Culpeper cattle drive weekends are often family affairs
by Gregg MacDonald, Staff Writer
Pam McGeough first became a horse owner in 1976, after her father unexpectedly won a blind pony in a poker game on July 4 and gave it to her.
“She was my Bicentennial pony, and I named her Nugget,” the Community Electric Cooperative member recalls. “Despite being blind, she moved around very well. She pulled me through the neighborhood in a cart on Halloween that year while I was dressed as Pippi Longstocking.” Much loved, Pam says Nugget lived to be nearly 40 years old.
Today, McGeough is a horse trainer and owner of the Briar Glen Riding Academy in Windsor, Va. Among her current horses are Dandy and Whiskey. She recently brought them to Andora Farm in Culpeper, Va., for her and her companion, Ryan Rutledge, to ride during one of the farm’s famed cattle drive weekends.
Andora Farm is an idyllic 18th-century horse farm located on Route 3 in Culpeper County owned by rancher, expert horseman and cable television personality Tom Seay and his wife, Pat.
MOVE THOSE CATTLE
The couple invites seasoned riders and beginners of all ages to bring their horses to Andora Farm and participate in cattle drive weekends, which occur from March through October.
During these weekends, which begin at noon Friday and conclude Sunday morning, riders learn to herd about 100 head of cattle across vast open fields consisting of 3-foot-tall brush, dense forests, swamplands, and a stream that can be as deep as 6 feet, depending on rainfall.
A one-time fee of $575 includes driving cattle across the farm on horseback and your horse stall. It also covers hookups, parking, all meals, riding lessons if needed, a trail ride around the property, instruction on team penning and entry into Friday evening’s team penning practice with the public.
If you don’t have your horse, the Seays can provide you with one. “Anyone is invited,” says Tom. “Even if your only experience with horses is that you once saw a photo of one.”
Tom is an authentic cowboy and professional horseback outfitter who has traveled across America, taking people for decades on extended horseback vacations.
In 1995, he led a group of horseback riders and wagons over 3,000 miles, from Savannah, Ga., to San Diego, Calif. Called the American Transcontinental Trail Ride, it took four-and-a-half months.
“Our 256 riders were welcomed and accommodated in 83 towns by mayors, chiefs of police and Texas Rangers,” he says. “Former President Jimmy Carter engaged the group with Sunday School teachings when the trail ride took a break in Plains, Ga.”
More recently, Seay organized and led another highly successful trail ride from Mexico to Canada, which lasted nearly five months.
Other riding trips have included Wyoming’s Chisolm Trail, Old Tombstone in Arizona, Missouri’s Jesse James Festival, President Ronald Reagan’s Ranch and Abraham Lincoln’s ride to the White House. “Best of America on Horseback,” Seay’s RFD-TV cable television show, documents many of these rides. Some previous episodes are on YouTube.
In addition to being a traveling cowboy, Tom Seay is also a supreme storyteller and practical joker with a heart as big as the Montana sky. Pat Seay often keeps quiet to allow Tom to tell stories about his adventures, some of which include Roy Rogers, John Wayne or Ted Turner. Pat has interesting stories, as well. She once caused a media-blitzed controversy by trying out as a young girl to be a bat boy for the Washington Senators.
Later, she worked as a television producer with a who’s who of famous personalities that reads like the history of television. Today, the Seays come across as a warm, welcoming, salt-of-the-earth couple who invite all their cattle drive participants to enjoy elaborate home-cooked breakfasts, lunches and dinners in their colonial farmhouse.
Lisa Relford, who manages and organizes reservations for cattle drive weekends, has also been cooking for cattle drivers on Andora Farm for 18 years.
“When I first came here to apply for the job nearly 20 years ago, Tom interviewed me and then told me that he had bad news for anyone interested in the job because he had already hired someone,” she recalls. “As I thanked him for the interview and got up to leave, he said ‘Where are you going? You’re the one I hired!’ We both laughed, and I’ve been here ever since.”
Friday and Saturday family-style dinners at Andora Farm are like celebrating Thanksgiving each night. A typical meal might include turkey, ham, stuffing, cornbread, sawmill gravy, cranberry sauce, assorted charcuterie and giardiniera, asparagus, vine-ripened tomato slices, hand-whipped potatoes, freshly baked loaf bread, churned butter, homemade pound cake and semisweet zucchini bread.
“I’m so amazed at how the Seays invite you into their home and allow you to instantly become part of their family,” says cattle drive participant Karen Simmons of Pylesville, Md. “I have an Airbnb that I rent out, but I keep boundaries. Not so here. I felt welcomed in their home, like I truly belonged there.”
Nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Seay’s 1758 farm has its own history. When he purchased it, Tom named it Andora by joining a combination of the first three letters of his parents’ first names: Andrew and Ora.
He says George Washington once surveyed the colonial-era property. In frontier times, Daniel Boone lived within a mile and worked on the farm, hauling tobacco to neighboring ports for shipment to England.
During the Civil War, Union officers occupied the farmhouse and approximately 30,000 troops camped on the 300-acre farm. A stream named Mountain Run goes through the middle of the property and, during the cattle drive, participants on horseback lead cows across the water.
Seay says the stream was once a strategic Union crossing where Gen. George Armstrong Custer reportedly led troops during the battles of Signal Mountain and others. Custer is also said to have celebrated his honeymoon on an adjacent property.
Andora farm also is thought to have been the site of an ancient Native American village.
Warren Perkinson, a Southside Electric Cooperative member from Dinwiddie, Va., is a horseman, ranch hand and farrier who helps the Seays during their cattle drives.
Perkinson derives from Native American ancestry and says one of his favorite spots on the property is directly across Mountain Run stream from the Native American village site. “Something speaks to me here,” he says.
Both native Virginians, Tom and Pat actively work the farm every day, when not on the road filming and producing episodes of “Best of America by Horseback,” taking care of the cattle, horses, and fencing and farming hay.
Andora Farm cattle drive weekends also include team penning rodeo exercises and other events. On Friday nights, they host team penning events that are open to the public, including children. Spectators are welcome at no charge.
Within their arena, teams of three riders work together to quickly cut and move three cattle from one end of the fenced arena to the pen at the far side. Bragging rights go to the team with the fastest time of the night. No money changes hands at these events, but professional rodeo riders often show up to get in some practice time. Tom Seay makes it a point to give out popsicles to all the kids.
Rappahannock Electric Cooperative members Lester and Dani Gebski, and their daughter Madison, of Stephens City, Va., often help with cattle drives and team penning events. Madison, 17, hopes to have her own horse one day. “Horses are in her blood,” says her mother, Dani.
The Seays sometimes take their cattle drives on the road, partnering with cattle farms in different states. Marlene Cashin and her 14-year-old grandson Noah Solomon flew in from Birmingham, Ala., to attend a weekend cattle drive at Andora Farm in July.
Marlene has her own horse farm but says she loves the camaraderie and hospitality of the Seays’ weekend events. “I met Tom on a cattle drive last August in Huntsville, Ala.,” Marlene says. “He was so nice and funny that I decided to travel up here and see his farm with my grandson. When I got here, it was like coming home, but better. When I’m here, I don’t have to think about my chores.”
Barbara Schirmacher of Winchester, Va., feels the same way. “I met Tom and Pat five years ago at a Pennsylvania horse show and found out they lived near me,” she says. “Now, I help with their cattle drive events every chance I get. It’s like coming to my second home.”
The same sentiment applies to Kyle Gafne and her husband, Mike, both of Sykesville, Md.
“We first came down here for a cattle drive weekend in 2018, and now we regularly make the nearly three-hour trip to help Tom and Pat with their cattle drive weekends,” says Kyle. “We also come for the food,” Mike jokes. “But seriously, we love Tom and Pat, and we love meeting other horse people here and planning adventures together. We’re going to Gettysburg soon with our horses and some people we met here, and their horses.”
Tom Seay is both humbled and unsurprised when he hears people refer to his ranch as their second home.
“Pat and I hear that all the time,” he says. “It makes me both happy and proud that people feel safe and at home here and that they want to return. Horse people are a different breed and that’s why Pat and I fell in love with them.
“There’s something about being a horse person that makes you get along with other horse people. Nine times out of 10, you’ll feel like they are your own family, and we are proud to bring family together here.”
For information about Andora Farm cattle drive weekends, go to andorafarm.com.