Quintessential Barrington | Quintessential People

Quintessential People

Emily McHugh: A Remarkable Ride


by Barbara L. Benson | Photo: thomas balsamo

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Fifty-seven years ago, Emily McHugh left the traditions and southern style of Nashville, Tennessee for the Midwestern equestrian mecca of Barrington Hills.

It was still customary in those days to extend letters of invitation to prospective guests. When George Van Hagen and his wife, Barbara, visited Nashville in 1961 for the Steeplechase Races, they met a dedicated young horsewoman named Emily Frazer Cullom, and suggested that she might enjoy a visit to their equestrian community in Barrington, Illinois. She could stay with them. Then-prevailing courtesies required that Emily’s mother receive a formal invitation for her daughter from the Van Hagens. Graciously offered to Mrs. Cullom, the letter was the signal for her daughter to step into a new environment, one with an equestrian history then barely 40 years old.

Now, Emily Cullom McHugh has brought luster to the community that she joined all those years ago.At 24 years old then, Emily was an experienced horsewoman. After all, she had taken her first pony ride when she was only two years old, already sitting naturally on her little mount.

She won her first ribbon at Camp Riva-Lake when she was nine, and this would be the first of many ribbons as she advanced to showing, hunting, and judging horses. Nashville and Tennessee were premier equestrian centers at that time, with steeple-chasing events, horse shows and hunter trials, foxhunting, and importantly Olympic Equestrian Team trials. These brought the U.S. Army’s best coaches to Nashville, Tennessee for three-day Olympic Team trials. The Olympic Equestrian Teams were predominantly army riders in those days. The formation of the Middle Tennessee Pony Club in 1953 gave Emily and her then mount “Master Peavy” the opportunity to enter horse shows and hunter trials, and with a team, she competed in the Pony Club rallies each fall and spring. Emily and her teammates won the competition three years in a row.

But she continued to seek instruction for herself and Peavy, and that included with those Olympic coaches when they were available. She and Peavy went to horse shows and hunter trials all over the South, collecting ribbons and trophies. She became a member of the Nashville Junior Riding Club, participating in putting on their annual week-long event at the State Fair Grounds Pavilion. The Club’s beneficiary of the shows was cerebral palsy, and Emily felt great satisfaction to be supporting a worthy cause.

By 1956, Emily became president of the Nashville Junior Riding Club for two years. She went to work at Life and Casualty, and was a member of the Hillsboro Hounds, the U.S. Pony Club, the Williamson County Horseman’s Association, the Tennessee Horseman’s Association, and the American Horse Shows Association. Outside of her working life, her equestrian life was constantly being enriched by learning and teaching, by competing, foxhunting and pleasure riding, all in those gentler days before Nashville became a world-renowned music center.

At her young age, Emily McHugh would bring this total equestrian immersion to her new world of Barrington, Illinois. George Van Hagen was the third generation of his family in the Barrington countryside. He hunted with
the Fox River Valley Hunt and rode with The Riding Club of Barrington Hills. Emily found these groups very agreeable. They were dedicated and hardworking, maintaining the trails and jumps that were important to both clubs. Their memberships were virtually interchangeable. Those that had been members before the Second World War were adapting to the changes brought about by development to the west along the Fox River and increased traffic on what had been country roads.

Moving From Nashville to Barrington

Deciding to stay in this pleasant community, her previous business experience soon gained Emily a job at Technical Publishing Company. Its headquarters then was at the end of James Street in the building that later became School District 220’s Administration building. She also got an apartment in the village, but soon moved to the equestrian community in Barrington Hills.

Now living among families with horses, she noted that while younger riders would start riding in the family pasture, there was no comprehensive schooling for them. She consulted with Margaret Lindsay Warden who was then District Commissioner and important in the National Pony Club for all the correct standards and rules, and together with Fran Joswick and Ginny Arnold, in 1963 she helped establish the Fox River Valley Pony Club. She became its first Instructor, taking Fox River Valley Pony Club teams to rallies to compete with other Pony Club teams. The club was established as an educational, not-for-profit, volunteer organization to teach children to ride and care for horses while developing good citizenship.

Emily emphasizes that all work, everything, was done on a volunteer basis back then. Everyone could be included in the Pony Club who wanted to join whether they had money or not, a horse, pony, or proper riding clothes, or whether they lived in Barrington. Then, most equestrians in Barrington were either trail riders or foxhunters or both, and the idea of an educational program for youngsters was awhile in taking hold.

From Pony Club to Horse Trials

Recalling the fun of those early days when they met informally at her house, Emily says that the pony clubbers and some of their parents would sit in a circle while she passed a candy jar, and take part in written instruction and quizzes to further their knowledge of riding and horses. The club held small one-day unrecognized events, and by 1970, Emily started the Horse Trials.

The Fox River Pony Club Horse Trials have been held as a recognized United States Eventing Association event every year since. And with that recognition, by 1973 the FRVPC Horse Trials served as a United States Equestrian Team Selection Trial. The experiences of Emily’s youth in Tennessee had come to fulfillment in the Barrington countryside.

Emily was also vice president of The Riding Club of Barrington Hills for six years, chairwoman of the Equestrian Commission of the Village of Barrington Hills for four years and purchased (and still has) one of the original bonds issued that built the Riding Center. She ran the Chicagoland Hunter Trials when it was Fox River Valley Hunt’s turn to host them, and she served as a District Commissioner of the Fox River Valley Pony Club many years ago.

With the Pony Club well-established, and an important part of her life to this day, Emily enjoyed membership in the Riding Club and the Fox River Valley Hunt. She was social chairman for the Horse Show on many occasions and ran the 1971 and 1972 Barrington Horse Show Parade that included pony hitches and draft horses. And it was in 1972 that hounds for Barrington once more sailed across the Atlantic, recalling the war-time voyage of English foxhounds, by destroyer, to their new home in Barrington.

Hounds on the QE2

In 1968 Emily, together with Nat Hamilton and Charmian Green—who later was Master of Foxhounds of the Warwickshire Hunt in England and was Joint Master of the Fox River Valley Hunt here for eight years—founded an informal Bassett Hunt. But as with everything that she started, Emily’s determination had an organized outcome, and by 1973, the Spring Creek Bassett Hunt was the 12th recognized Bassett pack in America. The year before, Emily was visiting Charmian Green and her parents in England, and since Charmian was returning to America at the same time, they decided to bring three Bassets for Spring Creek, and a Foxhound for the Fox River Valley Hunt. Through her friends there, Charmian acquired three Bassets from the Four Shires Basset Hound Pack, and a Foxhound from the Cotswold Pack.

The voyage home was worthy of its own story. Charmian booked passage on one of the first voyages of the QE2 in September 1972, and the hounds were installed in kennels on the top deck. Ships’ personnel cleaned their kennels, with Charmian and Emily walking them every day. Soon other passengers joined them and having persuaded the stewards to provide them with leftover steaks from the delicious dinners, the hounds and their guardians enjoyed an idyllic voyage.

Arriving in New York brought a series of challenges involving cabbies, travelling crates, and boarding a plane at La Guardia to complete their journey to Chicago, finally with a sigh of relief. It was another chapter in Emily’s remarkable equestrian life.

Time-Honored Traditions

After 25 years with Technical Publishing, the company was sold, and Emily moved to another marketing position which she continues to this day. She had come to Barrington in a transitional time. Original members of the Riding and Hunt Clubs provided a social stability, and some of their children were following the traditions that maintained the continuity of organized equestrian life. By founding the Fox River Valley Pony Club, Emily had provided a similar environment to the one that she had enjoyed as a child. But the countryside around Barrington would change radically through these years. The 1957 incorporation of the Village of Barrington Hills with 5-acre zoning saw large properties being sub-divided and sold. Fortunately, several thousand acres became a Cook County Forest Preserve. Many of the incoming residents were already equestrians, but for some, it was a lifestyle that they wanted to embrace, where their children would enjoy pony rides and competitions. This was where Pony Club and its many activities came in.

It also brought about a collaboration between Emily and Donna Ewing of the Hooved Animal Rescue and Protection Society (HARPS). “The Basics of Horse Care” by Emily McHugh is an important contribution to all equestrians for the complete care of their animals. All too often Donna Ewing has seen the sad results of ignorance, and this booklet provides a resource for the novice in the proper care and feeding of their animals.

It is but one of the many ways in which Emily has enhanced the life of the community and her fellow equestrians. As Emily has often said, it is not the person who starts something, but the people who through the years have worked so hard to see that these groups continue that should be commended.

If there is any wistfulness on Emily’s part, it is for the days of her youth, when together with a friend, they could take their horses and ride, safely, for an entire day through the open Tennessee countryside. But she came to Barrington at the right time, and she has been a welcomed, graceful, and steadying force for her community ever since.

Here are some words others have shared about Emily McHugh.

Charmian Green, Friend

Emily and I first met in the late ‘60s when she was touring Europe and came to stay with my family in the Cotswolds in England to go foxhunting. I then visited her for 10 days in Barrington Hills and from then we became life-long friends. This trip gave me itchy feet and after coming back to England for a while, I returned to Barrington and stayed with Emily. It was the beginning of a wonderful chapter in my life which lasted 12 years. We had enormous fun together and it gave me the opportunity of travelling out west and seeing so much of your beautiful and varied country. Every year we spent Christmas in Nashville, staying with her mother, Milbrey, and her elegant grandmother, Mimi, and there I met many of her childhood friends and family.

Emily and Nat Hamilton were instrumental in founding the Spring Creek Basset Hounds at Spring Creek Farm and together we built up a pack of basset hounds which provided great fun and partaking of the stirrup cups in the countryside. Emily and I had many adventures together, mainly foxhunting. She had her first Jack Russell Terrier from me called Button who started her love of the breed. Emily is hard working, animal loving, kind, generous, protective of the environment, and above all a true friend.

David Buckley, Sr., Friend

I have known Emily since the 1970s when I first became involved with the Fox River Valley Hunt. It there were ever a tailor-made ambassador for the Village of Barrington Hills and the country living it affords, it would be Emily McHugh. I don’t know of anyone who cherishes more her surroundings. When Emily first arrived in the Barrington area, she got involved by becoming a member of The Riding Club of Barrington Hills, the Spring Creek Bassets, the Fox River Valley Hunt, and was a founder of the Pony Club of Barrington Hills. She also is an active supporter of several animal rescue groups. Her entire life has been devoted to her horses and her beloved Russell Terriers.

Emily is a virtual equestrian welcome wagon, having introduced and inspired scores of new residents to become involved in various equine related activities in our community. Emily is a gracious hostess, no doubt influenced by having been raised in the South and loves entertaining and sharing her home and gardens with her many friends and neighbors. Well done, my friend. You are a remarkable role model and representative of our community. Cheers!

Donna Ewing, Friend

Emily McHugh moved to Barrington Hills from Tennessee a short time before I started the Humane Society in 1971. Her love and devotion to teaching young people how to properly ride and care for their ponies and horses was a passion she brought to our community. My two daughters, as well as their best friends, joined Emily‘s pony club (FRVPC) where not only did they receive excellent training, but their mothers also benefited greatly from her superior horsemanship knowledge. As a matter of fact, my lifetime passion for the past 50-plus years has been a direct result of Emily McHugh‘s great love and dedication to teaching youth and adults the benefits of showing kindness to one of our Creator’s greatest contributions to mankind—the horse.

Cynthia McNutt, Friend

I have known Emily McHugh my entire life, 53 years. Emily was my mother’s best friend growing up here in Nashville. They would ride horses together and sometime to each other’s homes. Some of my fondest memories are from Emily’s visits. She and my mother would laugh for hours! Over the course of many years (and since the passing of my mother) Emily has become one of my closest friends. I often refer to her as my mother from another…. I cannot say enough good things about Emily that would even come close to giving her justice. She is my role model. I only hope I am half the woman she is at 80. If I had to describe her in two words energetic and fun come to mind first, but also generous. She cares so much for the Barrington area and is proud to be part of the community. My daughter and I come up to visit at least one time a year and she is always driving me past all the new things going on! I am so happy ya’ll are honoring Emily. She is one deserving lady!

Patti Meroni, Friend

Shortly after moving to Barrington Hills, I met Emily McHugh at the Spring Creek Basset Hunt Tea and a friendship based on shared values, love of horses, dogs, the equestrian pursuits, the beautiful rolling countryside, and the rural way of life was born.

A native of Nashville, Emily grew up in an equestrian world and gravitated to Barrington Hills for the rural, equestrian way of life. She has worked tirelessly to preserve these traditions. Her work with Pony Club has inspired generations of young people, including my children, who were introduced to horses and riding by Emily.

Emily’s knowledge, dedication, and tireless contributions to all things equestrian, not only in Barrington Hills but also in nearby and far away communities, have been integral in keeping these time-honored traditions alive in an ever-changing and fast-paced world. Emily has spent her entire life maintaining and preserving the equestrian way of life in Barrington Hills and we thank her.

Eve Perry, Friend

I have known Emily for 20 years or more when I came back to the equestrian community and re-joined The Riding Club of Barrington Hills. I believe the first time we met was through our dear mutual friend Dave Buckley. Emily brought us into the Fox River Valley Hunt Club. For several decades she was regularly seen riding at Fox Hunts at the head of the pack in First Field. A decade or so ago she elected to slow down (but ever so little) and has been the Field Master directing riders wanting a slightly slower pace in Second and Third Fields and her mission is keeping the riders safe at a walk/trot and introducing new members to the excitement and tradition of foxhunting.

Emily is a legend within the Barrington equestrian community. I truly admire her unselfish dedication and untiring energy. Emily was VP of the RCBH for many years and one of her responsibilities was to oversee all the Trail Representatives. I had the pleasure of working closely with her when I became a Trail Representative for the NE Sector. We have mutually shared the same passion for the preservation of the extensive horse-riding trail system of over 150 miles that we are so fortunate to have in Barrington Hills!

Emily brought the Pony Club to Barrington Hills in 1962 along with two other ladies. Today this is considered one of the most valuable educational organizations in our community for young aspiring riders. Emily is still, as a leader, attending their shows and offering guidance and advise to the young. Our community is truly fortunate to have had and still have her devotion to the equestrian community for so many years.

Nikki Reed, Friend

I first met Emily McHugh 40 years ago when we were both foxhunting with the Cornwall Hounds in Elizabeth, Illinois. I was new to the sport and Emily was a veteran who had foxhunted across the country and world. From the very first cast we were destined to become friends.

From the start Emily was my idol, mentor, and dear friend. Her knowledge of hunting, hounds, turn out, and etiquette was and continues to be unequaled. Emily was always the best turned-out member of the hunt field. Although most of us cringe at the prospect of having to braid our horses for special occasions, Emily’s horses were beautifully braided, mane and tail, for every single hunt. Thanks in large part to Emily, I have been a Master of Foxhounds with the Wayne DuPage Hunt for the past 18 years.

Not only is Emily the Quintessential Equestrian, she is a true Southern lady. She is a gracious host and hardworking woman who truly appreciates nature and takes time to smell the lilacs or throw tennis balls to her beloved Terriers. l am very honored to be her friend.

Sue Sensor, Friend

I first met Emily when I was 19, just out of school and starting a job at Mill Creek Hunt in Wadsworth, Illinois. The huntsman’s sister was a friend of Emily’s, and we quickly became friends. We spent many hours hunting together, and just as many, partying, and having fun.

Over the years, we shared houses, horses, laughs, and tears. We have lost many good friends along the way. Although we are miles apart on the map, we are just as close now as we were in the ‘80s. Our visits are all too short, but they are the highlight of my year. I have never met anyone as caring as Emily. Her amazing energy and stamina have not diminished over the years. Emily is generous and loyal. Hats off to you, my friend!

Susan Schacht, Friend

I first met Emily McHugh in the early 1990s, when I became an employee of Horizon Farms. The owner of Horizon Farms, Mr. William McGinley, was a Joint Master of the Fox River Valley Hunt at this time, and many of the Meets were held on his property. Emily was, and is, an avid member of the FRVH, and as my job evolved into working with Mr. McGinley’s horses, I came into contact more and more with Emily. I realized early on that she had a wealth of knowledge of horses, and their historical significance and tradition in Barrington Hills. She is dedicated to preserving the equine heritage in Barrington Hills and has been instrumental in establishing the trails that the equestrian residents enjoy riding on, to visit neighbors and share a drink and have a laugh or two. She is a very hardworking and generous woman, who I am fortunate to have as my friend.

Lisa Schroeder, Friend

As luck would have it, Emily McHugh was one of the first residents to welcome my family to Barrington Hills. We have thoroughly enjoyed her friendship. As a founder of Fox River Valley Pony Club in the ‘60s, she is rich in Barrington Hills’ historical knowledge. Emily knows the importance of teaching our younger generation about the vast opportunities and experiences available in our beloved equestrian community.

Countless times over the past decade, Emily mentored and encouraged my daughters, Zoe and Sophie, not only in equestrian matters, but in life lessons. Emily has a unique way of connecting with them as they truly adore her. She often greets them with fresh baked cookies when we stop by her farm during a trail ride. The visits often result in deep conversations about their hopes and dreams.

I have had the best times just chatting with her over an impromptu cocktail. Some of the stories still have me laughing—and yes, the stories often made me blush. Emily’s mentorship and generosity are immeasurable. We are so very lucky to have her as a neighbor and a friend. She is a true treasure.

Elizabeth Soter, Friend

My husband and I are friends of Emily. When my husband and I moved to Barrington Hills 15 years ago, we had the pleasure of meeting Emily McHugh. At the time we didn’t realize how lucky we were. Emily was kind enough to take us under her wing and introduce us into the community. She also introduced us to the Riding Club, Pony Club and the Hunt Club. She taught us about the trail systems, the Spring Creek Bassett Hounds, and shared her love for the open land, the community, and its residents. We will never forget thinking how one person was such a vital part of making Barrington Hills what it is today. Emily has shared many of her equestrian experiences, such as participating in the Horse Trials in Scotland, riding with Princess Ann, and helping to design the jumps for the Pony Club which she started in Barrington Hills. Emily also helped build the stalls at the Riding Center. Many of the children that Emily taught to ride are now adults carrying on the tradition of the equestrian community. What a phenomenal person!

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Publisher’s Note: Quintessential People™ is a heartfelt collaboration between our publication and portrait artist Thomas Balsamo. Our goal is to share exceptional images and words that ring true about some of the finest, most inspiring people in our community. For more information, contact QB at publisher@qbarrington.com, or Thomas Balsamo (Portraits By Thomas) at 847-381-7710, or visit www.portraitsbythomas.com.