Monday, December 22, 2008

Aiken Horse Goes Global

The Aiken Horse went global this fall with its digital edition. The paper has always had a website, but, starting with the September issue, the entire paper is online. The online edition uses Adobe Flash technology to enable readers to view and zoom in on every page of the paper. Loading is quick: although readers may choose to download or print specific articles and pages, there is nothing to download if you just want to read. The paper is also fully searchable.

Traffic to the new digital edition is heavy and it is worldwide. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of the traffic is from the USA. Although many of our online readers are in the local area, the state with the highest readership is actually California. Readers in foreign countries are also devouring the publication. We have had hits from 38 separate countries, including Belgium, Australia and New Zealand, Mexico, Argentina and Brazil, and even the Russian Federation, China, Japan and India.

Our new worldwide customers aren't just looking. They are also reading and shopping. The average visitor looks at 45 pages and spends between 10 and 30 minutes on the site. Our tracking reveals that our ads are getting a good bit of attention. The classified and directory pages are among the most visited pages in the paper. Other top pages for zooms include full page real estate ads. We have heard from our advertisers that they are getting inquiries from as far away as Dubai.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Equine Rescue of Aiken Seeks Donations

Equine Rescue of Aiken, which currently houses over 50 rescued horses at Haven Hills Farm in Aiken, is seeking donations this December to help offset the costs of caring for the horses. The horses that live at Haven Hills came from various places. Some were bought from the "kill pens" at the auction, others were taken from neglectful homes, others were surrendered by people who loved them but could no longer afford to care for them. Most are available for adoption.

Those wishing to help the horses this winter have a number of options. Cash donations are always welcome, and, as the rescue is a registered 501c(3) charity, they are 100% tax deductible. Send a check to:

Equine Rescue of Aiken
Haven Hills Farm
532 Glenwood Dr.
Aiken, SC 29803

Another option is to donate stable and horse equipment or tack to the rescue. Haven Hills is always in need of more supplies. Things that the farm needs will be put into use. Other items will be auctioned off at a tack sale in January. Check back for the date!

Finally, various local tack shops have agreed to help the rescue this winter. Bring your used blanket to Aiken Saddlery, and you will get $25 off a new Horseware blanket. Or go to Boots, Bridles and Britches, where there is a matching gift program.

Horses are also available for adoption. Horses at the rescue generally do not look like "rescue" horses. Most of them are well-fed and well cared for. Some are green. Others have extensive training. Check out the website for some pictures and profiles.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Aiken Horse News, December 08

Aiken’s Horses are Big Business
In late November, the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce released the results of a study of the economic impact of the horse business on Aiken’s economy. The year-long study, conducted by Dr. Sanela Porca, an economist at the University of South Carolina, used data compiled from two different surveys filled out by horsemen around the county. The study found that the equestrian industry contributes $71.82 million to the Aiken economy each year. This figure includes a little over $50 million in direct spending by horse people and some $20 million in indirect and other spending.

The study also took a census of the horses in Aiken County, estimating that Aiken is home to about 6,785 horses. Around 48 percent of these horses are used for pleasure, while 21 percent are involved in competition, 18 percent are breeding animals and 13 percent are racehorses. Within the competition category, polo ponies topped the list at 21 percent, followed by hunter/jumpers (19 percent), fox hunters (17 percent), trail horses (14 percent) racing and steeplechasing horses (12 percent), dressage horses (5 percent), driving horses (5 percent), and others (4 percent.)

Most of the horses in Aiken (almost a third) are Thoroughbreds. Quarter Horses account for 22 percent of the population, while warmbloods and ponies each make up 9 percent. These breeds are followed by Tennessee Walking Horses (6 percent), Pinto/Paints (6 percent), minis (5 percent), mules and donkeys (4 percent) and draft horses (2 percent.) According to the study, the average value of horses of all breeds is just over $5,000, and the total value of horses in the county is almost $60 million. Does it seem as if your horses are costing you a lot of money? The survey estimates that the average cost of each horse in Aiken County is $7,393 per year! Of course, this figure encompasses everything having to do with owning a horse, such as entry fees to shows, but it certainly adds up to a healthy amount.

This was the first economic survey of Aiken’s horse industry in at least 20 years. In 2004, the South Carolina Agricultural Statistics Office published a study that detailed the economic impact of the horse industry on the state. This study found that Aiken had the most horses of any county in South Carolina and that the horse industry contributes approximately $1.2 billion to the state’s economy as measured in direct and indirect spending.

Aiken Polo Goes East

A polo team representing the Aiken Polo Club has been invited to play this December at the Desert Palm Polo Club in Dubai. The players’ host, Ali Albwardy, is the owner of the club and of the luxurious Desert Palm Hotel where the players will be staying. Aiken’s delegation is made up of Alan Meeker, Alan Martinez, John Eicher and Toby Wayman. Ali Albwardy is a dedicated polo player whose teams have won such prestigious English tournaments as the Queens Cup, the Gold Cup and the Prince of Wales Cup.

Aside from his skill as a businessman and developer, Ali Albwardy is perhaps best known as the polo sponsor who hired Adolfo Cambiaso to play in England and in the Middle East for several years. Adolfo, reputed to be the best player in the world, is equally well known for the quality of his horses. A great many of Cambiaso’s horses are stabled at the Desert Palm, and 30 of them will be available for the visiting Aiken team.

The trip was organized by Alan Meeker, president of Crestview Farms. Alan comes from Texas, but he has been playing polo at Aiken Polo Club for the last year or so, and has recently purchased property in the county. His Crestview team was quite successful this fall, making it to the finals of the 16-goal USPA Continental Cup, the 16-goal USPA Knox Cup and the New Bridge 12-Goal Classic.

The trip itself has a dual purpose. In addition to serving as a cultural exchange and a way to get in some great polo during the off season, it is also a business trip. Alan, who is in the energy field, is working on a deal involving technology that can create very high octane gasoline out of natural gas. Although the feasibility of turning natural gas into gasoline is not new, there is now some advanced technology that promises to be almost twice as efficient and much more environmentally friendly.

Crestview Farms, the City of Aiken and Aiken Polo Club have invited the Desert Palm Polo Club to send a team to play in Aiken next spring or fall. There is no word yet on whether the invitation has been accepted.

Ward Trail Ride
Over 1,000 horses and riders arrived at Bell Farms for the Wonderful Weekend in Ward trail ride, held November 7 through 9. According to Jenny Bell, who runs the ride along with her husband William, participation was not affected by the economy: if anything the ride just seems to be getting bigger, with as many as 1,600 people coming to the campground for the popular Saturday night dinner and dance.

The Ward Trail ride, which takes place about 28 miles north of Aiken, is probably the largest equestrian event in the area. Trail riding enthusiasts come from near and far, bringing their horses, trailers, campers and tents. Riders camp out for the weekend, keeping their horses tied to picket lines or penned in temporary corrals. There are equines of all descriptions, including a handful of donkeys and several mules, which are prized for their steadiness on the trail. The Ward ride is also billed as a wagon trail ride, and there are always at least a few old-fashioned wagons out on the trail.

This was the ninth annual fall ride at Bell Farms. To accommodate the increasingly popular event, the Bells opened a new and larger campground this year on a parcel of land that the Bell family decided not to farm. This is, in fact, one way that the economy did influence the ride. With the rising cost of fuel and fertilizer and relatively stagnant commodities prices, it made better sense to turn some portions of the farm over to the trail ride, rather than commit it to corn or strawberries.

“William is planning to have 3,000 camping spots one day,” says Jenny Bell. “We’re going to have other events here too in the future. Things like a country music festival and a car rally.”

In the meantime, the riders on the Ward Trail ride seem to be enjoying themselves and their horses in a big way. Many of the 1,000 or so riders who took part in the fall will be back in April, when the Bells host their spring ride, which promises to be at least as big, if not bigger.

Aiken Equestrian Exposition
Plans are in the works to hold an equestrian conference and trade show in Aiken in January of 2010. Tentatively billed as the Southeast Regional Equine Conference and Trade Show, the event is designed to be a multi-day affair, where attendees can shop, see equestrian demonstrations and participate in educational events. The concept behind such a conference is not new, of course – there are numerous horse-themed trade shows and conferences around the country. Perhaps the best known is Equine Affaire, a huge and immensely successful series of educational and commercial expositions held in California, Ohio and Massachusetts. But it is a new idea for this area and reflects the increasing prominence of the horse world in Aiken, as well as the rapid growth of Aiken’s equestrian community.

The conference is the brainchild of husband and wife team Elliot Levy, director of the Aiken County Historical Museum, and Marlene Groman, a dedicated amateur dressage rider. Recognizing the importance of horses both in Aiken’s culture and in its economy, Elliot believes that a trade show and conference will bring out the local horse community, attract people to the area, and create an important new revenue source for area businesses.

Angel Has Wings

Angel Karolyi has been continuing his hot streak on the jumper circuit this fall. Angel, who is 21, is based in Aiken at Andrea King’s Hollow Creek Farm, but he rides for his native Venezuela. This October, he traveled to Washington, D.C., where he competed in the Washington International Horse Show. The Washington International, “an equestrian tradition since 1958,” is one of the most prestigious shows in the country, regularly attracting the best national and international riders on the circuit, including, this year, quite a number of newly-minted Olympic medal winners. Competitors vie for $400,000 in prize money, as well as for the prestige of a Washington International title.

Perhaps the most hotly contested class in the show is the $100,000 President’s Cup Grand Prix. Angel, riding Ron and Cheryl Krise’s Sungod, a 13-year-old Hanoverian gelding, was one of eight riders to go clear in the initial round. Angel was the first to attempt the jump-off. Again he was clear. The next riders would have to go clean to catch him. But one by one, they knocked down rails and fell from contention. In the end, just one other rider had a clear round – Olympic gold medal-winner McLain Ward, riding his Olympic mare Sapphire. With a faster time, McLain was the winner, leaving Angel a very respectable second, finishing ahead of such veteran competitors as Todd Minikus (third), Margie Engle (fourth) and Jill Henselwood (eighth), who helped Canada to a team silver medal at the Olympics this summer. Not bad for a kid who just turned pro last year.

This was Angel’s first trip to the Washington International and it probably won’t be his last. In addition to his second place finish in the President’s Cup, he also tied for fourth in the Puissance Class aboard the Krise’s Curioso Z, clearing six feet, one inch. Angel was named leading international rider at the show. He also attracted a great deal of attention, and not just in professional equestrian circles. He even made it onto Page Six, the infamous gossip column of the New York Daily News, where he was referred to as a “Venezuelan stud.”

Angel will be showing in Thermal, California this winter, with hopes of qualifying for the World Cup in Las Vegas.

Aiken Event Horse Sale

Event riders and trainers will be glad to hear that the Aiken Event Horse Sale is returning to Shadow Lane Farm in Wagener this March 2 and 3. The first sale, held last February, pioneered an innovative concept in horse sales. Instead of being structured as a “buy it now” type auction, the sale was conceived as a forum to unite buyers and sellers over two days of both structured and more casual trials and demonstrations. Buyers had the opportunity to show their horses off with an in-hand presentation that mimicked a formal jog at an event, after which they could demonstrate their horses’ skills in the dressage ring as well as over cross country and stadium jumps. Buyers could also make appointments to try the horses out in competition-like settings.

Although transactions could and did take place right at the sale, horses in the catalogue remained under contract to the sale for 45 days after the event itself was over, giving everyone enough time to evaluate a horse’s suitability and make a satisfactory deal without undue pressure. This method worked out very well, resulting in quite a number of successful sales.

Sarah Heffron, who runs the sale along with Advanced-level eventer Craig Thompson, says that horse selling in the event world does not seem to be unduly affected by the current economic downturn.

“Horses at the lower and at the higher end of the scale are selling well,” says Sarah. “If there is any slowdown, it’s with the mid-priced horses. But there hasn’t been any change in the number of inquiries we’ve been getting from interested buyers.”

There have been some changes in the format of the sale this year. The most important difference is that, while last year, spectators had to pay a fee to attend, this year spectators are welcome and invited at no charge. Last year, also, buyers had to preregister and pay a fee to participate. This year, buyers may register on the day of the sale and the fee has been waived. Those wishing to sell a horse may send in their entries starting on January 12. The closing date for entries is February 6.

“We got great feedback from last year’s sale,” says Sarah. “We think we’re going to get a good response from serious buyers. Last year we had people from Florida who couldn’t come because the sale conflicted with an event in Ocala. This year, we scheduled the event for Monday and Tuesday, right after the Advanced Horse Trials at Pine Top. It’s a great thing for anyone who is looking to buy an event horse. Where else can you go to see 75 horses that are for sale all in one place?”

Katydid Shines in the Rain
It rained for two solid days at the outset of the Katydid Combined Driving Event at Katydid Farm in Windsor, reports Helen Naylor. But despite the weather, the footing was essentially unaffected and the event went off without a hitch. The seventh annual CDE took place November 13 through 16.
“More than 70 competitors took up their reins to drive dressage tests, marathon courses and cones in the Preliminary, Intermediate and Advanced divisions for international judges Jan-Erik Pahlsson, Hardy Zantke and Dana Bright,” writes Helen. “Competitors came from as far away as Iowa, Wisconsin, Texas and New York.”

Although the Advance divisions of the event boasted relatively few competitors, the intermediate and lower divisions were quite hotly contested. Jada Neubauer, who shipped in from Iowa, beat all comers in the Intermediate Single Pony division, which attracted 11 accomplished whips. The Preliminary Single Pony division also brought in a strong field. Suzie Stafford, who drove Courage to Lead to the national pony championship at the Laurels CDE this year, emerged the winner. Susan Hrizuk won Preliminary Single Horse, another popular division. Robin Reilly, a relatively new driver, came in second and earned the Aiken Driving Club’s Clyatt award.

Camp Anyone?

Did you think horse camp was just for kids? It’s not any more. Melissa Campbell of The Stable on The Woods is planning to hold an adult horse camp this spring. The Spring Fling Adult Event Camp, held from April 13 to 17, will feature mounted clinics by eventers Heidi White and Michael Page. There will also be lectures on topics as diverse as saddle fitting, acupuncture and yoga, with distinguished guest lecturers such as Dr. Kerry Ridgway.

Melissa’s mother Lisa Campbell, who lives in New Hampshire, runs an annual United States Eventing Association Adult Camp at the family’s Kingsbury Hill Riding Camp. This eventing camp, geared to riders from the Beginner Novice through Training Level, is highly popular. Some of the riders who have attended the camp in New Hampshire are already planning a trip to Aiken. The Stable on the Woods will provide stabling for horses and be the site of some of the clinics and lessons. Others will take place at one or more of Aiken’s local event courses.

“It will be a good week for people to enjoy their horses,” says Melissa. “And a good time to learn a lot.”

Lucetta Crisp Knox

Aiken lost one of its last representatives of the old Winter Colony this October with the death of Lucetta Crisp Knox. Mrs. Knox, who grew up on Long Island, first came to Aiken as a 13-year-old girl on a visit to her aunt Fran and uncle Bill Wood, winter residents of the city. She was an avid rider, joining the hunt and showing at the Aiken Horse Show. She returned to Aiken as a 17-year-old and soon met and fell in love with the Woods’ neighbor, young Norty Knox, also a winter resident. The two were married a few years later and came to Aiken almost every winter thereafter.

Mrs. Knox was a superb rider and a devoted sportswoman. In New York, where the Knoxes spent the warmer months, she was a member of the Genessee Valley Hunt. In Aiken, she rode with the Aiken Hounds where she was Master of Foxhounds from 1956 until 1966. A lifelong trustee of the Hitchcock Woods Foundation, she was devoted to the woods, where she rode almost every day. (Cetta’s Ride, off Barton’s Pond Path, is named for her.)

Mrs. Knox was 80. She is survived by her brother, Peter Ottley Crisp of Mill Neck, N.Y., her son Northrup Knox, Jr. of Dedham, Mass., her daughter Linda Knox McLean of Aiken, five grandchildren and one great granddaughter.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Aiken Horse is Digital

The Aiken Horse, the Carolinas' horse publication, is now available in an online, digital edition. Readers can access the entire publication, turn the pages, read the articles and download and print whatever they like. All the issues in the fourth volume of the paper (starting with September, 2008) are available in digital format.

The online edition, available on the Aiken Horse website has greatly increased the readership of the newspaper. The paper has had a nationwide presence since its inception. Now, however, The Aiken Horse has hundreds of readers in such places as Great Britain, Australia, South America, Japan and Russia.

Although the publisher of The Aiken Horse, Pam Gleason, does not believe the digital edition will ever replace the physical paper, she does think that it makes sense to make the paper available in a digital format. Not only does this increase readership without raising costs substantially, it is also more ecological, since it does not require more paper. Finally, it is a great service to the readers and the advertisers.

"I like being able to look things up online," she says. "I'm glad that the readers of The Aiken Horse will be able to access our articles and advertisements digitally from now on."

Friday, October 10, 2008

Aiken Horse News, October 08

Stonerside’s New Owners
The biggest news around the Aiken Training Track this fall is that Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, has purchased Stonerside Stables from owners Robert and Janice McNair. The sheikh is the owner of Darley Stables and the leading partner in Godolphin Stables, both top international Thoroughbred racing outfits. Darley Stables also owns racing and stud farms in England, Ireland, Australia, France and Japan and was the leading owner of racehorses in England every year from 1985 until 1999.

In January, 2007, the sheikh bought Stonerside’s farm and training center in Saratoga Springs, for a reported $17.5 million. The current purchase, announced September 1, includes a 2,000-acre breeding farm in Kentucky, the training center in Aiken on Audubon Road, about 80 horses in training and around 170 broodmares, yearlings and weanlings. The McNairs retain ownership of their most famous homebred stallions, Congaree, Bob and John, and Stonersider, as well as the racing stallion Cowboy Cal, who ran in this year’s Kentucky Derby. The 3-year-old filly Country Star, who was named Aiken Trained Horse of the Year this past spring, was part of the Darley purchase.

At least in the short term, the sale will have little effect on Aiken or on the operations of the Aiken Training Track. Darley has pledged to keep the day-to-day organization the same, ensuring that Stonerside’s staff will retain their jobs. Tim Jones, who has been in charge of the Stonerside horses in Aiken for years, will continue to run things at the stable, now called Darley at Stonerside.

The Darley purchase does, of course, bring a bit more international flair to the Aiken community. Although there is no guarantee that Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum will be visiting on a regular basis, it is certainly possible that either he or his influential wife might make an appearance. The sheikh is married to Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, daughter of King Hussein of Jordan and the only woman ever to represent an Arab nation in an Olympic equestrian event when she rode on the Jordanian show jumping team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. She is currently serving a four-year term as president of the Fédération International Équestre (FEI), which is the organization that oversees international equestrian sports. Princess Haya is the sheikh’s junior wife. He is also married to Sheikha Hind bint Maktoum bin Juma Al Maktoum and has 17 children.

Aiken County Land Conservancy

The Aiken County Open Land Trust (ACOLT)has a new name, a new logo, a new website and promises to play a greater role in Aiken County land conservation in the future. Now called the Aiken Land Conservancy (ALC), the organization recently announced two major land acquisitions and the signing of several significant land conservation agreements. The ALC is in the final stages of acquiring Langley Pond, a well-known recreational boating area in the northwest corner of the county, as well as Boyd Pond Park, a former Savannah River Site recreation area. Additionally, the ALC has announced that Scott Riviere has agreed to sign a conservation easement on his 17 prime acres along Grace Avenue in Aiken’s historic horse district. Former ACOLT president Lee Dane will also sign a conservation easement on 300 acres of her Ridge Spring farm. This farm, which runs along the North Fork of the Edisto River, includes some ecologically significant areas, including a grove of Civil War era hardwoods.

Preserving open space is important to horsemen, and the new ALC is eager to work with members of the equestrian community who recognize the value of Aiken County’s rural character. The ALC preserves land through donations, purchases and conservation easements, all of which can offer significant state and federal income tax benefits.

“Working together we can slow the growth of urban sprawl and preserve many of our national treasures for our grandchildren and theirs,” said ALC executive director Dacre Stoker in a press release.

For more information about the ALC, check out the new website:

North American Foxhunter Champion

Aiken resident Suzan McHugh, who rides with the Aiken Hounds, recently returned from a successful trip to Middleburg, Virginia, where she and her horse Dennis the Menace won the North American Field Hunter Championship. This is an annual competition held in honor of Theodora Randolph, who was master of Virginia’s Piedmont Hunt for over 40 years.

The competition begins with four days of foxhunting. Judges ride along with the field and pick out five outstanding horses each day. These horses return for the finals, held at Glenwood Park in Middleburg. There, the finalists engage in another hunt (this one a mock hunt led this year by Nelson Gunnel) during which judges select eight horses for an individual competition that consists of a handy hunter type course.

Suzan and Dennis the Menace were selected for the finals after their second day of hunting. Dennis the Menace is a 13-year-old Percheron-Thoroughbred cross who was bred in Virginia and raised hunting in the Middleburg area before he and Suzan moved to Aiken. Suzan, who has owned the gelding since he was 2, says that he was a bit excited on his first day out hunting, doubtless happy to be back on the familiar fields of his youth.

“He settled down after that,” says Suzan. “He was just brilliant the whole week. Of course I’m ecstatic that we won the championship, but, as I said to someone when we were out hunting, even if he hadn’t been selected for the finals, I couldn’t have been happier with him. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”

Winning the North American Field Hunter Championship wasn’t just good for Suzan, it was also good for the Aiken Hounds. The award brings not just prestige, but a $2,500 check to the winner’s home hunt.

Riding for Justice

John Harte, an Aiken-based lawyer who was once a regular on Aiken’s polo and hunt fields, had some good news about his novel, Ride For Justice. The Arizona Authors Association has announced that the novel is one of four finalists in its competition for the best published novels of 2008. The winner, to be announced at an awards banquet in early November, will be recognized in the Arizona Literary Magazine.

Ride For Justice is a western set in Civil War era Texas. It follows the adventures of the riders of Bar T Ranch during a time when (according to the author) “honor and a man’s willingness to answer the call of duty were more important than the color of his skin or the sound of his voice.”

You can buy signed copy of Ride For Justice at Southern Saddlery on Banks Mill Road or a regular copy at Aiken regional bookstores or online:

Polo Ponies Change Hands

The annual autumn Aiken Polo Pony Sale couldn’t have happened at a worse time. With soaring gas prices (not to mention gas and especially diesel shortages in the Southeast), the stock market in freefall, and the worldwide economic climate as dark and stormy as it has been in anyone’s memory, there weren’t a lot of people eager to add top-priced horses to their strings. To say it was a buyer’s market would be an understatement.

Nonetheless, the sale, held Saturday, October 4 at New Bridge Polo and Country Club did help find some ponies new homes. Of the 80-some horses that entered the ring, 30 were sold. The top seller was a 6-year-old chestnut gelding named Denali, consigned by Ka’aina DeCoite and purchased by Alan Meeker for $20,000. Charlie Herrick of Banks Mill Feeds, who runs the sale, declined to give out official figures on the average price of horses sold. However, an informal survey puts the average at around $6,000, with many good playing horses going for under $5,000. Several extremely well bred and well-conformed young polo prospects from the New Bridge Embryo transfer program went for bargain-basement prices of $500 to $2,500. These were horses with famous sires and dams, some from the top polo bloodlines in America and Argentina. Many superior playing horses went through the ring without a single bid.

Given the disappointing results of the sale, it is not surprising that its future is in doubt. Although the event has become a regular feature on the Aiken polo calendar and people do come from around the country and the world to buy and sell horses (a few ponies will be going to new homes in England this year) it may be that the demand for this type of sale is just not great enough to justify it.
“The quality of the horses this year was phenomenal,” says Charlie Herrick. “It was the best it’s ever been. We just didn’t have enough buyers.”

Monday, September 1, 2008

Aiken Horse News, September

Anyone who spent the summer in Aiken would probably agree that it was a spectacular season for riding. True, there were some hot days, and some days when it made sense to stay indoors and put the horses in front of a fan, but most mornings were pleasant and breezy, the humidity was rarely unbearable and there were frequent afternoon thunderstorms that kept the footing fairly soft and dust free. With weather like this, not to mention very few bugs, it’s no wonder that equestrian events are spreading across the calendar, creeping from the colder months into June, July and August.

Summer Polo

This, the third year of 302 Polo’s summer league, was the most popular yet. Games were held three times a week at 9 a.m. There were always enough players for one game, usually enough for a round robin, and often enough for two full games. Not bad for summer! The games themselves ranged from very slow in order to accommodate green-as-grass horses, to fairly fast and competitive. Whatever the level, the play was remarkable for its high level of sportsmanship and its respect for the rules and the spirit of polo – it’s not often that you can have the same people playing three times a week with no umpires and everyone is still friends at the end!

The highlight of the summer was the 302 Polo Brigadoon Fourth of July Tournament, held over the holiday weekend. Four teams met on Friday morning at Loughrea Plantation and then returned for the finals and the consolation finals on Sunday afternoon. These were the only games all summer that were canceled because of the weather – a strong storm blew in during the second chukker of the first game and both matches were rescheduled for the following morning. In the end, the winner, Aiken Cowboys, beat Aiken Horse by a score of 8-6. Greg Linehan was named MVP for Aiken Horse and Gary Knoll was the MVP for the Aiken Cowboys. Brigadoon won the consolation over La Victoria.

One reason that the summer league was such a success was the quality of the fields. Games took place at Meadow Hill’s new field on route 302, at Storm Branch Polo and most especially at Loughrea Plantation. Thanks to the generosity of field owner and summer league player Christine Cato, the majority of the games were at Loughrea, which has two of the best pitches anywhere. Rachel Cunningham, who managed the league, did a spectacular job of ensuring that everything ran smoothly.

Check out the pictures:

Summer Events and Shows

Polo wasn’t the only organized equestrian activity going on over the summer. Instructors kept on teaching, trainers kept on training and various schooling events gave area riders a chance to keep their competitive skills sharp. There were dressage shows at Jasmine and Quintynne Hill Farms, horse shows at Highfields and even a mid-July event at Full Gallop Farm. Considering that there are already recognized summer shows and events in Georgia and in North Carolina, it seems only a matter of time before Aiken’s equestrian season is officially a year-round phenomenon as well.

What the expansion of the horse season really shows, of course, is that Aiken’s equestrian population is undergoing a shift. Historically, Aiken has been a winter playground for wealthy Northern horse people who came to ride and train during the cold months, but maintained full-time homes up North. Although there are still Northerners who come South for the winter, the majority of horse people buying property here now are establishing primary residences. These people may have taken this summer off to go the beach, but pretty soon the full time horse population will reach enough critical mass to guarantee serious activity all year round.

Equus Events Show

This September, Aiken will play host to a pair of recognized horse shows, the first that have been held here in the autumn. The shows, run by Equus Events, will take over Highfields show grounds from September 11 to the 14th (the Aiken Fall Fling) and from the 18th to the 21st (the Aiken Fall Festival). The shows feature a $10,000 jumper prix in the first week and a $25,000 Grand Prix in the second week.

Equus Events, owned by Aiken residents JP and Megan Godard, holds successful shows throughout the region, but this is the Godards’ first Aiken show. To encourage competition in their events, the Godards offer high point awards at the end of the year – these awards include cash prizes as well as accolades, so the competition is especially high. Don’t miss it!

Touch a Horse
Show jumper riders Michael and Luke Tokaruk are holding an event called Touch a Horse in conjunction with the fall shows. The event, held at Bridle Creek Equestrian on Saturday, September 13, will raise money for the Aiken County Animal Shelter and is designed to get non-horse people out to see and touch horses. There will be pony rides for children, carriage rides, a dog agility demonstration, and Michael and Luke will give a riding and jumping demonstration. Participants are encouraged to come to the horse show on the next day to watch the riders that they have met compete in the jumper prix.

Andy Gaudio
Members of the Aiken polo community were shocked and saddened to learn of the death of 21-year-old Andy Gaudio. Andy, who was here from Argentina, rode, played and trained green horses with Jim Huber, who has a farm in Aiken and a full time residence in Milwaukee. Andy played in Aiken throughout the spring season and was a regular at Farmer Road Polo green horse chukkers as well as practices at Edisto and 302.

Andy died in a freak accident in Milwaukee on June 19. He was riding alone, so no one knows exactly what happened, but tracks left in the dirt where he was found make it appear that a deer jumped out of the woods, spooking his horse and causing him to fall into a tree. The cause of death was a head injury.
Andy had a ready smile, was a superior rider, a great player and a gentleman in every sense. He will be missed.

Condolences may be sent to his family. Gustavo and Nair Gaudio, Alem 965, Trenque Lauquen (6400) Buenos Aires, Argentina or via email:

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Eventing Turmoil

Responding to popular demand, we have decided to post all four of our Summer issue eventing safety articles on the blog to give them a wider audience. Let us know what you think!

Dangerous Sports

Eventing’s Uncomfortable Moment in the Spotlight

By Pam Gleason

On June 7 and 8, members of the eventing community gathered at the Hyatt Hotel in Lexington, Kentucky for the 2008 Eventing Safety Summit. Over 250 people came to the meeting, including competitors from all levels, trainers, veterinarians, course designers, parents of eventers and other interested members of the equestrian public. Reflecting the increased national interest in the sport, HBO sent a reporter, as did ESPN. The meeting was called by David O’Connor, United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) President and Kevin Baumgardner, United States Eventing Association (USEA) President. The goal was to address ways to avert serious eventing accidents.

With the televised breakdown of Kentucky Derby runner-up Eight Belles and the failure of Big Brown to win the Triple Crown, it has been a difficult spring for the image of horse sports. Eventing has also received its share of negative publicity. A string of accidents, including both horse and rider deaths, has brought the sport into the uncomfortable glare of the national spotlight. These fatal accidents have involved riders of all levels, from Novice to Advanced, and ages ranging from 17 up to 51. Numerous horses have also died in competition, some as the result of terrible falls, some from pulmonary hemorrhages, and some from broken bones or other types of skeletal failure. Worldwide, 15 people have died while participating in the sport over the last two years, three of them in the United States, with the plurality of the deaths occurring in England. Statistics on horse fatalities are not readily available.

Although the run of bad accidents has been going on for some time, the world at large began to take note of the trend after the Red Hills event in Tallahassee this March. There, Olympic bronze medalist Darren Chiacchia’s mount, Baron Verdi, flipped over a Preliminary fence on the cross-country course, landing on the rider and sending him into a coma. Darren later recovered, and even attended the June safety summit, but the accident was bad enough that for a time there was some question about his survival. At that same event, two horses died from pulmonary hemorrhages in what were termed freak accidents on the course. After Red Hills, the New York Times, not usually a publication attuned to equestrian news, ran a front page story entitled “Equestrians’ Deaths Spread Unease in Sport,” which instantly became one of the paper’s “most e-mailed” stories. This was followed by a story in U.S. News & World Report in which the author, a hunter rider, called for cross-country courses to be made safer for horses.

Ironically, improving the safety of events has been one of the hottest topics in the sport for the last few years. When NBC aired an hour of footage from the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** this spring, the commentary started with a long discussion about safety improvements on the course, including the recent installation of frangible pins on many obstacles. Frangible pins, installed on the top rails of fences, allow those rails to drop if a horse hits them, They are intended to prevent so-called rotational falls, which are falls in which the horse somersaults over the jump, often landing on his rider.

Despite this concern about safety, two horses, among them Aiken-based The Quiet Man, ridden by Sarah Hansel, had rotational falls on the course and were later euthanized. One rider, Olympic hopeful Laine Ashker, was severely injured, when her horse, Frodo Baggins (the other horse that died), fell on her. Although these accidents were uppermost in the minds of most people who know the sport, NBC coverage made no mention of them.

The Rolex tragedies prompted officials to call the safety summit. The USEA and USEF also asked members of the eventing community to provide their input on safety issues, and they were inundated with over 1,000 letters and e-mail messages. In May, the USEF executive committee passed a new rule mandating that riders be eliminated after one fall on the cross-country course. (The old rule allowed them to remount and continue, but assessed them 65 penalty points. A second fall meant elimination.) The FEI recently adopted the same rule. Another rule called for the use of frangible technology on obstacles constructed after December 1, 2008 and the retrofitting of older fences by December 1, 2009. A number of other rules are being considered, including rules that would suspend horses and riders that fall on the course and rules that would make it harder for horses and riders to move up a level.

Not surprisingly, horse publications and online forums immediately blossomed with opinions about what has caused the rise in accidents. Some people blame the format of eventing, claiming that abolishing the long format, which included a tougher endurance phase, means that people have stopped conditioning their horses properly. Some blame the breeds of horses now used in eventing, saying that today’s warmblood types are no match for the thoroughbreds of yesteryear. U.S. Olympian Jimmy Wofford picked up on an intriguing suggestion first put forth publicly by Great Britain’s Lucinda Green nine years ago, that horses are falling on the cross-country course because overtraining them in dressage causes them to lose their initiative and self-sufficiency. Many people blame riders for competing above their competence level and riding recklessly. An almost equal number blame course designers (especially U.S. chef d’équipe Captain Mark Phillips) for making the courses too technical and demanding.

Although what has caused the serious accident trend is likely to be multi-factorial, the statistics do not look good. At the safety summit, David O’Connor pointed out that riders who simply fall off their horses have about a 2 percent chance of getting injured. Riders whose horses fall have a 50 percent chance, while riders whose horses suffer rotational falls have an 85 percent chance of injury.

“We can improve safety by reducing one thing: horse falls,” said O’Connor, who also presented some alarming statistics on cross-country falls. At the Preliminary level, there was one fall for every 431 starts in 2003. In 2007, there was one fall for every 264 starts, an increase of over 60 percent. At the Intermediate level, there was one fall for every 234 starts in 2003, but one fall for every 156 starts in 2007, an increase of over 50 percent. At the Advanced level, however, the percentage of falls has gone down in the last four years.

Why are so many horses falling? It is possible, of course, that the current spate of injuries and deaths is just a fluke, a series of bad luck occurrences that are simply a part of what is acknowledged to be a high risk sport. This is not the first time that eventing has experienced such a terrible string of tragedies. Back in 1999 and 2000, there were so many fatal accidents in Great Britain that the newspapers The Express ran a headline reading “How Many Will Die This Year?” (May 5, 2000) while in Australia, articles bore such titles as “Blood Sport – Why This Olympic Event is Killing People.” (The Australian, September 12, 2000.)

The 2008 Safety Summit came up with some recommendations that will be acted upon in the months ahead, including changes in cross-country jump design, establishing a watch list of riders deemed to be riding dangerously, changing the speed requirements on courses, encouraging more education, promoting the Instructor’s Certification Program and establishing more detailed data collection on accidents when they do happen. Although no one believes that the safety summit will provide the solution to all of eventing’s problems, most people who attended came away feeling that the organizations are basically on the right track.

In the meantime, riders will continue eventing. The sport is still growing, especially in Aiken where we have so many courses and competitions, and, at least so far, no serious accidents. We asked three people involved to give us their thoughts on what has happened to eventing and what can be done to make it safer. Their responses are on the following pages.

Eventing Turmoil

By Denis Glaccum

At least two divergent dynamics have helped to create the current challenges we face in the sport of eventing. First, the need to be competitive internationally has resulted in changes in the design and requirements of American courses. The United States Eventing Association Course Advisor Program, led by Captain Mark Phillips since 1993, has been responsible for standardizing courses at the upper levels. This program has helped to educate American course designers and has been successful, as measured by the success of American teams in international competition.

A second dynamic has arisen from other USEA initiatives. By adding the Beginner Novice level to recognized events and requiring minimal qualification at the American Eventing Championship (AEC), the USEA has lowered the bar among our eventers. In an attempt to gain new members and to satisfy membership services, the USEA has failed to educate its membership adequately about the true merits of the sport. The sport is about riders developing relationships with their horses through the development of their horsemanship skills. Combined training skills involve the overall training and development of horse and rider in progressive basic horsemanship. In an eventing competition, this training is measured against a standard. You should not be competing against other riders, but against a standard.

As the USEA has attempted to attract new members, this message has been lost. The AEC, Area Championships and so many annual awards within levels have no real meaning. The emphasis appears to be on providing scaled down divisions for lower level riders who worry about where they placed, rather than about fostering a true understanding of the sport.

I have several suggestions that might help put the sport back on its path. The issue isn’t safety. The issue is horsemanship. Horsemanship is the understanding of specific skills, their application and their execution. True horsemanship produces many desirable traits, among them, good judgment.

It is not the mission of the USEA to teach horsemanship. However, it should be its mission to educate all its members about the skills that are required at each level in eventing. I urge the development of simple, one page guidelines for each level to help identify the skills riders should be able to demonstrate before competing at that specific level. In addition, events should be structured to encourage riders to develop certain skills that will further their horsemanship.

For instance, if understanding galloping pace is a skill, we should develop it and reward it. From Beginner Novice thru Preliminary level, competitors should not be allowed to wear watches. A scaled penalty system should be added to the rules that would reward those closest to the optimum time and penalize those going much faster. Almost anybody can read a large watch while galloping. Learning to feel the correct pace is a different thing entirely.

The professional fraternity of instructors and trainers should develop specific professional guidelines for clients and ensure that their students do not put themselves on courses where they don’t belong. Just because someone wants to compete at a particular level and is qualified according to the USEA rules does not make that person competent to do so. I frequently hear riders claim that they are Intermediate or Advanced riders because they have competed one horse at that level. Riding at a level doesn’t make you a rider at that level and the professionals need to address this.

Finally, new rules should not be passed under the politically correct guise of safety. Since Rolex, two rules have been passed that might actually make the sport less safe. How could the new rule eliminating a rider for one fall on the course increase safety problems? Consider this instance. We all have seen riders and horses with ditch and water phobias. At the Plantation April Horse Trials, a rider on my horse came down to the last Preliminary fence in front of a home crowd of parents, friends and a big cheering section. At age 15, she did what we all have done, which was to slightly chase to the jump whereby the horse added a stride, jumping her out of the tack. She remounted quickly and jumped the fence. Fast forward one month to the same rider coming down to the same jump and you know her attention was focused. She jumped into the water flawlessly and finished the course without penalties. With the new rule in place, what would that rider be thinking? “Oh I fell here last time and got eliminated?” Her focus would not be on riding well but on what might happen again. Why did they make the new rule? There has been no evidence presented that riders who have fallen and remounted have sustained additional injuries. Could they do so? Yes, of course!

After Rolex the USEA also passed a rule requiring the use of frangible pins on cross-country obstacles. In my opinion, the use of frangible pins on three-foot fences (such as those used in the lower levels) should be of concern and might make these jumps less safe. Novice and Training level horses sometimes refuse at the very last moment, thrusting their necks and shoulders downward on to a rail. If that rail is held up with a frangible pin, it could give way. Where will the horse go without that support? I think we could see more falls caused by frangible pins.

It is very sad to see animals lost in competition. Several horses have died as a result of pulmonary failures on course. Are there any better preventive measures available for horses, such as those we currently use in human medicine? What is typical in pulmonary failures in horses? Can they be predicted or prevented? There is one fact that I do know; if you have an upper level horse above a certain age and you keep competing him one of three things will happen. First, he might go around his course without trouble. Second, he could embarrass himself and his rider because of his diminished skills. Third, he might suffer a major injury and break down or drop dead. As hard and cruel as this may be, it is a fact that if you deal with horses in competitive stress, you must face these possibilities.

It is sad to see the current race to pass rules to make eventing safer when these rules have not been identified as fixes to any problems. It takes strong leadership and management to do nothing until cause and effect relationships can be established. As horseman we need to keep evaluating our relationships with our horses and clients. As an organizer of six horse trials a year where approximately 1,200 horses go through the start box, I am always aware of the potential safety challenges we face. We review our human and equine medical arrangements at each event. We try to troubleshoot each and every possible scenario. We identify, sometimes in the dressage phase, rider and horse combinations that are not going safely. The officials watch for any potentially unsafe situation and intervene when warranted. Riders will have falls and horses will be injured. At the end of the day, all we can do is to make sure that we have taken every possible precaution.

Rules are not a substitute for judgment. They cannot replace skills that have been honed through years of exposure to training animals that we love and want to protect. A horseman puts his horses first. A horse allows us to extend our capabilities. We go further, faster and with more enjoyment when we journey together. Alone we are only people.

Denis Glaccum, who rode in his first 3-phase competition in 1956, has been eventing for longer than any rider in the USA. A trainer of event and show horses for 40 years, he has been involved with every aspect of eventing. Owner, breeder, trainer and coach, he is a founder of Fair Hill Equestrian Events, Inc., Fair Hill International, and the American Horse Trials Foundation. His summer base is Unionville, PA, where he runs the Plantation Field Horse Trials; winters find him at his farm in Aiken. He is currently competing six horses on the circuit.

Bring Back the Long Format

By Lara Anderson

There are many good suggestions coming out of this spring’s eventing safety meetings, but I have not yet seen any discussions about the changes eventing has undergone since we abandoned the long format. I believe we need to take a hard look at what we have changed about our sport in the last few years. I know there are arguments on both sides, but there are key issues that cannot be ignored since the long format has been abolished at the top level.

First, what are the statistics of long format versus short format serious accidents and deaths to horses and riders? When we used the long format, I don’t remember there being so many tragic deaths in such a short time. Today, many riders seem to be going out and competing at upper levels when both they and their horses are unprepared. This would be unlikely to happen if the riders had to qualify at several long format events and if the marquee events (such as Rolex) were also long format events.

Many professionals admit that they like the short format because they can compete their horses more often and ride more horses at an event. This should not be the goal of our sport. I personally feel that horses are neither conditioned nor rested as well as they were when the long format was run. I believe that many of the competitors, especially at the higher levels, compete their horses entirely too often. The rigors of the long format would not allow them to do this.

The long format gave horses a proper warm-up and a fitness test before the cross-country started. Horses that were not fit enough were dismissed after Phases A-C (roads and tracks and steeplechase). With the short format, we do not have this option. Not only are the horses going out on the cross-country course without the thorough warm-up provided by the Phases A-C, we can no longer count on a veterinary inspection (which included an assessment of the horse’s heart rate and his temperature) to weed out those horses that might be headed for serious trouble. I think going back to the long format and restoring the vet check before the cross-country phase would eliminate many of the pulmonary issues we are currently seeing.

The short format has also opened the doors to horses that would never have made it as “upper level” horses in the long format. A horse that could make it through all the endurance phases of the long format was a true athlete. Now, bigger, heavier horses and horses that aren’t as well conditioned can perform at the top levels. We have to ask ourselves, is this what we really want? In some ways, we seem to be becoming a glorified show jumping sport with some galloping across the countryside.

I would propose that we take a long hard look at the differences in the formats and understand that the original way the sport was conceived probably makes a lot of sense. I would further propose going back to the long format for at least two years to measure the differences in serious accidents to horses and riders. Everyone who is qualified for the upper levels would have to qualify again in the long format, and there should be no exceptions.

We all understand that everyone desperately wanted to keep eventing as an Olympic sport, which is why the short format was born. I think we have to take a good look at the change we made and ask, was it in the best interest of the sport? If eventing is no longer included in the Olympics because of this, so be it. Many people believe that eventing will soon be eliminated from the Olympics anyway, no matter what format we run. I say we should go back to the classic format, which will take us back to the principles of all-around horsemanship upon which the sport of eventing was founded.

Lara Anderson and her husband Andy Pence have been running recognized horse trials at their Full Gallop Farm in Aiken for the last three years. They have an active training and event barn and sponsor several young riders, including Sarah Hansel. Lara herself has been involved with horses for over 35 years, with experience ranging from the race track to the hunter ring to Preliminary level eventing.

What Has Happened to Eventing?

By Katherine O. Rizzo

First of all, I must start with a short disclaimer. I have only been competing in the sport of eventing for the past nine years and am by no means an expert. I do have experience in several equestrian disciplines, and I coach riders at the lower levels of eventing, dressage, and hunt seat equitation. I have volunteered at and organized horse trials for several years, and recently completed the United States Eventing Association Instructor’s Certification Program and am certified as a Level I – Training instructor. Again, this does not make me an expert, but what I present is simply my view as a trainer, observer and competitor as to what I feel is happening to our sport.

The mainstream media is having a field day with the recent horse and rider tragedies that have plagued eventing. Writers would like the world to believe that event riders push their horses too far, that course designers ask impossible questions, and that horses are dying simply for our vanity. This of course is not true, but the deaths are a reality and need to be carefully and quickly addressed.

It saddens me to remember the horses that have died this year alone, but I would like to think that their deaths were not in vain and that a solution to eventing’s problems will present itself soon. Call me optimistic, maybe unrealistic, but I do believe eventing is safer than it was some 40 years ago. However, I also see several flaws in the thinking of many involved in the sport, which has led to accidents, and could possibly bring about the end of eventing as we know it.

Experts around the world are working together to find the reason why so many serious crashes have occurred, and more important, how to prevent future problems. Unfortunately, there is not one clear reason for these falls and there is no one obvious change that will make eventing safer.

Change in Format

Some top riders and trainers blame the elimination of the long, or “classic” format for eventing’s downward spiral. The short format was introduced at the 2004 Olympics. At the time, the push for the change was made mainly in the hope that the change would help keep eventing in the Olympics. Riders and trainers also felt that the change would be easier on the horses physically and allow the horses to have longer careers.

No one could predict that many of these horses would simply be competed more often and that some riders would no longer respect the demands of the upper levels. On more than once occasion I have overheard riders talking about doing their first one-star and commenting on how “it is just another horse trials.” And I’m sure that many have heard the comment “its just another three inches” when talking about moving up a level. This mentality has caused quite a few riders to move up too quickly and get hurt in the process.

But has the short format directly caused the recent accidents? No one can prove that is has or that it hasn’t.

What We Ask

Though the actual heights and speeds on cross-country courses have not changed in the last 85 years, the demands of the dressage and show jumping tests have. Dressage, even at the lower levels, now requires much more collection and it forces the rider to take more and more control over the horse. We are asking our horses to canter a 10-meter half circle and then counter canter at the Preliminary level. These are difficult movements, requiring the horse to be highly attentive to the rider.

In show jumping, competitors are being presented with more questions that demand extreme accuracy even at the lower levels. I remember one Training level event last year where I had to angle an oxer in order to get the best line to the next fence. That same course was used for Novice, and I was very surprised that the oxer wasn’t shifted to allow a more simple line for that level. Courses are also requiring riders to adjust their horses’ strides more often.

Yes, the cross-country courses of today are getting more technically complicated. It isn’t that the heights have changed, but the number of jumping efforts per meter has increased significantly. These often-tricky combinations force the rider to slow down considerably, achieving a “show jump” type canter to navigate the question. But since the overall speed of the course has remained the same, the riders must then gallop faster than the required speed elsewhere on the course to make up the time. Thus, riders are going faster than they should go to the single fences. Yes, horses can jump at speed; you need only watch a steeplechase race to see that it can be done. However, steeplechase horses are rarely asked to slow down and then accelerate multiple times while on course.

So how have these changes affected the horse and rider? And how are they related to an increase in falls?

The Horse and Rider

For the horse, these changes are simply more demanding. There is a reason why we don’t ask our event horses to ride a Grand Prix dressage test or jump a Grand Prix show jump course. Eventers are looking for the well-rounded horse, a horse that can use its flat work to improve its jump and is bold enough to run cross-country as well. But now the demands required by the dressage and show jumping phases have changed what is required of the horse.

When event riders go to buy a horse these days they are no longer seeking that “look of eagles” in their prospects. Now they are looking for a horse that excels in dressage and can also jump well, or a horse that is a super show jumper but might not be as brave cross-country. The bold, well-rounded athlete of old is being replaced by a horse that specializes in one phase and thus is compromised in another.

Some people believe that the increased technical demands of the sport have taken away our horses’ own will to event. We now micromanage every aspect of every ride so that our horses are not thinking for themselves anymore. I can personally attest that by trying to get my big, bold Thoroughbred to compress his huge stride in an effort to achieve that perfect collected canter we need for Preliminary dressage, I have taken away his will to jump forward. He now waits for me to say “go” and it has gotten us into enough trouble that I have had to drop him down two levels. Now, I’m back to jumping on a loose contact, asking him just to jump and not worry about the stride. Luckily, he’s smart and careful enough that the retraining is working.

What You Can Do

If you would like to help ensure eventing’s survival, there are several things you can do as a trainer, competitor, parent, friend or simply a horse enthusiast. Contact the USEA directly and find out how you can voice your opinions and ideas at various committee meetings. Also contact your USEA area representatives and find out what your local area is doing. Several local groups are banding together in fundraising efforts to help both with veterinary research and by donating money to injured riders.

As a competitor, it is your obligation to ride responsibly. You are the one out there on your own, not your coach, not your parents; its all you. Ride your horse thinking about his needs and not yours. Put your ambitions, no matter how great or small, aside for a moment and ask yourself, am I riding safely? Is my horse up to what I am asking him to do? Take the time to school balance, not collection, to encourage your horse to jump on his own, not because you made him do so.

As a trainer, teach responsibly. Your students look to you for guidance, so guide them! Be open and willing to listen to new ideas. Be willing to say, “I don’t know but I’ll find out,” and be willing to say “you’re not ready” even if it means losing a client.

Katherine Rizzo has been riding since she was a child. a In college, she was active in the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association and during graduate school, served as head coach of the University of Southern California at Santa Cruz intercollegiate dressage team. Currently, she coaches the varsity hunter team at Academy of the Holy Cross. A writer, editor and photographer, she is currently eventing at Training level.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

News And Notes From the Summer Issue

Dutton Wins Rolex

Phillip Dutton, born in Australia but now a U.S citizen and Aiken property owner, finally took home the watch at the Rolex Kentucky Four Star Three Day Event. Rolex, held at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington (April 23-26) is the only four star event in America, and was a selection trial for the U.S. Olympic Eventing Team. It might seem odd to use the word “finally” in connection with winning such a prestigious and difficult competition, but when one is talking about Phillip, it does make some sense. An Olympic gold medalist (riding for Australia), Phillip has been the United States Eventing Association rider of the year for nine out of the last 10 years and has finished second at Rolex a total of five times. It seemed to many observers that he was due.

Phillip took two horses to Rolex: Woodburn, owned by Acorn Hill Farm, and Connaught, owned by Aiken resident Bruce Duchossois. Connaught, a 17-year-old Irish Thoroughbred cross gelding, is no stranger to the Rolex course. He and Phillip were second there last year, and came in fourth in 2006.

Phillip and Connaught started off the competition in good style, placing third in dressage, behind Becky Holder on Courageous Comet and Heidi White (another Aiken resident) on Northern Spy. On the second day, they jumped clean around the cross-country course, accruing just .4 time penalties to put them in second place. (Heidi White and Northern Spy unfortunately hit a fence. Heidi came off, breaking a bone in her wrist and racking up 65 jumping penalties. She remounted and finished the course, but ended up withdrawing from the competition.) Going into the stadium round, Phillip and Connaught were just 2.4 points behind Becky Holder and Courageous Comet, who had no cross-country penalties.

Phillip jumped clean. This was not much of a surprise, since Connaught hates to hit a fence. Becky Holder, jumping last with the pressure on high, knocked two rails, giving her eight faults and second place. Phillip also came in ninth with Woodburn.

With such a performance, it was no surprise that Phillip was named to the short list for the 2008 Olympic team that will compete in Hong Kong this August. Phillip is on the list with three horses (Connaught, The Foreman and Woodburn) and seems likely to make the final cut. Heidi White and Northern Spy (“Farley” to his friends) are also short-listed. Heidi’s wrist is healing nicely and Farley is ready for more competition.

Horse Show in the Woods

The 93rd annual Aiken Horse Show in the Woods was another big success this year. Not only were there more competitors than in the past, attendance was also up and included horses and riders from outside the local area, such as Nelson Gunnell, who lives in Virginia. The popular silent auction in the Hitchcock tent drew a lot of attention from people who came to bid on items that included an African safari, donated by International Ventures, limited edition, signed Freudy prints, Hermès scarves, custom artwork and handmade jewelry.

The Aiken Horse Show attracts many competitors who don’t usually find themselves at horse shows, since it is an old-fashioned hunter show. The majority of the horses competing are field hunters rather than show horses. There is even a division for qualified field hunters, which are horse-and-rider combinations that have been out on the hunt field at least six times during the previous season. The Fox Hunter division is the most hotly contested of the show. Last year’s champion, Melisssa Campbell on Nandina, did not participate, while the winner the two previous years, David and Lynn Smith’s Deville, had a new rider.

There were many new contenders for the Fox Hunter championship. In the end, the tri-color went to Dennis the Menace, ridden by his owner, Suzan McHugh. Paddy Anne Burns was reserve champion, riding Breakfast in Bed. Although competition for adults was as fierce as ever, much of the character of the show comes from its emphasis on children’s classes. The kids compete at many different levels, from leadline and walk-trot through Junior Fox Hunter. The class that draws the most attention is often the costume class. As ever, kids and their parents went all out – there were costumes with tropical motifs, ponies dressed up to look like fairies, painted horses, cowboys and Indians and clowns.

The Aiken Horse Show is the primary fundraiser for the Hitchcock Woods Foundation, which manages and cares for the Hitchcock Woods. Members of Aiken’s equestrian community can become a Friend of the Woods for a small donation. For more information, go to, or call 803.642.0528.

Jumpers Jumping

One horse that really jumped up a notch this spring was Acorino, a 7-year-old Holsteiner stallion owned by Lieutenant Colonel Frederick (Rick) Schofield, who is based in Fort Bragg, N.C. and recently became an Aiken property owner. Acorino, showing under Aiken’s Daniel Geitner, was the Young Jumper Champion at the Aiken Spring Classic in May as well as the champion of his division. Daniel has been showing Acorino since last year, and the two have been moving steadily up the jumper ranks.

Rick Scofield owns Sentinel Sport Horses, which he started in Rhode Island, but now bases in Aiken. He imported Acorino from Germany three years ago, and has two other Holsteiners showing, one in Aiken and one in Colorado. In addition to showing, Acorino is also standing at stud. Although Rick had hoped to be able to see his horses compete in the show ring, he was deployed to Kuwait last year and will be stationed overseas for 15 months. When he returns in the fall, with luck, he will be able to watch his stallion soar to ever greater heights.

Dressage Mania

Judging from the number of dressage activities going on this year, the sport really seems to be picking up in the area. Not only does Aiken have four recognized shows this year, there are also numerous schooling shows, ideal for greener horses and riders and anyone who wants to get comfortable riding in the arena in front of a judge. In addition to the shows, there are quite a number of clinics. Granted, most of these clinics are in North Carolina, but they aren’t far away. Study with Jessica Ransenhousen, Paul Belasik, Bo Jenna, Cathy Morelli . . . the list goes on.

There are also some new types of dressage in the area. The Aiken Horse introduced its readers to dressage for gaited horses last year. Now, meet dressage for sidesaddle riders. That’s right. At the behest of Aiken’s sidesaddle club, Aiken Ladies Aside, the Beat The Heat dressage show at Buckleigh Farms held a sidesaddle class. The winner was event rider Ann Lawhorn, riding Wally, an Appaloosa lent to her by Betty Alexander, Aiken’s sidesaddle guru.

Spring Polo Season

There was an interesting trend in polo during Aiken’s spring season. The spring is usually quieter than the fall around these parts, but that wasn’t really the case this year. It’s true that we didn’t have the marquee events (there was no Gold Cup, no Silver Cup, no Triple Crown of Polo) but as far as low goal polo is concerned – polo played for the enjoyment of the sport more than for the sponsors and spectators– the spring was really hopping.

There were low goal tournaments pretty much everywhere. Aiken Polo Club had a 6 goal and two 8 goals. New Bridge, a newcomer to low goal polo, had a competitive 8 goal spring league in May with eight teams entered. Farther out in the county, Edisto Polo had several 4-6 goal leagues that attracted a good contingent of competitive teams. Omar Cepeda, who has a nice field in Blackville, also played host to a number of 4-6 goal tournaments. Both the league games at Edisto and those at Omar’s were just four chukkers and had modest entry fees, making them ideal for players on a budget. (Yes, there are a lot of them! All polo players aren’t rich and famous.)

Of course, there was also higher goal polo – a 12 goal at New Bridge and a 14 goal and two 16 goals at 302 Polo. The other big polo attraction was the Spring Select Sale, a polo pony auction held at New Bridge Polo and Country Club. Organizer Charlie Herrick, who also puts on the popular fall sale, wanted this sale to be smaller and more exclusive. He limited the number of horses entered and required them all to be prequalified. The sale was held under the lights in front of the New Bridge Clubhouse. Charlie and his auctioneers sold 17 horses at an average of $18,107. The sales topper was Lunatico, a 12-year-old Argentine gelding consigned by Matias Magrini who brought $38,000.

The fall polo pony sale will also be at New Bridge this year. After the usual few days of horse trials and practice chukkers, the sale will be held over two days. Day one, October 3, will be green horses and unproven horses. Day two, October 4, will be horses that have been approved by the sales committee. Charlie says that he is planning to give the fall sale a bit more of a carnival atmosphere. In addition to having a cocktail party and holding the annual Polo Training Foundation benefit dinner, he is thinking of offering camel rides and country fair events.

“I want to get more people involved and make it fun,” he says. “I’d like to get a chuckle out of people, make them laugh, not just sell them a horse.”

Watch Out For This Weed

Have you been seeing a lot of dandelions your pasture and in your yard? Have you noticed that these dandelions are huge and they have many flowers for each plant instead of just one? That’s because these thing aren’t really dandelions. They’re hairy cats ear (or common cats ear or false dandelion: Hypochaeris radicata) and they are an invasive species that was accidentally imported from Australia. They have become quite widespread in North and South Carolina, and this year, there seems to be a bumper crop.

Although hairy cats ear is not highly dangerous, Dr. Lisa Handy of Carolina Equine says that you should try to get rid of it if you have horses. Horses that eat large quantities of the weed have been known to exhibit symptoms of nerve damage. These symptoms include Australian stringhalt, a condition in which the horse lifts his hindlegs very high in a jerky motion.

“The best thing to do it to spot treat the weeds,” says Dr. Handy. “Round-up works well.”