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.
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.