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Local News

September 4, 2013

Horse-obsessed town in Virginia bristles as an outsider buys a beloved magazine

MIDDLEBURG, Va. — They've bemoaned it at the saddlery shop in downtown Middleburg, Va. They've talked about it at the tack place across the street. Loyal readers of The Chronicle of the Horse have even grilled one of the magazine's reporters about her publication's future while she was on a morning trail ride.

In horse-crazy Middleburg, people are still stirred up about last month's sale of the 76-year-old Chronicle, the nation's preeminent news source for all things equine. The Middleburg-based magazine, owned for much of its life by the local Ohrstrom family, is now in the hands of Mark Bellissimo, the majority owner of the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Fla., the world's largest horse show circuit.

Now, the magazine's devotees worry, Bellissimo might use their horse bible - billed on its Facebook page as "The Wall Street Journal of Horse Sports . . . but better!" - as a promotional vehicle for his annual 12-week Florida horse show circuit, an accusation that the new owner strongly denies.

In an interview, Bellissimo vowed that he will never meddle with the editorial mission of the Chronicle, which covers horse sports around the world and in recent years has written about illegal horse injections and horse slaughter. Bellissimo, whose company, Wellington Equestrian Partners, owns and operates more than $250 million worth of assets, said he wouldn't halt the Chronicle from digging into his own business.

"I don't think we've ever done anything to elicit an investigation, but do I believe there's a circumstance where I might make a decision that catches some attention? Absolutely," Bellissimo said. "There's going to be a circumstance where [the Chronicle] is going to call it like they see it."

Since Bellissimo, 51, purchased the Chronicle in mid-July, readers have been venting in the magazine's online forum, a kind of country club for mannered and fanatical horse enthusiasts. To even register as a commenter, one must answer trivia questions like: "If Mr. Ed was an off-the-track Thoroughbred, we might have seen one of these when he was flapping his lips with Wilbur." (Answer: Tattoo.) Or: "If the farrier shoes three geldings in front and trims four more, how many shoes does the farrier need?" (Answer: Six.)

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