By Doris Degner-Foster
Foxhunting in Ireland involves jumping over huge ditches and daunting rock walls. It’s a challenge some riders feel is beyond their skill set, or more likely, beyond what their nerves can handle. Devon Zebrovious, however, does all that while riding sidesaddle.
Devon travels to Ireland every year and rides with two or three hunts on each trip. “I officially started riding sidesaddle when I was 22, shortly after I moved to Virginia following college graduation. However, I had been throwing my leg over the front of my saddle while cooling off my pony from 4 years of age, telling people I was riding sidesaddle, to my parents’ bemusement,” she laughed. “I suppose if you believe in past lives — I have done this before, as it was natural for me from the get-go, and I find myself to be far braver in a sidesaddle than a cross saddle.”
Whether it was a past-life memory or just a little girl having fun, her ‘sidesaddle’ riding where she put her knee over the saddle faded into a memory as Devon’s riding education continued. She rode hunters and competed in equitation classes through her teen years, but that fun time came to an end as college loomed in her future.
“My parents made me sell my horses before starting college, and they encouraged me to choose a profession that would pay for my horse hobby,” Devon remembered. “I had started college as a pre-vet major, but organic chemistry was very hard for me, so I changed my major to education.”
Devon missed riding so much in college that she took any opportunity to ride that came along — even riding a friend’s gaited Tennessee Walking Horses. “I wasn’t picky,” she laughed. “I just wanted to ride!”
Back to Horses
After graduating from Pennsylvania State University with an advanced education degree, Devon began teaching high school history and U.S. government advanced placement classes. She began at the Commonwealth Governor’s School, and later at the Notre Dame Academy, now Middleburg Academy in Virginia. Devon implemented a new program where her students set record-high testing scores, and with an independent income, she began riding and foxhunting again, this time riding aside in a proper sidesaddle made for that purpose.
After a few years, though, she was ready for a career change. “I had been considering law school for several years, but had not made a final decision regarding it because it was a big step to take in that it would involve three years of intensive, full-time study, and I would need to take out loans to pay for the tuition,” Devon said. “After several years of talking about applying, an attorney friend made the astute point that if I didn’t take the LSAT now and apply, that I probably never would.”
Considering that advice, Devon studied the preparatory materials and took the LSAT. She received a good score and applied to the Catholic University’s School of Law in Washington, D.C. and was accepted. Devon had met George Kuk at a hunt breakfast several years prior and their relationship was blossoming. He encouraged Devon to attend law school.
“George and I were getting married, and with his support I was able to justify the loans as we determined that my long-term earning potential made their cost justifiable,” Devon said. “Therefore, after five years of teaching high school, I began my law studies.” She interned at the Department of Defense in Washington D.C. and was offered a position there upon graduation. She’s now assistant general counsel at the Department of Defense.
An Exciting Week
After a two-year search, Devon and George purchased their farm near Middleburg, Virginia, in 2006. The farm was originally listed in 2004 and before they could get an appointment to see it, there was already a contract on the property.
But the farm must have been destined to be theirs. “On a Monday morning in mid-October of 2006, our long-suffering agent called me at work to inform me that the farm that we had wanted to see in 2004 had just been listed, and we needed to see it asap. So I made a later afternoon appointment with her (and told her to bring the contract with her), and then called George and informed him that he needed to leave work early. We met at the farm, and signed the offer contract that day. It was accepted shortly thereafter, and made for the first of three big events that week: 1) the offer accepted on the farm; 2) my first championship in the ladies sidesaddle division at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show at Harrisburg; and 3) our engagement!”
Devon and George were married in November 2007, at their Cherry Blossom Farm, before the Middleburg Hunt and a large number of friends and family. The farm got its name because of the abundance of cherry trees on the property and also because the previous owner’s wife’s nickname was Cherry Blossom. She had died of breast cancer and her husband founded the Cherry Blossom Breast Cancer Foundation in Middleburg in memory of her.
“We thought it was an appropriate name both for the trees and in memoriam to a lovely lady, and therefore kept the name,” Devon said. “We met the former owner at the Masters of Fox Hounds Association (MFHA) Centennial Ball in New York City, and when he learned we had kept the name, he dropped off the original farm sign to us the following week for us to use.”
The Side Saddle Chase Foundation
Riding sidesaddle for Devon always seemed natural and when she began riding again after college in the horsey, foxhunt community of Middleburg, it seemed like an ideal opportunity to do it properly in a regular sidesaddle. Devon has a resale side business where she markets sidesaddles, habits and other hunt appointments and often helps friends with their equipment by loaning or selling them the needed items.
“My friend Maggie Johnston and I held the first all sidesaddle race in the United States in April 2015 at the Loudoun Point to Point Races,” Devon remembered. “Following its success, we worked with two other races — Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds Point to Point Races in Unionville, Virginia, and the High Hope Steeplechase in Lexington, Kentucky — in December 2015 and January 2016, to organize a series of sidesaddle races to join our race at Loudoun in 2016.”
Devon and Maggie realized that there was a need for a governing body in order to ensure a cohesive set of rules and rider/horse requirements, so they began the steps to form the Side Saddle Chase Foundation.
“We worked closely with Donald Yovanovich of the Virginia Point to Point Foundation to set up the Side Saddle Chase Foundation as a charitable 501(c)(3) organization, and all of our paperwork was approved by the IRS in late 2016. We now have four spring races scheduled for 2017, running March through May, and we’re working to add two or three fall races as well to round out the racing calendar,” Devon said. The Side Saddle Chase Foundation, in accordance with its mission, also has a variety of educational or training events either scheduled or in the process of being scheduled for 2017, and has a robust awards program for its members that involved not only racing, but also fox hunting and hunter paces.”
Devon has been the USEF National Champion in 2013, 2014 and 2015 in the Ladies Side Saddle division and represented the Middleburg Hunt at the Virginia Field Hunter Championships eight times, often winning best turned out hunter. She’s an impressive picture on her well-groomed horse, riding in a correct sidesaddle habit and appointments — the epitome of a fine, elegant lady on horseback. But Devon is more than just the elegant lady, she’s a fierce competitor over fences and in the hunt field, which takes years of training and practice. Perhaps she really has ridden aside in a previous life.
About the Writer: Doris Degner-Foster rides with Harvard Fox Hounds hunt club in Tulsa, Oklahoma, when she’s not interviewing interesting people in the horse sport or writing fiction. She’s working on a middle-grade mystery series where teens ride and solve mysteries, and a murder mystery where a horse appears in different people’s lives to help them through a crisis. Look for her blog at: https://dmdegner.wordpress.com
Photos courtesy of Devon Zebrovious, unless noted otherwise