A Foundation of Horses
The Walthour-Moss Foundation is the heart of an equine district that is comprised of a team of champions
By RAY OWEN
Since its founding, Southern Pines has been a dynamic enclave – a microcosm of America. Nowhere is its history better sustained than at the Walthour-Moss Foundation, one mile north of downtown. The Foundation is a keeper of the town’s namesake forest, held within the arc of Young’s Road and North May Street. Its preservation lands are reflective of a conservation ethic that sustains more than 4,100 acres of sylvan beauty.
Virginia Walthour Moss established the preserve in 1978 after the death of her husband, William Ozelle Moss. Their vision of a special place for wildlife and equestrian sports created the gateway to Southern Pines from the north. Its sandy trails are now a haven for sportsmen and nature lovers alike – the center of a world-class equine district that is home to some of the most celebrated champions.
The roots of the Foundation run deep, much of its holdings the former estate of Austrian chemist Dr. Balduin Von Herff. Prior to WWI, Von Herff accumulated 5,200 undeveloped acres. In 1917, his land went under government custody according to provisions of the Trading with the Enemy Act. Henry Page, Jr. succeeded in buying the property, ultimately selling it to various real estate speculators.
In an interview given during the summer of 1921, Pinehurst Resort owner Leonard Tufts predicted that Von Herff’s former estate would become “a big community of winter homes for the well-to-do, who would establish a unique settlement.” He envisioned handsome farms ranging from 5-30 acres, “a wide-reaching kingdom of semi-rural grace and opulence.”
Tufts’ vision was realized after the organization of the Moore County Company in 1929. Formed in association with writer James Boyd, the group acquired an option to purchase some 2,300 acres for foxhunting and other equestrian sports. In 1937, Boyd and his family conveyed their recreational hunt lands to William and Virginia Moss, who made horses such a part of the landscape that they are forever linked to the town.
Today, horses are to Southern Pines like golf is to Pinehurst, with equine related businesses contributing more than $165,000,000 annually in direct and indirect economic impact. The sandy trails at the Walthour-Moss Foundation attract equestrians from 45 North Carolina counties and three adjacent states, and the surrounding horse community hosts seasonal guests from everywhere.
Aside from public events, such as a Hoedown, Fun Dog Show, Trick or Treat Trail Ride, and Horse Country Social, the Foundation is the heart of an equine district comprised of championship-level cross-country courses, show rings, trails and a derby field. Adding to the draw is the 250-acre Carolina Horse Park, located in Hoke County, which holds events attracting leading competitors in hunter jumper, dressage, eventing and combined carriage driving.
Rigorous stewardship practices have resulted in a pristine longleaf forest that is among the world’s most diverse ecosystems. “People visit our forest and they’re often taken back,” says Foundation Executive Director, Landon Russell. “Many have never experienced a real longleaf forest, its open beauty full of life. Rare species include fox squirrels, bobcats, and the federally endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. There have also been reports of black bears crossing through.”
According to Landon, “The context for a forest is not just 10 years, it’s a lifetime, and we currently operate according to a 50-year management plan. That involves prescribed burning and some clearing to convert stands back to longleaf pines. We’re also installing artificial cavities to restore populations of red-cockaded woodpeckers.”
Around 2006, the Walthour-Moss Board began protecting critical trails and access points through a system of easements. People originally had very large farms and the idea was “I rode on your land and you rode on mine,” but as bigger farms were broken-up into smaller parcels, trails were often lost. “Naturally, when you pay a premium you want to utilize as much acreage as possible,” says Landon, “so the Board sought to retain these equestrian accesses.”
More than 74 easements branch out from the Foundation, forming a fabric that ties the community together. Totaling around 12 miles and ranging in size from one mile to 140 square feet, the network is comprised of access points across farms, protected historic bridle trails and newer trails. Landon explains, “in addition to over 300 miles of Foundation trails, you can ride from Aiken Road in Vass all the way down to Fort Bragg Road in Southern Pines.”
In 2013, 2,500 acres of the Foundation were placed on the National Register of Historic Places and the preserve recently earned national accreditation from the Land Trust Accreditation Commission for its “strong commitment to public trust and conservation excellence.”
Community residents include Michael Plumb, who is among the most accomplished horsemen of the 20th century. He holds the title for the U.S. competitor who has competed in the greatest number of Olympic games, winning two team gold medals, three team silvers and one individual silver. Michael was also the first equestrian inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, his unparalleled career spanning more than 60 years.
Plumb is best known for three-day eventing, a type of “equestrian triathlon” where a single horse and rider competes across disciplines of dressage, cross-country and show jumping. The event has its roots in cavalry tests that required mastery of several types of riding.
For over 20 years Plumb has resided off North May Street across from the Walthour-Moss Foundation. “I wanted to be in a place where the footing was always good for the horses” he replies when asked about his decision to settle in the region. “That’s the good part about this countryside, whatever the weather there is always some ground to work the horses.”
Chronicle of the Horse magazine named Plumb one of the 50 most influential equestrians in 2002. Known for his training abilities with both horses and riders, he continues to teach at his Southern Pines stables. Colleagues have referred to him as the “ultimate team member” and Jack le Goff, former coach for the U.S. Equestrian Team says, “Horses are Michael’s only reason for being on earth.”
Robert Costello was among the star riders drawn to Sandhills, his competitive career spanning three decades. He has served on the U.S. Equestrian Team and his many accomplishments include an 8th place individual performance at the 2000 Sydney Olympics Games. According to Costello, “Sandhills horse country has always been a place of great diversity as far as the different disciplines and some of the best people in the world have resided here.”
“I would say Southern Pines and the Sandhills rank as one of the top three or four equestrian destinations in the country. Between the footing, climate and community, we have more to offer here than any of the big equestrian centers. I love downtown Southern Pines and horse country here is a bit more cohesive than other regions where I’ve trained.”
“Over the 20 years I lived at Tanglewood Farm on North May Street, the U.S. Olympic Three-Day Event team would often train there. Captain Mark Phillips, the former husband of Princess Anne, was our coach. Those were really, really fun times and last summer the team returned to train at Will Faudree’s Gavilan Farm down in Hoffman.”
One of the challenges faced by equestrians is the buildup in their area. “Fortunately, it’s meant more farms and not necessarily more housing developments going up in the district,” says Costello. “Still, bigger farms are being subdivided and galloping our horses has become a bit more complicated. Like anywhere, you have to adapt.”
Campbell Jourdian is a promising student of Costello’s who grew up in Southern Pines. “It’s just something I’ve always been around and I can’t imagine my life without them. Winston Churchill said there’s something about the outside of a horse that’s good for the inside of a man,” reflects Jourdian.
“My grandfather had a farm and my earliest memories are of his farm. I started riding when I was 4 years old and was riding competitively since 11 or 12. I’ve known from a young age that I wanted to be around horses and I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Jourdian believes that with any sport, the smartest thing to do is surround yourself with the best people. He says, “They’re the greatest teachers and want to see you do well. I try my best to follow in their footsteps while adding my own story to it. Riding has always been part of Southern Pines and I think many don’t recognize how big equestrian sports are here – our town has a foundation of horses.”