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.
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.
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: Gustavo.email@example.com.