The North Carolina

 

 

 

Visitor Center

Stoneybrook and Walsh

Stoneybrook and Walsh: 

For the Love of the Race

By

Matthew Parker

 

          The Sandhills area is noted for its wonderful golfing, moderate climate, lovely Longleaf Pines, and an ever-growing equine community.  Part of the credit for this amazing growth in equine facilities and horse farms is due to the late Michael “Mickey” G. Walsh.  This former Sandhills Irishman deserves to be commended, not for his “Irish luck,” but for his hard work, talent and the ongoing legacy he created for horse lovers, riders and race enthusiasts.

 

          Mickey Walsh immigrated to the United States in 1925 at the age of 18 from Ireland.  Walsh sought the “American Dream” of plentiful work and a better life, but the harsh reality in New York was that work was scarce, especially for Irishmen.  Resorting to skills he learned from his father, Mickey Walsh finally found work there by leading horses in Central Park and then by exercising and training horses for the owners of large Long Island estates. 

 

In 1926, Mickey Walsh began competing in “hunting” and “jumping,” both English riding equestrian events.  By the 1930’s, Walsh was winning top honors at most of the horse shows of the day, both as a rider and a trainer.  Walsh moved to Southern Pines, NC, in 1939 and there, he earned another outstanding equestrian reputation as a trainer of steeplechase and timber horses. 

 

Walsh continued riding on the hunter/jumper circuit during the 1940’s as well, gaining more blue ribbons and earnings.  Having always worked for someone else, Mickey Walsh finally bought his own riding and training stable in Southern Pines in the late 1940’s with money that was earned through his hard work and a passion for horses.  Thus, “Stoneybrook” was born - first as a training stable, then as a race track, and now as a legacy to Walsh and his ongoing Sandhills springtime steeplechase event. 

The steeplechase originated in Ireland as a cross country form of horse racing, which as the name implies, used church steeples as reference points.  The American steeplechase refers to distance horse races with diverse fence and ditch obstacles.  Mickey Walsh was the nation’s leading steeplechase trainer from 1950-1955, and only the third steeplechase trainer to win $1million.  In 1975, Walsh received the F. Ambrose Clark Award -the highest award in steeplechase, “for his significant contribution to the sport.”  In 1977, Walsh was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame and, in 1983, to the Racing Hall of Fame.

 

Mickey Walsh passed away in 1993, and the fate of the Stoneybrook Steeplechase hung in the balance.  Without its chief advocate, Walsh’s prized Stoneybrook land was sold for equine land development, and the race track closed in 1996.  Even so, the demand for one of the Sandhills’ most beloved spring social events remained high.  In 1998, a group of horse lovers developed the idea for the Carolina Horse Park and formed a nonprofit charitable foundation to preserve land for horses and to promote equestrian education, training and competition.

 

The Carolina Horse Park opened on 250 acres of land just south of Southern Pines in neighboring Hoke County, and in 2001, the Stoneybrook Steeplechase was revived at the new location with the 50th running of the race.  With seven races and more than $70,000 in purse money, the 58th running of the Stoneybrook Steeplechase will be held on Saturday, April 4, 2009.  With tailgating parties, pony rides, a petting zoo, the Southern Pines Driving Club’s Carriage Parade, stick pony races, and a 7/8 mile steeplechase track, Stoneybrook and Carolina Horse Park offer fun and excitement for all ages.  Mickey Walsh worked hard for his dream, and his dream lives on at Stoneybrook.

 

______________________