Written by: The Carolinas Equestrian Published: 18 June 2018
Tranquility and serenity remain prevalent among the 74 acres in Weddington, North Carolina, that are located about 16 miles South of Uptown Charlotte. Otherwise known as Maplegate Farm, the property, owned by three generations of the Dow family, currently consists of two 14 -stall barns, an all-weather riding ring, derby field, nine large pastures and trails that zig-zag it. What ultimately presented itself as a ‘property swap’ resulted in a ‘win-win’ for all parties involved, but here’s the historical perspective to better set the stage.
Fran Dow’s, the matriarch of the family who still resides at Maplegate, love affair began with horses as a child through camp, and regular lessons ensued at the Saddle and Bridle Club in Buffalo, New York.
In 1963, Fran purchased her first horse ‘Foamy,’ and rode with her bridge club in Birmingham, Michigan. Fran developed an interest in foxhunting with the Metamora Hunt Club and showing hunters with Bill Queen Stables, which were also located in Birmingham. Fran and her late husband Robert Barnes Dow purchased a farm in Griffin, Georgia, upon his retirement from General Motors in 1970. Her horses stayed with notable show hunter trainer, Red Frazier, while the farm was built. Fran also hunted regularly with the Tri County Hounds of Griffin. Upon moving to Charlotte in 1980, she became actively involved in the North Carolina Hunter Jumper Association (NCHJA) as its Executive Secretary and volunteer for about 15 years.
Rob, Fran’s son, was also introduced to horses through camp. He began showing with Bill Queen in the late 1960’s at Metamora Hunt Club and attended the University of Georgia in the early 1970’s while riding with Red Frazier. He and Cathy Gossett, his future wife, met in 1975 at the Camden Sertoma Show in Camden, South Carolina. Rob was also active on the NCHJA Board as well as its treasurer for several years.
Cathy Gossett Dow admits that she’s been horse crazy for as long as she can remember. At age 12, she recalls spending time at a neighbor’s barn in Charlotte with ponies they had imported from Europe. Their experience soon led to the first family horse, ‘Shawnee,’ that was shared by her two sisters, Patti and Jean. The girls began lessons at Meadowbrook Stables, which is now a shopping area in the southern part of Charlotte. Cathy continued her lessons with another notable area trainer, Nora Cooke, and her interest grew in competing. As with most horses and/or ponies in those days, Cathy fox hunted, attended pony club rallies and showed the same horse, ‘Little Dauber.’ Cathy was fortunate to have some great trainers in her career including Frank Willard, Joey Darby, Johnny Barker and Jack Towell. As previously mentioned, Rob and Cathy’s paths crossed in 1975 in Camden, they later married and started Maplegate Farm in 1981. Today Cathy draws from her horsemanship background to instill these values in her students. In addition to having her United States Equestrian “R” judging credentials, Cathy currently serves as the NCHJA president, past Zone 3 Hunter Committee member and most recently a BRCHS board member.
“In searching for a property, we knew we wanted to be south of Charlotte,” offers Cathy. “Paul Wren, the original owner of the Weddington property, was interested in the Dow’s farm in Griffin, Georgia, and asked if they had any interest in Charlotte. The ‘swap’ was completed in 1980.” Rob and Cathy’s house was built in 1981. The “old barn,” which was originally a hay barn was converted to an 11 stall barn in 1981, has since been renovated to include 14 stalls, bath and laundry room, but still keeps its “old barn” look and feel. Fran’s house, which overlooks the pond was built in 1982 and was designed by Rob’s brother, David, an architect.. Rob completed construction of his barn which is called the “new barn” in 1993.
The Dow’s daughter Alex had her first pony, ‘Thunder,’ when she was six years old. “Mom leased him from a farmer down the road for $25 a month. He was trouble, and his game was to get me off. When cantering, he’dstop, put his head down to eat, and because I was so tiny, I’d tumble right over his head,” she laughs. “Dad used to console me and say, ‘I had to fall off 100 times before I was a good rider.’ This was a great strategy because instead of crying I was tough and would jump up, dust myself off, shout out a number, and get right back on.”
Alex had numerous ‘project’ horses and ponies that taught her the process of developing young ones such as ‘King of the Hill,’ a five-year old which her father Rob showed in the First Year Green Conformation Hunters, and Alex competed with him in the Junior Hunters. “I also had the privilege of riding some true champions such as the Ferro’s ‘Just a Star,’ Grand Short Stirrup Champion at the Blowing Rock Charity Horse Show (BRCHS) and ‘Bold Headlines’ in the Younger Children’s Hunters.” Before turning professional in 2016 and teaching high school Spanish, Alex qualified and competed their horse, ‘Trade Mark’, at the prestigious Devon Horse Show as well as scored top placings in several International Hunter Derbies. Following in her grandmother’s footsteps, Alex also served as NCHJA Executive Secretary for two years. “Maplegate is our happy place, and we love the opportunity to share it with others.”
Younger brother, Tucker, rode and competed in the Short Stirrup through the Medium Pony Hunter Divisions, mainly because the girls in the barn told him he couldn’t ride. His main goal was to ride long enough to beat them all in competition at which he did in fact accomplish. Today, Tucker’s involvement in the horse industry is limited. You can catch him on an occasional trail ride, managing horse shows at the historic Sedgefield Showgrounds in Greensboro, NC, building jumps and/or hauling horses.
Much like the horses and Maplegate Farm, the BRCHS has played a significant role in the Dow’s family history. Cathy has attended this show since 1967 and doesn’t remember ever missing a year. Rob’s first year was in 1970 with Red Frazier when it was part of the three-week Mountain Circuit Shows along “I made sure to fly home in 2011 and 2012 to attend the show while I was living in Spain!”
When Burr Collier and Caroline Clark took the helm of the BRCHS Hunter/Jumper Horse Show and added a second week, many of the tack rooms were being set up with elaborate flowers and other mountain garden type displays. Cathy suggested to Burr that the show should consider encouraging these decorative tack rooms each year and volunteered to sponsor an award. Cathy commissioned her Mother, Joyce Gossett, to paint a Blowing Rock Show scene which is offered as a perpetual trophy to the winner along with a uniquely selected mountain tack room prize. The award has grown to include prizes for several tack room styles, sponsored by Twigs restaurant in Blowing Rock. “Each year our family looks forward to our two-week break from the summer heat to enjoy the mountain cool and to participate in, and also watch, some of the top riders and horses at BRCHS,” shares Cathy. “The venue lends itself easily to this with its two ring schedule and both rings easily visible from the box seats with a turn of a chair or a peek from the hill. The generous afternoon hospitalities are famous as well as the gala, which is back again! It turns work into fun and all for a good cause!”
Photographs courtesy of Dow Family