, the ride was deemed an instant success. For the next seven years the ride gained popularity,
and the competitor lists swelled.
In 1976 the ride management announced that all riders completing would be awarded a special OD "Bicentennial Buckle". Plenty of breed awards were offered, including
a Best Condition Award for Loudoun County horses. 56 horses began the race and despite the rise in degrees from 60 to a sweltering 86 with a dripping humidity of 64%, 41 out of 56 horses completed
the ride - the largest ride ever.
In 1979 foot runners became part of the 100 mile race, configuring the OD to share yet another similarity with the WSTR which was
also a run/ride race.
When the ride was organized, it was decided that the Best conditioned Award would be the premier award and no first to finish award was
given in keeping with the slogan “To Finish Is To Win”. However, by 1980 differences of option based upon the ride concept were causing a rift among the membership.
The fundamental cause of the rift
revolved around the question of awarding first to finish and continuing the morning after the ride vet check for all finishers.
By the end of the year the differences had
reached the point of causing a complete break in the organization. The dissident members, finding a loophole in the bylaws which allowed
instant voting rights for new members, staged a coup at the January 1981 meeting by busing in and signing up enough family and friends to transfer a majority rule to their side.
The result was understandably deeply and regretfully bitter.
Those members who still wished to follow the old format eventually left the Old Dominion organization altogether to organize (in 1987)
a new charter "United States
Ride", which continuing to host the 100 mile Cavalry ride on the original OD trail (in Loudoun County) under the new name the "USTR 100 Mile Ride". The trail was
discontinued in the 1990's due to land development brought on by the pressures of a rapidly rising county population that skyrocketed Loudoun County
to the top
of the list for several years as the fastest growing county in the US.
The OD Ride Heads West - 1981 to 2007
The new OD leadership, having taken over the ride and organization, but finding themselves effectively locked out of using the original trail through Loudoun County, were faced
with having to
develop a new trail in less than 6 months if they were to have a ride that year. Wayne Botts, the current OD president at that time, turned to Jim Warner for assistance in the endeavor,
both men being competitors
of the original OD ride, as well as residents
of a historic place in Shenandoah County called Fort Valley - a narrow 20 mile long valley ringed by mountain lands inside
the Thomas Jefferson and George Washington National Forests where an established system of horse trails already traversed the mountainsides and the
With the vast majority of trails being on the National Forest lands under the control of a central Park Ranger office, the new OD leadership would have
only one main landowner (the US government) to request useage for the vast majority of the trail, and only a handful of private
landowners to gain permission to cross the few pieces of private land leading to the national forest. Botts and Warner, together with OD board members
Mitch Karp and Lee Wittle, went to work immediately planning and laying out the new OD trail in the Shenandoah Valley and Fort Valley.
A home base big enough to accommodate at least 100 horse trailers was found at the 4-H Center near Front Royal, VA on the grounds originally used as a
US Cavalry Remount Station. The new home base offered
many similarities to the old locale -- ample space for parking, and nearby trail up and over the Blue Ridge, and connecting trails leading
to the Massanutten Mountains and the George Washington National Forest lands. The new trail, however, used more mountain trails and
relatively fewer miles of gravel roads than the original OD Loudoun County trails. Also, only the 100 mile trail returned to base camp; the 55 mile
trail finished at a campgrounds called "Twin Lakes". One unique feature of the new trail was that it crossed the Shenandoah River, rather than like the
old trail which paused
at the river bank for a vet check before returning back over the Blue Ridge. One notable drawback - the notoriously rocky and steep trails of the Massanuttens - eventually was to give the "new" Old Dominion trail the unique reputation
as being a tough challenge not for the faint of heart.
The first OD in Fort Valley was still held under cavalry rules, including an 11 hour limit for the 50 mile division. It wasn't until a year or so later that the ride received AERC sanctioning. The "Cavalry Division"
of course was still offered and the judging for the winner continued to be
held the following day as it had been since the conception of the award in 1974. However, the award and division was only offered for the 100
mile, and as the number of 100 mile riders began to decline in the 1990's, so did the riders willing to suffer the hardships of riding "independently".
Yet, the award and division still holds a special charm, and each year a number of new faces come forth to try their hand at being able to ride ...and
finish...as a cavalry team.
The runners division was still included, and for the next several years the runners were the first to leave in the darkness to hit the trail before
the horses, sharing the trail throughout the next 24 hours. Years later they splintered off to form their own exclusive 100 mile ultra-marathon which is still held annually in the Massanutten Mountains.
As Endurance Riding developed throughout the world and continued to draw in more riders from all walks of life, the Old Dominion ride also
began to draw both national and international riders who wished to pit themselves against the challenge of the trail. In 1992 sixty three riders
completed the OD 100,
the largest group ever in the history of the ride. By then the OD had achieved international fame as one of the top Endurance rides in the
The logistics of the trail, and the crossing of the Shenandoah River, took a great deal of work, demanding the solid and unwavering support of the many
who volunteered their time to clear trails, create new ones, work on public relations with private landowners, and partner with the
National Forest Service as well as other groups who used and maintained the Forest Service trail system. Their dedication proved invaluable towards
maintaining the high status and popularity of the ride. Only once in the years when the ride was held in Fort Valley was the OD ever canceled -- and that due totally to the unexpected
flooding of the Shenandoah River.
The first ride at the new venue was billed "The Old Dominion Ride/Run "Move to the Mountains". It was held June 20, 1981, and in an ironic flashback
to the original first OD ride, there was a tremendous thunderstorm early that morning. In the wee hours of the morning runner and riders moved 38 riders started in the 100; 18 finished with Connie Thompson on "Buckshot" finishing first in 16 hours and 46 minutes. 11 rode Cavalry; 4 completed.
42 riders began the 50 mile ride with 29 completing. Of those pulled were 4 riders who were overtime. Only 12 of the 38 runners in the 100 mile run completed.
The new trail was already gaining a reputation as a tough challenge indeed!
However, Botts, who served as Ride
Manager,was elated and declared the ride a "smashing success". This, in turn, led to a series of meetings with the GWNF for permanently maintaining the trails.
What was interesting
was the proposal presented at the October board meeting to not allow voting by new members until a full three months had passed - a move that would narrow the
loophole that had resulted in the January takeover. Membership dues in 1981 were $5.
In 1982 two new rides joined the OD roster. The first was a 35 mile training ride up Sherman Gap in early October. In much of the old correspondence the Sherman Gap
ride was also referred to as a "competitive ride". The other was a 50 mile/2-day 100 endurance ride, called the "Fort Valley", held at the end of October. These two new
rides offered a wonderful opportunity for new riders to try their hand at some of the OD trail, and also to enjoy the serenity of the trail in the cool
beauty of the mountain fall colors.
The popularity of the fall Fort Valley ride soon encouraged the OD Board to consider making it a multiday (3 days of rides) in 1993.
In 2002 it was changed back
to a 2-day 100/ 50-50 (two days of separate 50 mile rides) which are still held annually today.
In 1996 a third ride joined the roster - the No Frills 50. Started as an early spring fund raiser
for the June ride, the No Frills offered riders a chance to travel portions of the trail that would be used for the June 100 mile ride.
The No Frills remained in Fort Valley until the mid 2000's when it was moved
to Capon Springs and new trails in a section of the
George Washington National Forest lands bordering on West Virginia.
As a benefit to the organization, the two new rides gave more opportunity for riders to compete, better publicity to encourage riders
to join the organization, and also
helped bring in new volunteers as well as train new ride management.
Throughout the 1990's the OD rides continued to draw in growing numbers of riders. In 1994 the Fort Valley ride hosted the AERC National 50 & 100 Mile
Championships with its basecamp at Skyline Ranch Resort, just outside Fort Valley.
However, all was not rosy for the OD trail. By 2005 the westward advance of private
development was starting to put negative pressure on the portions of trail traversing private lands. A massive new development along a critical
part of the trail leading from the 4-H Center to the Shenandoah River would soon be forcing complete closure of that trail within a year or so.
That, coupled with the 4-H Center Management's changes regarding usage of the center's grounds, which the OD rented each
the June ride basecamp, was also cause for concern. Rumblings as far back as 1994 suggested the possibility of moving the base camp to another site - specifically somewhere less congested and less apt to be
overrun by houses and housing developments.
The loss of the 4-H Center in 2006 was the catalyst needed to finally force the move. A decision by the board was
subsequently made to host the entire OD ride within Fort Valley.
A new basecamp was found in the southern end of Fort Valley at Fort Valley Stables. That same year the AERC National Championships were hosted by the OD at their new ridecamp.
It was perhaps the
crowning jewel of the OD organization's endeavors since the day they moved out of Loudoun County and relocated in the Valley.
Sadly, however, the move was a little too late. The swan
song was already being sung for the OD 100 mile ride in Front Royal. The heavy use of the trails by the annual competition rides,
as well as pressure from other groups of users,
had seriously eroded the once excellent public
relations the OD organization originally enjoyed with the old landowners. New landowners were less invested in the organization, and paving
of once key gravel roads made it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to keep the old trail intact. The 2007 OD was held from the Fort
Valley Stables with three divisions - 100, 50, and Limited Distance (30) - but the handwriting was on the wall. It would be the final OD ride in Fort Valley after a long, wonderful 26 years as the OD home.
It was time to leave for a new trail outside the Valley.
Westward Again to a New Home - 2008 to current
In 2005 the task to find a new OD home was charged to members Tom Sikes and
Bob Walsh. Reflecting on the benefits and issues brought up by past history, the OD Board had already decided the new locale would be best served by offering a long term rental
of a spacious basecamp adjacent to, or within easy reach of, the same National Forest. Several locales were explored and evaluated, and while some choices came close, most had some critical flaw that kept them out of the
Only one site stood out from the rest - Orkney Springs, VA. The surrounding trail system was explored, and met with happy approval.
The Bryce Resort owned a large vacant field
near a beautiful stream, sited on a gently used gravel road, all within hailing distance of the western areas of the George
Washington National Forest. The area and the land seemed to be the answer to
all the goals the Board had set for a new home.
In 2008 the Old Dominion 100/50/25 mile ride
was held on the "new" OD trails surrounding Orkney Spring, VA, carrying on a great tradition begun 35 years ago -- it was held in a pouring rainstorm.
It would appear that as much as some things may change, some things simply are fated to remain the same. Tractors had to drag most of the rigs out
of the soaked field which had become a mud bog.
Nonetheless, the ride was declared a success. A total of 143 riders started: 38 in the 25, 78 in
the 55 and 27 in the 100. Amazingly, more than
70% finished the 25 and 55 mile rides; 63%
finished the 100. In August 2008 Bryce Resort agreed to, and signed, a 10 year lease to the OD for the 20 acre field. Throughout the next year
the trail was re-evaluated and tweaked, as were the vet checks - some being moved to better venues. Efforts to restore the old barn on the basecamp
property were undertaken with a new roof being installed in early 2009. The plans were to turn the barn into a meeting room and clubhouse in time to have it
ready for the 2009 ride. Some of the OD equipment was moved into storage at the barn, with plans to bring the OD trailer to the site as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, those plans were never realized. No sooner had the new roof been installed when disaster struck. A week later the barn was one of three
struck by an arsonist the same night. The fire department arrived to find the barn burned to ashes, a total loss. The building had been uninsured and the tanks
stored inside had perished, but the supply trailer had been spared as it was stored elsewhere. So only the tanks had to be replaced in time for the June ride, a matter that was
rectified in no time at all.
For the next four years the trail was increasingly improved upon, and the ride surged in popularity. In June 2014, the OD celebrated its 40th Anniversary with over 150 riders in all three division, and next year will be host to the 2015 AERC Championships.
revised June 2014