Sunday, December 6, 2009

Art Show Returns

Lovers of sporting art will be glad to hear that the annual Sporting Life Art Show and Sale will be returning to the Aiken Center for the Arts this February. The highly popular sale will once again benefit the Aiken Chapter of the American Red Cross. The show starts on Thursday evening, February 18, when there will be a preview party. It runs through February 21, giving buyers a narrow window in which to select and purchase their favorite pieces.

There are quite a few well-respected local artists who will offer their creations for viewing and for sale. In addition, Elizabeth Beer, who runs the Beresford Gallery in Unionville, Penn., will once again be bringing in a wide selection of works by artists from around the country. This is the sixth time that the Beresford Gallery has been involved with the show, which is becoming an important fixture on the sporting art calendar. February is a great time to have this collection of artwork on display in Aiken because so many horse people are in town to participate in eventing competitions or in one of the local foxhunts.

The show should offer an unparalleled chance for Aiken area art enthusiasts to add to their collections, and, for those who just love to look, to see a sampling of some of the top sporting artists in the country. Although many of the works for sale will be in the higher price ranges, organizers stress that there are always a number of pieces that are priced for the new collector, or for the person who has more taste than money in the bank.

NBHA Barrel Finals

It’s amazing how much some riders can get done in less than 15 seconds. This is particularly true if they happen to be world class barrel racers mounted on fast, fit horses. At the National Barrel Horse Association World Finals, held from October 26 to 31 at the James Brown Arena in Augusta, Georgia, you had to be able to race into the arena, spin around three barrels and then race out again in about 14 seconds in order to have a hope of being in the top ten.

The winning horse and rider combination this year was Lacy Childress of Loxely, Alabama aboard LS Wonder Boy, who whirled around the barrels in 14.295 seconds. It was a dramatic run. If a horse knocks a barrel and it hits the ground, the run will count as a “no time” and the competitor will be out. As Wonder Boy rounded the second barrel, he hit it and it tipped. Lacy reached out and eased it back into an upright position without skipping a beat. The barrel stayed up and they won the title, pocketing $4,297 in cash and winning a number of other prizes in addition to the World Championship title.

Lacy, who is 22, is taking a year off from her studies at the University of South Alabama. In addition to LS Wonder Boy, a 2001 sorrel gelding that she has owned since he was 4, she also competes on LS Wonder Boy’s half brother, LS Shaky Bargain and several other horses.

The National Barrel Horse Association is headquartered in the offices of the Augusta Chronicle, and the World Finals is the organization’s largest event. Each year, the show draws in top barrel racers from all over the country, as well as from Canada and from as far away as Australia. If you go by the number of horses involved, it is probably the largest equestrian competition in the Aiken-Augusta area. This year, there were over 1,000 horses at the event.

Dressage Success

It’s not easy to make it to the top in any horse sport. Dressage is certainly no exception. This is why people are pretty impressed by Shawna Harding, an Aiken-based rider, and her horse Come On III. Shawna moved Come On III up to the Grand Prix level this year, after he was named United States Dressage Federation Dressage Horse of the Year at the Intermediaire I level and finished second in the standings at the Prix St. Georges level in 2008. The pair did well enough during the 2009 show year to qualify for the USDF’s Region I dressage championships, held in Lexington, Va. this October.

But it wasn’t enough just to go to the championships. They were there to win. Shawna and Come On III won the title at both the Grand Prix and the Intermediaire II level. Come On has now won six regional championship titles: Fourth Level, Fourth Level Freestyle, Prix St. Georges, Intermediaire I, Intermediaire II and Grand Prix. It’s an amazing résumé for any horse. Come On III ended the year ranked eighth on the USDF Dressage Horse of the Year standings at the Grand Prix level and third at the Intermediaire II level.

Shawna has also been enjoying success with other horses that she rides, trains and shows, bringing home two other regional titles from her excursion to Lexington. She won the Fourth level championship with Tonya Rowe’s Rigo, who has now won the regional championship at three levels (First in 2007 and Second in 2008). And she won the First level championship with her horse Contreau. The USDF year end standings showed Shawna’s rides holding the top two spots in the Dressage Horse of the Year standings at the Fourth level: She was the champion with Rigo and the reserve with Richman, owned by Kathleen Broughan.

Paul Fortugno Memorial Polo Tournament

The first annual Paul Fortugno Memorial Polo Tournament took over the fields of the Wagener Polo Club from October 14 to 25, attracting four competitive 6-goal teams. The purpose of the tournament was to honor the memory of Paul Fortugno, who grew up playing on his family’s Mallet Hill team along with his younger brother Gene and his father Fred. Paul, who attained a rating of 6 goals, had a reputation of being one of the nicest people in polo. Back in the 1960s and 70s, the Mallet Hill team, based in Pennsylvania in the summer months, was a regular on Aiken’s polo fields during the winter. By the 1980s, the family had moved their winter polo operation to Florida. Paul’s polo career took him to the Florida circuit and to Nashville, Tn, where he died in 2007 while still in his 40s. Today, Gene and Fred can both be found back in Aiken during the polo season.

The tournament format called for all the teams to play one another and then for the two with the best records to compete in the finals. The top two teams were Polo Cops (Kathie Roberts, Scott Brown, Geoff Cameron, Tim Zekany) and Tandem (Paul Shealy, Pam Gleason, Billy Raab, Gabriel Caro.) The Tandem team came to the finals undefeated. The Polo Cops team had lost their game against Tandem, but had beaten the other teams in decisive fashion.

After a warm and sunny autumn, the morning of the finals felt like the first taste of winter. With a cold wind blowing and skies threatening to rain, the players took to the field. It quickly became clear that the Tandem team, which had won all its previous games by margins of at least five goals, was not ready to quit. They emerged the victors after four hard-fought chukkers. Geoff Cameron of Polo Cops was named the Most Valuable Player, while Billy Raab’s horse Pinta took home the Best Playing Pony blanket. Fred Fortugno was there to give out the trophies with the assistance of Gene Fortugno and his two young daughters.

Equine Steering Committee Progress

The Equine Steering Committee at the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce has been busy finding ways to promote the equestrian industry in Aiken. One of the things they have been working on is paving the way for the creation of an international quality horse park in the Aiken area. Another one of their focuses is on establishing an integrated network of riding trails throughout the county.

The steering committee has been so industrious it has generated more work than can be handled on a volunteer basis. The chamber is now looking for a part time “Equine Coordinator” to serve as the liaison between the chamber staff and the committee. The job will involve maintaining the committee database, attending meetings, recording their minutes, and distributing those the minutes and other news relevant to the equestrian community. The chamber is also working on a new page on their website that will be devoted to the equestrian community. The idea behind the steering committee’s efforts is “preserving and growing the area’s equine industry.” It seems that horse people in Aiken aren’t just enthusiastic, they’re also organized. It’s a rare thing.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Alltech's Dr. Pearse Lyons to Speak in Aiken

Dr. Pearse Lyons, who is the founder and president of Alltech, will be speaking at Newberry Hall in Aiken, Monday, October 26 from 5:00 - 7:30 PM. Alltech, an animal nutrition company, is the presenting sponsor of the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Kentucky. John Nicholson, the director of the Kentucky Horse Park, will also be speaking.

The event is free and open to the public. The following is from the official invitation to the talk:

"This gathering is an opportunity for Dr. Pearse Lyons, founder and President of Alltech, to meet you and your community, to share Alltech’s hospitality, and tell about the exciting plans he envisions for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2010 in Kentucky, the Alltech Fortnight Festival and Alltech's LIFEFORCE equine formula.This event is free and open to the public….and you’re invited!"

October 26, 2009
5:00-7:00 PM
Newberry Hall
117 Newberry Street SW
Aiken, South Carolina

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Summer Squall Euthanized

Summer Squall who won the Preakness Stakes and finished second in the Kentucky Derby in 1990, was euthanized on Tuesday, September 22. The stallion, who was 22 years old, had recently foundered.

Summer Squall was trained in Aiken for Dogwood Stable and ran in the Aiken Trials as a 2-year old. He went on to an undefeated 2-year-old season racing in the best company. As a 3-year-old, he won the Preakness, the Jim Beam, the Blue Grass Stakes, and the Pennsylvannia Derby. He retired from racing with 13 wins and a bankroll of $1,844,282.

Summer Squall stood at stud at Lanes End Farm in Versailles, Kentucky. His distinguished offspring include Charismatic, who was named Horse of the Year in 1999, and Storm Song, who, racing under Dogwood colors, won the Breeder's Cup for Juvenile Fillies and took home an Eclipse Award in 1996.

Summer Squall had been retired at Lanes End Farm for several years. In September, The Aiken Horse ran a feature about his life. Go to The Aiken Horse September issue. The article begins on page 56.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Dinner at the Willcox

It won't be long before you could be having dinner at the Willcox. The Willcox is one of Aiken's most historic and iconic hotels. It was started as a catering enterprise back in 1897 by Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Willcox. The Willcoxes provided lunches, dinners and elaborate picnics for Aiken's Winter Colonists. Eventually, they turned their home into a grand inn, adding an elegant restaurant and a ballroom.

Although the Willcox was originally all about the food, it has not had a restaurant for quite some time. Last winter, Tina McCarthy, the general manager of the hotel, opened a piano bar in the lobby on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, and it has become a favorite meeting place for Aiken's equestrian crowd. This September, guests will be able to consume more than just cocktails and snacks because the Willcox will once again feature a full service restaurant.

According to Geoffrey Ellis, the general manager, The Restaurant at the Willcox will be a "gastro pub." A gastro pub is a restaurant that has the atmosphere of an English pub, but which focuses on the science of food and has the energy of an up-market bar. The head chef, Regan Browell, is coming here from New Zealand, where she was the head chef of Rain, a gastro bar that featured Heineken beer and an updated, pub-type menu. Geoffrey Ellis, who has deep roots in the Aiken area, was the manager of Rain as well as of a wood-fired pizza restaurant in New Zealand, but he recently sold those businesses to move back to South Carolina along with his wife and family.

The Restaurant at The Willcox is scheduled to open during the third week of September.

USPA on the Way

The USPA is on its Way
Every fall the United States Polo Association holds its annual meetings in a different city somewhere in the U.S. This fall, the meetings will be at Newberry Hall in downtown Aiken.

"We try to organize the meetings around a major tournament every fall," says Ed Armstrong, the USPA Director of Tournaments and Clubs. "This year the meetings coincide with the final week of the USPA Silver Cup [at 302 Polo Club]. Aiken is a good spot for the meetings because it's easy for most people to get to. Plus, everyone knows someone that plays in Aiken."

From the players' point of view, the most important item on the agenda is the annual national handicap meeting. This is when all the players in the United States have their handicaps reviewed by their own club delegates as well as by the circuit delegates and the national handicapping committee. Since the composition of every team depends upon the sum of the handicaps of all of its players, accurate and consistent handicaps are crucial to keeping the sport fair and competitive. For players, however, especially for professional players, the goal is often to keep handicaps as low as possible so that they can be considered "cheap" at their rating rather than "heavy", assuring them of more jobs and a better chance of winning.

There are numerous other items on the agenda, including meetings and reports from the various committees. As ever, there is sure to be a fair amount of discussion on topics related to rules changes. The biggest debate is likely to center around the so-called "American rule." For decades, many Americans in the sport have decried the dominance of foreign professionals. Foreign players, they say, are often under-rated, and take playing opportunities away from young American professionals. Over the years, various rules have been enacted that are intended to help Americans get and keep playing jobs. The latest rule, set to take effect on January 1, states that every team entered in a tournament with a handicap of 22 or below must have at least one Registered Player member (i.e., a U.S. citizen), in addition to the "sponsor" who may be of any nationality (foreign players are registered as Affiliate Members.)

USPA officials, delegates and committee members will descend on Aiken from all over the country. They will be staying at several area hotels, including the Willcox, Hotel Aiken and the Hampton Inn on Whiskey Road. Polo players are generally people who like to have a good time. With the Silver Cup finals and the fall meetings going on, expect evenings in downtown Aiken to look like one big party between October 14 and 18.

Two Notch Road Wins

Glenn Thompson, who trains racehorses out of the Whitney racing barn all winter, had a nice victory in the $60,000 Continental Mile Stakes at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, New Jersey on August 15. Two Notch Road, a 2-year-old colt he owns and trains, took the lead in mid-stretch and then cruised to a 11/4 length victory over the turf.

Glenn was not overcome with surprise by the win, but the public was. Two Notch Road went off at 107-1 and paid $216.40 at the betting windows: the local newspaper called the victory a "shocker." This was the colt's fourth start and his first victory. In fact, before the Continental Mile, he had never been closer than sixth. In his last race before the stakes race, he was beaten by 27 lengths.

But Glenn knew the colt and had faith. He had already trained Two Notch Road's older sister, and he knew that she was about 20 lengths better over the turf than she was on the dirt. Glenn had wanted to run the colt on the grass from the beginning, but America is not big on turf races, and there are few of them written for 2-year-old horses. The Continental Mile, in fact, was the first turf opportunity that came up. Even so, the colt almost didn't make it to the post.

"I'm a bit of a dreamer and I always shoot high with my horses," says Glenn. "I had two choices on what to enter him in. One was the stakes race, and the other was a $25,000 claiming race about a week before. I thought I would be prudent, so rather than shoot for the moon, I entered him in the claiming race. I didn't worry that someone would take him because of his terrible last start. But on the way to the post in that race, he threw his rider, ran to the three-quarter pole, dropped his head and started eating grass. I thought that he was telling me he wanted to be on the grass."

The stewards scratched Two Notch Road from the claiming race because of his bad behavior. Just over a week later, he was in the Continental Mile winner's circle.

"It's nice when it all falls together," says Glenn. "I can't remember the last time I won a turf race."

Two Notch Road has a bit of a romantic history. He was orphaned at birth. Then, as a yearling last fall, he was entered in the Fasig Tipton Sale at the Timonium Fairgrounds in Maryland. With the economy in uncertain shape, the year 2008 was not great for selling racehorses. Those without stellar connections were going very cheap. Glenn noticed that the bidding on the colt was practically nonexistent. He trained horses for the breeders, was familiar with the colt and with his lineage, and knew he had potential. So he bought him for $2,500. Not a bad price tag for a future stakes winner.

Dogwood Winners

Dogwood Stable is having a great time at the Saratoga race meet this August. August in Saratoga is very much the big show: pretty much anyone on the East Coast with a promising race horse is either at Saratoga, or wishes they were. Horses that win at Saratoga as 2-year-olds are often on the road to greater things, things like the Breeders' Cup this fall and the Triple Crown races next spring.

That's why Dogwood Stable is excited to have three 2-year-old winners at Saratoga thus far. One is a bay filly by Lion Heart named Snap Happy. Snap Happy won a $50,000 Maiden Special Weights filly race on August 13. It was her first time out, and Dogwood connections are thrilled with the result and impressed with her determination and heart.

"She broke well, and ran gamely into the turn," says Jack Sadler, Dogwood's vice president. "Then she drifted out wide at the top of the stretch and lost ground. But she dug in and came home in front."

Calvin Borel, who rode Mine that Bird to victory in the Kentucky Derby and Rachel Alexandra in her stunning Preakness win, was the jockey. Snap Happy's success broke a summer-long, 19-race losing streak for the rider.

The next winner is a colt named Aikenite by Yes it's True who broke his maiden in his first start on August 9. Mary Jane Howell, Dogwood Stable's director of public relations, says that Cot Campbell, Dogwood's president, has been wanting to name a horse for his home town for a long time, and that this colt won the honor because of Cot's high hopes for him.

Aikenite, running in a 51/2 furlong maiden race, broke well, stalked the leader to the top of the stretch, and then powered home in front by 21/2 lengths. At the winner's circle, the jockey, John Velasquez, turned to Cot and said, "Boss, you've got a good one here."

Finally, on August 20, Golly Day, another 2-year-old sired by Lion Heart, won his first start, a mile and sixteenth contest on the turf. Golly Day made an explosive move coming down the stretch to finish first by over three lengths.

Aikenite, "a grand looking colt," is being pointed to the $300,000 Grade I Hopeful Stakes in early September, the most prestigious 2-year-old stakes race at the meet. Snap Happy is headed to the $300,000 Grade I Spinaway, the filly version of the Hopeful, also in September.

Fall Festival Opens

One of the first major equestrian events of the 2009 fall season is the Aiken Fall Festival horse show, held at Highfields show grounds on Gaston Road. This show is put on by Equus Events and starts on Thursday, September 3. The action runs through the weekend, then horses and riders have a few days off before competition starts up again on Thursday, September 10.

The horse show features a number of exciting classes each week, including two $15,000 Open Jumper Classics, two $5,000 Welcome Stakes, a $10,000 Childrens/Adult Jumper Prix, and the Governor's Cup Medal Finals on Sunday the 13th. The Governor's Cup is the equitation final for the South Carolina Hunters and Jumpers Association. Junior equitation riders qualify during the season by winning points at Governor's Cup classes in shows around the region, with the top 20 riders eligible to compete in the finals. The first ride goes at 8 a.m.

Other spectator-friendly events include Hunt Night and the 6-bar. Hunt Night features horses and riders that can normally be found on the hunt field rather than in the show ring. Equus Events introduced field hunter classes at the show last fall, and they were so popular that more of them have been added. Aiken has five local hunts and competition should be fierce. Everyone especially likes the hunt teams class, which calls for three horses to negotiate a course in tandem. Hunt Night is September 12 and the classes will take place on the polo field at Highfields, where there is plenty of room to park cars on the sidelines and tailgate. Action starts around noon.

The 6-bar is a show jumping competition in which horses go over a line of six jumps. After each horse completes the six jumps successfully, the jumps are raised and the horses go again. This is a knock-down-and-you're-out affair. The jumps go up as the number of competitors goes down until there's just one horse left. It's a fast moving competition and can really get the crowd gasping. The 6-bar will be on Friday, September 11, and it will be the last class of the day.

During the final weekend of the show, there will be two charity events under the ringside tent. On Friday, September 11, High Steppin' at Highfields, a dinner, dance and silent auction held in conjunction with the 6-bar, will benefit the United Way of Aiken. Admission is $45 per person. On Sunday, September 13, there is a luncheon during the $15,000 Open Jumper Classic. Tickets are $35 a person, with proceeds going to Children's Place.

Aiken's horse shows always have large numbers of competitors. Megan Godard, who runs the Equus Events shows along with her husband J.P., hopes that more spectators will come out to watch this year. There will be some top quality horses and riders, and the jumper competitions in particular make for a good spectacle. Admission to the show grounds is always free.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Some News from the Summer Issue

Horse Show in the Woods
The 93rd annual Aiken Horse Show in the Woods was another success this year, with many new winners and some new divisions and trophies to boot. The Aiken Horse Show is designed to give people who hunt a chance to show off their horses in the ring and to get families and children involved in some friendly competition. It’s a different kind of show, chiefly because it is set in an old fashioned, grassy arena about a mile into the Woods. One of its primary missions is to showcase the beauty of the Woods and to raise money for the Hitchcock Woods Foundation.

The most coveted trophy of the show is the Foxhunter Championship. Horses that compete in the Foxhunter division must be true hunt horses that have actually hunted during the season under the rider who shows them. This year the trophy went to Sarah Accord and her horse Chambourcin. The pair also won the Adult Amateur Hunter championship. The Reserve Champion Foxhunter was Wow, ridden by Ann Wicander. Wow also won the Rushkia Award as the judge’s choice for the best field hunter.

One new division this year was the Colonel Howard Fair Pony Club Challenge, which was sponsored by Larry Byers, a current Aiken resident and a former president of the United States Pony Club. The trophy honors Howard Fair, one of the founders of the USPC, who foxhunted in Aiken during the 1930s and encouraged young Aiken Prep students to join the hunt. The challenge cup went to the pony club accumulating the most points in the foxhunter divisions of the show. The members of three pony clubs competed for the title: the Aiken County Pony Club, the Tryon Pony Club and the Palmetto Pony Club. The Palmetto Pony Club, with four members competing (Justice and Boyce Myers, Shannon Hardiman and Victoria Jacks) took home the cup.

Aiken Ladies Aside sponsored another new division at the show this year, which included two classes and even a few jumps. The Ladies Sidesaddle Champion was Betty Alexander, who has been the ALA’s mentor and instructor, riding Clover Hill’s Silver Lining. Betty was also named Best Turned Out Sidesaddle rider. Linda Lee Algar on Sunny Boy was Reserve Champion. The Aiken sidesaddle group has become quite active lately, with many new converts to the old-fashioned way of riding. If nothing else, this shows that Aiken’s riders love tradition.

Williston’s Horse Source

Williston’s growing horse population has a new place to buy their feed and horse supplies. Buck’s Building Supply on West Street, formerly known as Shumpert’s Building Supply, has expanded their equestrian section and is featuring a full line of Purina feeds for horses, dogs and cats. The store is also stocking bagged shavings and some useful items like halters and leads. They will eventually carry hay as well as grain and become a full service feed store. Delivery is already available.

The new owners of Buck’s Building Supply are Jason and Joel Stapleton, who purchased the store from their relatives in February. Recognizing the growth of the horse community in their area, they decided that it would be good business to offer more services to horse people. They hired Ann Dearborn, owner of Rumor Has It Farm, to manage the horse section. So far, it has been a big hit with people in the area, who are thrilled that they don’t have to drive all the way to Aiken to purchase their feed – it is 22 miles, after all.

As part of their outreach to the equestrian community in Aiken County, Bucks recently donated 800 pounds of grain to Equine Rescue of Aiken.

New Drills
Are you looking for something new to do with your horse? Have you ever considered joining a drill team? Some members of the Aiken horse community have formed one, and they would like to have a few new members. The group was born as an offshoot of the sidesaddle club, Aiken Ladies Aside, and has been meeting on Wednesday mornings at 10 a.m. at Shonna Athman’s area just east of town. Participants are riding under the tutelage of Jo Fantay, a certified drill team instructor, and have been working on a short drill that is set to music.

“We’re all just learning,” says Karen Alexander, who rides with the group, “and we’re really just doing it for fun. For me it was a way to do something with my horse and get out of my box. But it is amazing. I never rode to music before. The best thing about it is that you have to have a good position to get your horse to do what you want him to do, so it really improves the rider, without being a lesson. Every day is a learning experience.”

Aiken’s drill team expects to practice throughout the summer. Who knows, by the fall they may be ready to give an exhibit somewhere. If you are interested in joining the group or finding out more about it, call Karen Alexander at 803-643-0303

Virginia Beach on an Aiken Polo Streak

The Virginia Beach polo team extended their winning streak to 18 consecutive games this spring. The team, headlined by Omar Cepeda and owned by Virginia Beach resident Bart Frye, had been in the hunt all last spring, winning the Taylor Cup 4-goal and making it to the finals of the Aiken Cup 8-goal and the Carolina First Spring 8-goal. They started their winning streak on Sunday, October 4, 2008, with a victory in the first game of the Partridge Inn 8-goal invitational. They proceeded to win 10 games in a row that fall, taking home the Partridge Inn trophy and then triumphing in the Carolina First Fall 8-goal. They came back this spring to win the Holley Tractor 4-goal (four consecutive games) and then all of their match games in the Smoak Family 8-goal (four consecutive games.)

The winning streak finally broke on May 17 at the Smoak Family finals. Casa Azul/C-Spear, powered by the dynamic Eddy Martinez with Matt Sekera, Grayson Brown and J.D. Cooper, took the game 10-9. Virginia Beach came back the following week to win the Banks Mill Feeds 8-goal, perhaps starting another winning streak that they will carry on in the fall. If you are counting, they have now won three games in a row. . .

More Polo Opportunities

If you have never played polo, but would like to give it a try, now is your opportunity. Tiger Kneece, a 6-goal professional who has led the Brigadoon team to numerous championships in tournaments of all levels, is giving a series of polo clinics at the Brigadoon Polo Club. The clinics, which take place over a weekend, include polo instruction and practice games for players who are just starting out.

Billy Benton, a local real estate broker and a foxhunter got an email advertising the first “Tiger in the Woods” clinic this spring. “I had not been planning on doing a polo clinic,” he writes. “But I checked my calendar and realized I had no appointments to show real estate. One of the nicest things about today’s real estate market is not being bothered by pesky buyers on weekends.”

Billy was joined by two other local riders (Amy Brooks and Bryan Smith) and two out-of-towners (Tim Mitchell from Colorado and Gary Kauffman from Tennessee). There were four instructors (Tiger, Kris Bowman, Christine Cato and Maybe Ortiz) and five students, so everyone got lots of attention. Billy praised the horses and the activities, saying it was fun, safe and priced right at $400, probably the lowest cost polo experience on the East Coast. He thinks anyone interested should give it a try. “And if you’re in the market for Aiken real estate, I would be pleased to schedule a tour of available properties,” he adds.

The next clinic will be held June 19-21. For more information, call Christine Cato at 704.905.3706.

Sending Lost Pets Home

If you are missing a dog or a cat (or you have found one), there is a new website that can help you. Aiken Pets Reunited ( is a countywide notice board where people can post notices about lost or found pets, free of charge. Victoria Foulkes-Pyle, a local realtor and horse person, started the website after finding a lost dog. Although she did eventually locate the dog’s owners, she realized how difficult it is to reunite lost pets with their families because there is no easy way to let people know if you have lost a pet or found one.

The website was set up by Victoria and Wes Funderberg, who is the city of Aiken web administrator, with the help of Barbara Nelson, the president of the Aiken SPCA. There is a daily list of lost and found animals. You can sign up for alerts via email, and even follow the organization on Twitter. If you have lost a pet, you may send an email to

More Hall of Famers
A number of Aiken-connected horsemen are getting inducted into various halls of fame recently. The latest inductee is Gustav Schickedanz, a Canadian racehorse breeder who owns Long Leaf Plantation, a training facility in Aiken. Mr. Schickedanz, who is 80 years old, will be inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame this August.

Schickedanz is one of the most successful breeders of racehorses in North America. He bred the top stallion Langfuhr (Danzig out of Sweet Briar Too by Briartic) who was one of the leading graded stakes winning sprinters in North America before retiring to stud at Lanes End Farm in Kentucky in 1997. In 2005, Langfuhr was the leading sire in North America by number of winners, and he continues to rank among the top sires on the continent. One of Langfuhr’s sons, Wando (Langfuhr out of Kathie’s Colleen by Woodman), also bred and owned by Schickedanz, won the Canadian Triple Crown and was named Canadian Horse of the Year in 2003.

Gustav Schickedanz was born in Memel, Germany in 1929. His family had a 300-acre farm near the Russian border where they raised Trakehners. In 1944, as the Russian forces approached, the family took the horses and fled to Bavaria. After the war, they relocated to Ontario, where Gustav and his brothers worked in the family construction business. In the 1960s, Gustav got into racing, starting out with inexpensive horses, before realizing he would have a better time with higher class stock. He has been on an upward trajectory ever since. This year alone, Schickedanz’s horses have a win percentage of 25 percent with earnings of over $340,000 in 28 starts.

The Horse District

The downtown horse district is one of the things that makes Aiken, Aiken. Recognizing that, members of the city’s planning commission have been examining whether new zoning ordinances might be used to add another layer of protection to the area. Under current zoning regulations, many of the horse district’s most prominent attractions could actually be subdivided, including the Whitney polo field with its track and barns and the Aiken Training Track. Another idea is to create conservation easements that might be able to protect the properties in perpetuity.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Aiken's Polo Ponies Can Run

Polo Ponies Race

For the first time in its 67 year history, the Aiken Trials included a race for polo ponies. The horses took off from a standing start and ran 300 yards, the length of a polo field. Before the race, riders and horses put on a short polo demonstration on the track. Riders were dressed in their polo gear and looked ready for a match.

There were six entries, all of them piloted by players who can be found competing in local matches during the season. Starter Peter Krebs lined the horses up on the track. He dropped his red flag, and everyone was off.

The first horse to get away was Eli Yale, a 6-year-old Thoroughbred gelding, owned, ridden and conditioned by Pam Gleason, the editor and publisher of The Aiken Horse. Eli broke so fast, he was soon several lengths ahead of the field. Although Aztec, also owned by The Aiken Horse and ridden by Salvatore Torres, made up some ground in the final yards of the race, the outcome was never really in doubt. By the time Eli galloped past the paddock, his ears were pricked forward and he seemed to be coasting. Aztec finished second, while Elegant Matter, a 7-year-old gelding owned, ridden and trained by Ben Gregoncza was third.

Eli Yale, who was acquired at the Aiken Polo Pony sale in the fall of 2007, is in his second year of tournament polo. Before polo, he had a short career on the racetrack, where he ran in good turf company, but never won a race before Aiken Trials day. Perhaps his handlers should have entered him in shorter sprints: his time of 17 seconds set an Aiken Training Track record and was off the world record for that distance by a little over two seconds.

Riders and spectators agreed that the polo race was a great addition to the Trials. Polo players who were watching suddenly wished that they had entered a horse themselves, and many are already planning their entries for next year. Other members of Aiken's horse community commented that the inclusion of the polo race made them feel like they were a part of the festivities, rather than just spectators.

The race was called the Post Trophy and was sponsored by The Aiken Horse. The name is a fitting one. Fred and William Post were a father-and-son team of polo trainers and breeders who came to Aiken in the second decade of the 1900s. Their polo field was inside today's Aiken Training Track, which they built in 1941 to train and conditioned their flat racers.

The winner received a silver plate and registration in the American Polo Horse Association.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Polo Ponies Die in Florida

At around 2:15 on Sunday, April 19, polo ponies from the Lechuza Caracas polo team began to die. They were scheduled to play in a quarter final match of the US Open tournament at the International Polo Club Palm Beach at 3:00. But when their trailer arrived at the field, at least one horse inside was already down. As the rest of the horses were unloaded from the trailer, they showed signs of confusion, dizziness and respiratory distress. One by one they collapsed to the grass.

Although about 20 veterinarians rushed to attend to the stricken animals, there was nothing that could be done. They administered intravenous fluids, cooled the horses with fans and ice packs, and desperately sought anything that might be an antidote to what appeared to be a some type of poison. About 100 people tended to the downed horses. Observers erected blue tarps to shield them from the crowd. Seven horses were transported back to Palm Beach Equine Clinic. But 11 horses were dead within an hour. A further 10 died before Monday morning, some of them at the clinic, others at the Lechuza barn. The official death count is 21, but unofficial reports say there may be as many as 30 dead horses.

The horses went down so suddenly it was clear to the veterinarians that the cause of the "mysterious illness" was not a virus or any contagious disease. Necropsies are being performed at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine in Gainesville and by state vets at the Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab in Kissimmee, trying to determine exactly what killed the horses.

Although veterinarians who spoke to the press said they suspected that the horses may have eaten something poisonous, the word around the polo world was quite different. According to unconfirmed reports, the horses had received injections before the match. Exactly what the injections contained is unknown, although the shots were supposed to be vitamins to help the horses recover from the stress of the game. The injections, if they are indeed to blame for the deaths, may have been a combination of vitamins and other substances. They may have been contaminated (one report posited that they were contaminated with cleaning fluid) or they may have contained a combination of substances that caused a toxic reaction.

Lechuza Caracas is owned by Venezuelan banker and player Victor Vargas. Lechuza was considered one of the top teams in Florida this winter. News reports say that the horses that died were worth about 2 million dollars. Many of them were owned by Lechuza, but some were owned by the players. Several of the horses were reportedly leased to the team by other players. On Monday, Lechuza withdrew from the US Open tournament and issued a statement about the tragedy.

It may be several days before pathologists determine what killed the horses. In the meantime, investigations have been launched by the Florida Department of Agriculture, the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office and the United States Polo Association.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Aiken Spring Season

Spring is upon us. The Masters of Foxhounds have blown the horn on the winter season, the foxhounds are back in their kennels and the foxhunters who were visiting from Northern climes have packed up their horses and headed home. The upper level event riders are gone, too. They spent the winter riding, training, practicing and competing at various Aiken venues. Now they are on the road, headed to competitions at The Fork (North Carolina), Fair Hill (Maryland), Jersey Fresh (New Jersey) and Rolex (Kentucky). But eventing isn’t over here: Aiken has many local event riders, and there are several lower-key competitions in Aiken and the surrounding areas throughout April and May, and even into the hot summer months.

The young racehorses that spent the winter learning their trade at Aiken Training Track are leaving, too. Many of them started shipping out shortly after the Aiken Trials on March 14. They are going to racetracks around the country: Belmont Park in New York, Churchill Downs in Kentucky, Del Mar in California, Gulfstream Park in Florida. Almost every region of the United States will have at least one or two racehorses representing Aiken. The 2-year-olds will spend at least a few more months training before entering their first races. The 3-year-olds may be racing already.

As the ground temperatures rise, the Bermuda grass on the polo fields starts to green up, bringing back the polo players. The most serious of Aiken’s players spent the winter in Florida, competing in various important national and international tournaments. Some of them will be there until the end of April to watch (or play in) the U.S. Open Polo Championship, a 26-goal tournament with finals scheduled for April 26. Others will be shipping back to Aiken throughout the month of April. Players who spent the winter in town have had their horses in work for at least a couple of weeks and many are ready to play. If they are lucky, the horses are mostly shed-out and look like athletes again after spending the winter lounging about, eating hay. When players run into each other in social contexts in late March and early April, one of the first questions they are likely to ask is “Are your horses up yet?” or, more cryptically, “You up?”

The other events that mark the spring in Aiken are the horse shows, starting with the historic Aiken Horse Show in the Woods, held this year from April 3 through 5. There have been horse shows in Aiken throughout the winter, of course, mostly held at Highfields Event Center on Gaston Road. These included two weekends each of the “AA” rated Aiken Winter Classic and March Madness shows, which were quite well-attended this year, partially thanks to a strong contingent that shipped in from nearby Camden.

Mid-April, however, will be the main event, the eleventh anniversary Aiken Spring Classic I and II. The top draws at these shows are the $10,000 International Hunter Derby Classic on April 18, the $25,000 Aiken Spring Classic Grand Prix and Sunday brunch on April 19, and the $30,000 Carolina Real Estate Grand Prix and brunch on April 30. On April 19, Chris Powers, who is chairwoman of Women Beyond Cancer, is having a luncheon at the showgrounds to raise money for her charity. Women Beyond Cancer provides free retreats for women with cancer, some of them at Chris’s Two Sisters Farm in Windsor. The luncheon, which costs $40 per person, features lunch by Chef Miles of the Willcox, a silent auction and a sidesaddle demonstration by Aiken Ladies Aside. If you are interested in the luncheon or the retreats, find more information at

Into the Arena: Arena Polo Tournaments

Arena polo at the Polo America Arena in the Steeplechase Equestrian Community got its official inauguration on Sunday, March 22, with an exhibition match. The arena, which will be the site of the Ford Trucks U.S. Open Arena Polo Championships at the end of April, features several terraced spectator areas, including a main patio with a fireplace at one end. When the tournament comes to town, those who come to watch the important matches will be able to enjoy a catered dinner while taking in all the action.

The Ford Trucks U.S. Open Arena Polo Championships is a 16-goal tournament that is being put on by Randy Russell, president of Polo America. To date, there are several confirmed teams, including one that will showcase the talents of the ultra-talented Snow brothers, Adam and Nick. Adam, as most polo enthusiasts know, is an Aiken resident and one of the top players in America. Rated 8 goals on the grass (outdoors) and 9 goals in the arena (indoors), he is sure to be one of the stars of the show. Nick, who is a Senior at Harvard this year and captain of the polo club there, is rated 4 goals both indoors and out. There are rumors that the New Bridge Polo Club might field a team featuring 9-goaler Matias Magrini. Other top players who will be on the roster include Tommy Biddle at 8 goals. It may just end up being a clash of the Titans, and there aren’t just bragging rights at stake. The winning team will receive various prizes including first class tickets on American Airlines that will take them to a four-night, five-day polo vacation in Costa Careyes, Mexico.

A team from Hawaii is also on the way to Aiken, eager to take the top arena prize. This team isn’t bringing any horses, and is still looking for a few to fill out their chukker lists. They are offering anyone who is willing to supply them with mounts a week’s accommodations in Hawaii, as well as horses to ride and polo matches to play.

Aiken players were enthusiastic enough about the prospect of an arena tournament that Randy decided to add a low goal contest to the schedule. The Ford Trucks Classic will be played at the 3 goal level on the “off” days of the Open. Players in the low goal are guaranteed three games and will get tickets to the Open finals. Teams and individuals who are interested in playing in the Ford Truck Classic should contact Randy Russell at or call him at 760.238.7168.

Those who would like to watch the matches can select from various types of ticket packages. Tickets will be available at Aiken Saddlery, Boots, Bridles & Britches and any Aiken-Augusta area Ford truck dealership. A significant portion of the proceeds from ticket sales will go to the military families at Fort Gordon. For more information:

Polo In Aiken This Spring

With all the current talk about an economic meltdown, polo organizers in Aiken are looking forward to the spring season with a measure of apprehension. Will people still want to play polo? Will anyone be able to afford to play polo? What will become of all the beautiful fields?

Although the season hasn’t started yet, so far, things look promising on the playing front. It is certainly true that economic circumstances have curtailed the activity of some of the most reliable teams at the medium and high goal levels. There are also very likely numerous lower profile players who will not be spending as much on their polo this year. But Aiken’s playing base is both wide and deep. Early indications are that there will indeed be a polo season this spring, and it might even be a good one. Just to be safe, organizers at various clubs have lowered fees and put together various incentives for players.

For instance, 302 Polo is holding three medium goal tournaments this spring (one 14 and two 16 goals). To encourage participation, they are giving a discount to teams that enter more than one tournament. There is even talk about adding a cash prize for the winners. “We call it our 302 stimulus package,” laughs Barb Uskup, one of the club’s organizers.

Other clubs are looking forward to active low goal seasons this spring. New Bridge Polo Club, now managed by Willie Hartnett, will hold a 12 goal tournament in April, followed by an 8 goal tournament in May and a 6 goal tournament, date to be determined. “We were a little bit worried about what would happen at first,” says Eugene Gibelli, the New Bridge general manager. “But every day I am getting calls from people who are interested in looking at property here, and players who are coming to play. It helps that we have approximately 50 members. I think regardless of the economy, we are going to have an exciting season.”

Aiken Polo Club has made its spring season more affordable by lowering the goal level of the tournaments. Last year, for instance, Aiken held one 4 goal and three 8 goals. This year there will be three 4 goals and one 8 goal.

Poloists who want to play even more economically can choose among three low goal clubs in the area. Wire Road Polo Club is having $10 per chukker practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays, as well as a 4 goal league and a 6 goal league. The schedule isn’t out yet for Omar Cepeda’s O.C. Farm, but last fall’s 4-6 goal tournaments there were enjoyable and affordable. There will even be inexpensive polo on some very top class fields at the Brigadoon Polo Club in Windsor. Rebecca Gutierrez, who has been running chukkers and leagues at Edisto Polo in Wagener for the past few years, is moving her operation to the new field at Brigadoon. There will be three 4-6 goal tournaments in April and May, with discounts for teams that enter two or more tournaments.

Interested in polo? Here are some numbers and websites: Aiken Polo Club:, 803.643.3611. 302 Polo Club:, 803.642.8780 (tournaments) or 803.642.8787 (practices.) New Bridge Polo and Country Club:, 803.644.7706. Brigadoon Polo Club: 561.676.2879. Wire Road Polo Club: 561.722.5953. Omar Cepeda: 561.762.4506.

Equine Rescue Looking For Riders

Larkin Steele of Equine Rescue of Aiken says she is looking for some experienced riders to help ride and school the horses at the facility.

“We have horses of lots of different types,” she says, “And we need some experienced riders to volunteer to ride them so that we can make them more adoptable. If we can get the horses we have here adopted out, then we will have more room to take in horses that need help.”

Larkin stresses that the horses that need riding aren’t rank. Some are green, and some do need retraining. They all need exercise and attention. There are also lots of nice horses available for adoption or fostering. Fostering could be a great solution for someone who is only in town seasonally, or who would like to have and care for a horse, but can’t commit to owning one long-term.

Check out the website: or call 803.643.1850.

Equine Summit in Aiken

After commissioning  a study that showed that the Aiken equestrian community contributes over 71 million dollars a year to the local economy, the Aiken Chamber of Commerce knows that horses are an economic force. The Chamber wants horse people to start exercising their political clout, too. To this end, they asked Samantha Charles, who is a member of the Chamber board, chair of the Chamber’s Equine Steering Committee and the publisher of Sidelines magazine,  to organize a meeting of horse people from various disciplines. The purpose of the meeting was to talk about the current state of the industry, and to discuss ways that things can be improved in the future.

The meeting, which took place February 24 at the Aiken Chamber headquarters on Richland Avenue, included 20 representatives from the horse community, as well as several members of the Chamber who were not involved in the horse industry.  Liz Stewart, a facilitator, divided the people into three sub groups, each of which was asked to brainstorm about a particular question. One group was asked to identify factors that can help keep the horse industry healthy. The second group was asked to identify what barriers there might be to strengthening the industry, while the third came up with examples from other communities that might be useful in ensuring  that the Aiken community as a whole continues to support the horse community. Afterwards, each subgroup presented its ideas. 

In the second part of the meeting, the subgroups discussed the pros and cons of pursuing the idea of building a large, state-supported horse park in Aiken.  Finally, the discussion turned to the possibility of organizing an Equine Summit for the fourth quarter of 2009.  The idea for the Equine Summit, tentatively entitled “Horses – Past, Present and Future,” is in an embryonic stage. In the coming months, another meeting (or two) at the Chamber will clarify what the summit will be about, who will be invited, and even whether there will be a summit at all. 

In the first two parts of the meeting, the various groups came up with several interesting ideas, and there were a number of differing opinions about the hottest topic of the day, the potential horse park. Proponents of a horse park would like to see one built somewhere close to Route 20, perhaps along Route 1. They see a horse park as an economic boon that would ensure the survival of the equestrian industry in Aiken. Those who spoke against a horse park said, essentially, that Aiken itself is a horse park, and that we don’t need to encourage the horse industry in Aiken to grow any larger than it already is.  

“Aiken’s horse industry already contributes 71 million dollars to the economy,” said Tom Uskup, who was there as one of the representatives of the polo community. “How much more do we need? How much is enough?”

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Equine Divine Welcomes New Partner

If you are at the Aiken Spring Classic Horse Show this April, be sure to stop by the Equine Divine booth to see a sample of what’s in the store. Or better yet, stop by the store itself in the Holley Building on Laurens Street downtown. Since its opening in 2004, Equine Divine has established itself as one of the “must go” destinations for horse people living in or visiting Aiken. The store features a wide selection of original equestrian and sporting art, as well as home decor, jewelry and clothing, all with an equestrian theme.

Taryn Hartnett Eicher recently joined Equine Divine as the new managing partner, and is now working with Lydia del Rossi, the store’s founder. She is bringing in two new lines of jewelry and more clothing, specifically a line called J. McLaughlin. J. McLaughlin clothing is based in New York and sold up and down the East Coast. It features high quality men’s and women’s clothing with “a flair for bold colors and signature prints combined with unexpected design twists,” according to the website. Taryn says that there will be a trunk show to promote the clothing at the store during the week of the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, April 6 through 11.

Taryn, a horsewoman from a well-established equestrian family, has spent the last 12 years in the banking industry. Although she has lived in Aiken for several years, she was commuting to Charlotte for work.

“I decided I was ready for a change,” she says. “I wanted to be in Aiken full-time, and I wanted something that was not in the office five days a week. I had heard that Lydia was looking for a partner, we sat down and talked about it and decided that it would be a good fit.”

“We’re so excited about Taryn coming in as managing partner,” says Lydia. “She brings such life, energy and enthusiasm to the store. I had taken Equine Divine as far as I was able, and I think she will be able to take it to a whole new level, a higher level. I feel like I have sent my child off to college.”

Equine Divine will continue to represent the artists that Aiken’s horsemen have come to identify with the store, including Susan Easton Burns, Anne Amrich, Anne Lattimore and Beth Carlson. New artists include Lynn Carlisle, an Aiken resident who is known for her exquisite portraits of dogs. Other new artists will soon be represented in the store, which will also have a new logo and a new website.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Pennfield promises

The eventing season in Aiken attracted more than just horses and riders. It also brought various officials from the United States Equestrian Team and several evening events and parties, including a well attended United States Equestrian Foundation benefit gala at Phillip Dutton’s Red Oak Farm in the Bridle Creek Equestrian Community.

One of the most talked about evening events was the “That’s a Promise” Tour, put on by Pennfield Feeds. Pennfield Feeds, based in Pennsylvania, is the brand used by many upper-level event riders who have their home bases in the mid-Atlantic states. After being selected as the official feed for the United States Equestrian Team at the 2008 Olympics, Pennfield began pursuing a higher profile nationally. The “That’s a Promise” Tour was conceived as an evening of talks about equine nutrition, combined with a chance to meet some of the top riders (and drivers) that rely on Pennfield Feeds, including Olympians such as Karen and David O’Connor, Bruce Davidson and Phillip Dutton. The tour also raised money for the USEF Young Rider program. Attendees could participate in a silent auction and competed for a chance to win a training session with one of the upper-level riders. There were, of course, drinks and hors d’oeuvres.

The tour started on February 8 in Wellington, Fla., and will hit eight cities on the East Coast, ending up in Gladstone, N.J. on October 7. Aiken was the third stop on the tour. The March 10 event was, according to Pennfield representatives, the most successful so far, bringing out a large and enthusiastic crowd. Of course, this is no surprise, because in Aiken, everyone loves a party, and what better than a party combined with the chance to win something? Pennfield Feeds itself is gaining a following in town. It can be found at Aiken Saddlery and Aiken Country Farm Supply.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Polo Pony Race at the Aiken Trials

The Aiken Trials, Aiken's day of races for young horses, will feature a race for polo ponies this year. The ponies, which are required to be playing horses, will run 300 yards from a standing start to compete for the title of "Fastest Polo Pony in Aiken."

The Aiken Trials will be held on Saturday, March 14. The card has six races, four of them for untried 2-year-old race horses, one for seasoned horses of racing age, and the polo pony race, which will be the fourth of the day. Although members of Aiken's old Winter Colony probably raced polo ponies in Aiken before World War II, this is the first time that the Aiken Trials will include a race for polo ponies.

There are six polo ponies entered in the race. They are:

1-Eli Yale, 6 year old chestnut gelding, owned, trained and ridden by Pam Gleason

2-Jasmine, 9 year old chestnut mare, owned, trained and ridden by Theresa King

3-Do What, 6 year old bay gelding, owned, trained and ridden by Tom Uskup

4-Elegant Matter, 7 year old bay mare, owned, trained and ridden by Ben Gregoncza

5-Aztec, 9 year old chestnut gelding, owned by the Aiken Horse LLC, trained by Gary Knoll and ridden by Salvador Torres.

6-Sabrina, 9 year old bay mare, owned, trained and ridden by Edgar Cato III.

The polo pony race is sponsored by The Aiken Horse.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Southern Saddlery Closes

After 18 years of serving Aiken’s equestrians, Southern Saddlery closed this February.

Susan Henderson, the store’s owner and founder, says that she is retiring from the retail trade to pursue other interests.
“I’m very thankful for the years of support the store has gotten from Aiken’s horse people,” she says.

On Friday, February 20, Susan made the announcement that the store would close at the end of the month after a going-out-of-business sale. Word spread rapidly, and Southern Saddlery was soon flooded with customers. People bought so much and so quickly, that the store was essentially empty in a couple of days, closing its doors by Thursday, February 26, two days ahead of schedule. An Aiken horse community icon, Southern Saddlery will be missed.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Horse Park for Aiken?

On Wednesday afternoon January 21, word spread like a line of flame through the horse community: there was to be an open forum at the University of South Carolina Aiken Convocation Center, to discuss the construction of a large-scale, international-quality horse park in the city. Numerous horsemen from the show, event, hunt and driving worlds joined realtors and other people connected with Aiken’s equestrian world. The meeting room suddenly didn’t have quite enough chairs.

“Only around 30 people R.S.V.P’d,” apologized one of the organizers, Mary Ann Keisler, who is director of tourism at Thoroughbred Country, an organization dedicated to promoting the hospitality industry in western South Carolina. “And there are many more of you here than we expected.”

It turned out that the meeting wasn’t about a horse park. Rather, it was a forum conducted by Robert Cleverdon, director of an Ireland-based company called Tourism Development International, to solicit ideas and opinions about how to promote Aiken and Edgefield Counties as tourist destinations. Tourism Development International is a consulting firm that was hired by South Carolina’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism to create a comprehensive tourism plan for the state. One option in that plan calls for solidifying Aiken’s reputation as an equestrian destination by making it the location of a horse park that could be used for shows, clinics and other equestrian events.

Robert Cleverdon had an agenda that he tried to follow during the meeting. That agenda included identifying various things other than the equestrian life that might attract tourists. The meeting was also intended to address potential tourist attractions in Edgefield County. Several people had made the trip to USCA from Edgefield, and they may have been eager to discuss historic houses, Native American archeological sites and bike trails in their neighborhoods. However, the overwhelming majority of attendees were horse people from Aiken. They had come to talk about a horse park, and that is what they did.

Cleverdon, an Englishman, didn’t appear to understand exactly what was happening. He would ask if people in Aiken wanted more museums, and someone would reply that they thought a horse park would be good for the area because it would complement the many great equestrian facilities we already have. He would suggest that we could develop our waterways to attract more tourists, and someone else would answer that they worried that the horse park might detract from the charm of Aiken. Although a horse park was, indeed, one of the official topics of discussion, after a few rounds on the subject, Mr. Cleverdon tried, with little success, to get people to stop bringing it up. The end result was perhaps a bit disappointing for horsemen and Englishmen alike, since neither got to explore the topics that interested them in any depth.

Tourism Development International will be making recommendations to the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, and they might even suggest developing a horse park for Aiken. However, in the current economic climate, it is unlikely that the state would be able to do anything in the near future. Funds for creating such a facility would have to come from a public-private partnership, and even then, the state would have to be on firmer financial footing before considering such a thing.

What the forum did prove was that Aiken’s horsemen are very eager to talk about a horse park. Following the meeting, Deirdre Stoker Vaillancourt, a realtor with Meybohm and a horsewoman, spoke with Representative Tim Young, a state legislator who was eager to pursue the idea further. Several area horsemen are planning to set up meetings that really are about a horse park, both to explore its possible impact on the area and to determine ways that it could be made a reality. Stay for the latest updates.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Eventing News

There can be no doubt that Aiken is the place to be this winter if you are an eventer. Not only are there competitions, training and schooling opportunities galore, pretty much everyone is here. This year that includes riders from the United States Equestrian Federation’s winter training list of “Developing” riders as well as a selection of elite riders in consideration for the United States Eventing Team that will compete at international events in the coming years.

The riders will train at Three Runs Plantation, an equestrian development on the Southside. There will be three sessions, held on February 17-21, March 4-6 and March 17-19. On February 18, riders will train over the cross country course at Paradise Farm on route 302 east of town. Captain Mark Phillips, who recently renewed his contract as the U.S. chef d’équipe, will work with the riders. Wayne Raeford, who is the owner and developer of Three Runs, will be holding a V.I.P. brunch at the Three Runs clubhouse on February 19 with proceeds to benefit the USEF.

Other eventing extras this winter include a USEF benefit gala cocktail party and silent auction held at Phillip Dutton’s Red Oak Farm in Bridle Creek on the evening of March 6. This will be the second of five annual parties that Evie Dutton (Phillip’s wife) and Dineen Daniels (Bridle Creek’s co-owner and developer) are organizing in order to assist the USEF. Phillip Dutton will speak about the 2008 Hong Kong Olympics and there will be a silent auction and bountiful hors d’oeuvres. There is also a possibility that Gina Miles, who won the individual silver medal at the Games, will fly in from California. Tickets are $55 and can be purchased at Meybohm Realtors’ downtown office until February 27.

Horsemen might also want to check out the “That’s a Promise” tour, put on by Pennfield Feeds. Pennfield, a Pennsylvania-based company, feeds many of the horses on the U.S. Eventing Team, including horses owned by Phillip Dutton. Another Pennfield-fed horse, Jamaica, a driving horse owned by Chester Weber, was recently named the USEF Horse of the Year. The “That’s a Promise” tour starts in Florida and will be in Aiken on March 10. The evening will include talks about equine nutrition, the chance to meet Olympic riders, sip wine and sample hors d’oeuvres and compete for the opportunity to win a training session with an Olympian. Proceeds will benefit the USEF Young Rider program. For tickets and more information:

Monday, February 2, 2009

Sharer Dale is Jumping Higher

Sharer Dale, a professional realtor and amateur rider who recently relocated to Aiken from Chagrin Falls, Ohio, has been supplementing her income by outjumping the pros at this winter’s Progressive Show Jumping events. At the Aiken Winter Classic at the end of December, she was fifth in the $10,000 Mini Prix riding her horse Antares, then won the $5,000 Welcome Stake with Antares and took second with her other top jumper Gerry 79. At the Aiken Winter Classic II in early January, she came back to win the $10,000 Mini Prix, again riding Antares. In the jump-off, she bested Daniel Geitner, a top local professional, by nearly six seconds.

“My guys are really good,” says Shari, speaking of her horses. “I bought Antares off a video nine years ago when he was 6. I had told Wilhelm Genn that I needed a horse with a sense of humor, and he picked out Antares for me. Antares was in Germany. The video was of him jumping with a 13-year-old girl riding him. He was obviously so forgiving, with such heart. Every time he came around a corner and saw a fence, his ears would just shoot forward. I knew he was the right horse for me. I could never replace him.”

In addition to her seasoned campaigners, Shari also has two young horses she is excited about. Over the winter she and Sarah Thompson, the Aiken veterinarian, went down to Argentina where they bought three horses from La Tatabra, the best-known breeder of jumping horses in that country. One horse is for Sarah, the other two are for Shari. These horses are just coming 4 this year, so it will be a while before their jumping careers really take off, but watch out for them in the future. Shari keeps her horses at home and rides with Drasius Arkus. When she is not on a horse winning jumper classes, Shari works at Meybohm downtown

Midshipman to Aiken TB Hall of Fame

New Addition to TB Hall of Fame
After a 12-year drought, the Aiken Thoroughbred Hall of Fame will induct a racing champion this spring. Midshipman, a colt owned by Darley and started at the Aiken Training Track under Stonerside’s Tim Jones, won the Eclipse Award for outstanding Juvenile (2-year-old) Colt of 2008. He will be the first horse inducted into the Hall of Fame since Dogwood Stables’ Storm Song won the Eclipse as the outstanding Juvenile Filly of 1996.

Midshipman was sired by Unbridled’s Song, one of the top ten money-earning sires of 2008. His dam, Avenue of Flags, was a multiple graded stakes winning mare from California, who won $631,190 on her way to becoming California’s champion 3-year-old filly of 1997 and champion older female of 1998. Midshipman started his racing career on August 17 with a win at Del Mar (California), followed on September 3 by a win in the Grade I Del Mar Futurity. He was second in the Grade I Norfolk Stakes, and capped his 2-year-old year by winning the Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on October 25. His performance was good enough to make him the overwhelming winner in the Eclipse Award voting, garnering 195 votes, some 160 ahead of his closest competitor.

Midshipman was one of the horses that Bob and Janice McNair sold to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Makhtoum as part of the sheikh’s deal to buy Stonerside Stables back in September. Now a part of Darley Stables and a winner of $1.38 million, he was one of five young horses from that outfit to fly back to Dubai this December, presumably in preparation for a run at the United Arab Emirates Derby in late March. If all goes well, perhaps he will be stateside again on the first Saturday in May. Aiken always loves rooting for an Aiken-connected Kentucky Derby contender.

Induction into the Aiken Thoroughbred Hall of Fame is an honor that has been bestowed upon 39 horses, including Midshipman. To qualify, a horse must be recognized as a champion by winning an Eclipse Award, and must have trained in Aiken at some point in its career. Midshipman was not the only horse with Aiken ties who was up for an Eclipse this year. Another contender was Eight Belles, nominated in the 3-Year-Old Filly category. Eight Belles, who trained at Legacy Stable under Ron Stevens as a 2-year-old, finished second in the Kentucky Derby before breaking down on the racetrack where she was euthanized.

The ceremony honoring Midshipman will be held on Sunday, March 15 at 12:30 p.m. at the Thoroughbred Hall of Fame and Museum in Hopeland Gardens.

Owen Rinehart to Polo Hall of Fame

Aiken has always had a stellar reputation in polo circles for attracting and producing outstanding players and ponies. Some of the best players in the history of the game have graced Aiken’s fields, including the immortal Tommy Hitchcock (1900-1944), a 10 goal player who was often considered the best player the sport had ever seen, and Adolfo Cambiaso (1975 - ) an Argentine 10-goal superstar whose reputation has even eclipsed Tommy’s. In fact, of the 21 American born players who have been awarded a 10-goal rating by the United States Polo Association, seven (a full third!) have lived and played in Aiken.

This February, another of Aiken’s players will be inducted into the National Museum of Polo Hall of Fame in Lake Worth, Florida. Owen Rinehart, who attained a 10-goal handicap in 1991, is this year’s living inductee. He joins other Aiken-connected poloists on the roster, including Pete Bostwick, Thomas, Tommy and Louise Hitchcock, Alan Corey Jr. (father of the Alan Corey who plays today) Elbridge Gerry (who attended Aiken Prep School) Philip and Stewart Iglehart, Norty Knox, Devereux Milburn, Lewis Smith, Louis Stoddard and Harry Payne Whitney.

Owen Rinehart has a long list of polo accomplishments, including wins in the U.S. Open, the U.S. Handicap, the Gold Cup, the Monty Waterbury Cup, the America Cup, the Hall of Fame Cup, the World Cup and the East Coast Open. He also played for America in the Westchester Cup in 1992, the last year that the U.S. won the historic international match against England. This year, he serves as coach for the American team in the first year that the Westchester Cup will be contested on American soil since 1939.

Although Owen has a stellar reputation as a player, he may be best known for breeding, training and developing horses. His breeding operation is one of the most well-respected in the nation, and horses bred and trained at his Isinya Farm on Langdon Road have won numerous Best Playing Pony Awards in some of the top tournaments in the country. Additionally, he was named Best Mounted Player in both the 2005 Gold Cup (played at New Bridge Polo and Country Club) and in the 2007 U.S. Open in Palm Beach.

Owen will be inducted at the 20th Annual Hall of Fame Awards Gala at the museum on Friday, February 13. Other inductees include the Aiken “Ponies to Remember” Belle of All, owned and played by Louis Stoddard; and Rotallen, owned and played by Norty Knox. The evening begins with a Champagne reception and a silent auction to benefit the Hall of Fame. There will be a seated dinner, then the awards ceremony, then dancing. Tickets are $200 per person. ( or call 561.969.3210)

Aiken Gets Arena Polo

Aiken’s polo players have been threatening to start playing arena polo here for years, and several polo enthusiasts have gone so far as to put up polo arenas. There has even been at least one exhibition game over at The Plains of Aiken development. Now, although there is no word of anyone organizing regular arena practices or making an arena club, we will have an arena polo tournament, thanks to Randy Russell, president of Polo America and the man behind the Ford Trucks Balloon and Polo Festival, held here in 2007 and 2008.

Randy has put together the Ford Trucks U.S. Open Arena Championship, a 14-16-goal tournament that will be held at an arena he is in the process of completing at his home in the Steeplechase development on Aiken’s Southside. The tournament runs from April 28 until May 3. It will be limited to eight teams and already has attracted serious interest from three or four.

A polo arena is 300 feet long by 150 feet wide, although many arenas are either bigger or smaller. Whereas outdoor polo has four players to a side, arena polo has just three. The ball, made of inflated plastic or leather and about the size of a Florida grapefruit, resembles a mini soccer ball. Players can bounce the ball off the walls (“boards”) of the arena and they score by hitting the ball against a marked-off (usually) recessed area the arena’s end.

Like many indoor versions of outdoor sports, arena polo can be both faster (in terms of how the play changes) and more physical than grass polo. The game is definitely easier to watch and understand since the players never get that far away from the spectators. Many players, especially those from Northern climes, get their start in arena polo, which can be played year round indoors, even in Chicago or Maine. Horses that play in the arena have to be quick, bold and handy. They can even be a little bit crazy: on the grass a hot-headed, keen horse might be hard to stop, but in the arena there is nowhere to go but to the play.

The entry fee for the tournament is $1,000 per team and parking for spectators will be five dollars per car, and five dollars to attend the final match. There will be a Kentucky Derby party after the consolation finals on Saturday, May 2, at which players, spectators and friends can watch the race and (presumably) indulge in Mint Juleps. All proceeds go to benefit the families of servicemen at Fort Gordon. The families of Fort Gordon have also been the beneficiaries of the Ford Trucks Balloon and Polo festivals.

“I didn’t have a connection to the military before,” explains Randy. “But after we made the families of Fort Gordon the beneficiaries of the first balloon festival, I saw how appreciative they were and how much it is needed. Now about 90 percent of my events benefit military families. We’ve been able to help about 30 families attend funerals of loved ones that have died in the line of service. We’ve also been able to help a little boy get treatment for a blood disease after his mother ran out of insurance and ran up all her charge cards. We raised enough money to pay for his treatment and to pay off all her credit cards. Now the little boy is cured and playing soccer.”

Horsemen's Hangouts

Aiken isn’t just a great place to ride. It’s also great place for horsemen to network and socialize: everyone who is in the area is bound to come downtown for dinner or a drink, at least once in a while. When they do, they’re pretty likely to run into other horse people. People looking for work as riders or grooms often say they have the best luck getting hired just by going to the Polo Bar at the Hotel Aiken and talking to people.

This winter, there are a few new additions to the scene. One is a new cocktail hour on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings at The Willcox, one of Aiken’s stateliest and most historic hotels. The Willcox’s manager, Tina McCarthy, a horsewoman, is married to Dan McCarthy of Farmer Road Polo, the premier green horse training facility for polo in the area. With the McCarthys’s equestrian connections, it is little wonder that the cocktail hour is frequented by horse people of all disciplines. Of course, it also helps that numerous visiting horse people choose The Willcox as their residence during their sojourns in the city.

The other new addition is a welcome one for horsemen on the East side of town. New Bridge Polo Club has opened the New Bridge Café, serving breakfast and lunch from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. The chef is from Argentina and the menu is North American with a South American flair. For instance, for lunch, you could order a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich. Or you could have the Milanesa (crisply fried breaded beef) lunch plate. Either way, prices are quite reasonable and the atmosphere is laid back, elegant and understated.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Eventers are Coming

If it's January in Aiken, that means the eventing season is upon us. With more eventers making Aiken their year round home, the season is stretching out across the calendar, of course. But January, February and March are months in which Aiken becomes the center of the event world, at least on the East Coast.

Aiken's eventing snowbirds include some of the top names in the sport, including the 2008 USEA rider of the year (Phillip Dutton) and the USEA female rider of the year (Sally Cousins.) Corinne Ashton, who rode Dobbin to 2008 Event Horse of the Year honors, will also be in town through March.

With all of the eventing activity on its way, we decided to post Lois Britten's Eventer's Guide on this blog. The article was originally published in the September 2008 edition of The Aiken Horse.

An Eventer’s Guide to Aiken

Where to Ride, Train and Compete
By Lois Britten

Every year, more and more event riders discover the benefits of wintering in Aiken. First and foremost, there are the competitions. Throughout February and March, Aiken’s eventers find seven recognized events, all within a 20 to 30 minute drive, no matter where they base their operations. Add in the events at Pine Top Farm in Thomson, Ga. (about an hour’s drive away), and the number of Aiken area events jumps to 11.

In addition to the competitions, event riders can benefit from schooling sessions with one of the many elite event riders wintering in Aiken. The opportunity here is unparalleled: Phillip Dutton, Sally Cousins, Heidi White, Kim Severson, Lellie Ward, Craig Thompson, Jan Bynny, Jim Wolf, Canadian Olympian Ian Roberts – and that’s just a partial list. Want more? Why not improve your dressage and stadium jumping skills with lessons from one of the top dressage or hunter/jumper trainers in town?

For anyone planning a first-time escape from snow and ice, as well as for everyone returning, here’s your Eventer’s Guide to Aiken. Where to stay, where to school and what to do to make your trip to this amazing horse hamlet a memorable one.

Nothing beats the convenience of boarding where you can school crosscountry, and all of Aiken’s eventing venues take boarders, depending on stall availability. Visit the farm websites (under “Schooling” below) for information and a virtual tour.

If you check the “Events, Schooling Shows, Clinics” page on the Jumping Branch Farm website, or Sporting Days Farm website’s “Stabling” page, you’ll find many other boarding options. Some are commercial. Some are private farms accustomed to taking in boarders during the winter months. Some even provide housing for both you and your horse – an especially attractive option for late sleepers! There are many top-notch boarding facilities advertising throughout the Aiken Horse, as well as in our Business Card, Directory of Services and Classified sections. There are also some newer eventing farms in the area, such as Rumor Has It Farm in Windsor, with cross-country, stadium and dressage schooling areas in various stages of completion.

If you love the B&B life, how about one of these options? The Town and Country Inn – Bed, Breakfast and Stables – is just five miles from downtown, on what we call the Southside (, 803-642-0270). A bit farther out and to the east, in Williston, you’ll
find Aiken Barn, Bed and Breakfast (, 803-266-3990). Both let you bunk with your horse. Well, not literally, but you get the idea.

Annie’s Inn is a traditional B&B (no ponies, please) just east of town in Montmorenci. The location can’t be beat. It’s smack-dab in the middle of Aiken’s four main event sites and just 15 minutes from both downtown and the Southside’s strip of restaurants and shopping.

Cottage and apartment rentals are another option during the winter months, some in the charming downtown historic horse district. Check for rental listings in the Classified sections of The Aiken Horse ( and The Aiken Standard (the local newspaper: Or check in with a local realtor or with the Aiken Chamber of Commerce (

Of course, you can also opt to stay in a hotel. Aiken is a rather active business center, and has quite a number of hotels that will accommodate relatively long-term guests. There are luxury hotels (such as The Willcox, a lovely historic inn downtown – President Franklin Delano Roosevelt is said to have stayed there regularly) or the usual chain hotels and motels, many of them located on Whiskey Road.

If you enjoy nightlife, you might consider the Hotel Aiken, still often referred to as “The Holley House” by locals, although it hasn’t been called that officially for at least a decade. Hotel Aiken’s Polo Bar is an equestrian hotspot, attracting an ever-changing stream of foxhunters, show jumpers, event riders and polo players most evenings throughout the fall, winter and spring seasons. The bar can be a bit noisy (especially after 10 pm on karaoke night) so if you do stay at the hotel, you might consider one of the motel-style rooms next door to the historic building itself, where it might be quieter. Even if bars aren’t your thing, you should plan on stopping by the Polo Bar one night – you’ll probably be amazed by all the horsepeople you see there.

With seven cross-country schooling sites within about a 10-mile radius, Aiken has an embarrassment of riches. The four venues that host USEA events usually close their courses two weeks before a competition, although there are occasional exceptions, so double-check. All four courses are open for schooling the day after an event, when the jumps are still beautifully decorated. Do, however, always call ahead, even if you know the course is open. You need to find out the farm’s procedures for signing a release and making payment. Plus, if the farm knows you’re coming they’ll be sure there’s water in the water jump. Don’t bring your dog with you unless you are told it is O.K.!

USEA Venues
Full Gallop Farm. Manager: Lara Anderson. Course: This Tadpole through Intermediate course runs over rolling, open hills, through short wooded paths and between fields. Parts of the course are quite scenic, winding between small ponds. There are two water jumps and the footing is, 803.644.6789

Jumping Branch Farm. Manager: Julie Zapapas. Course: The Tadpole through Preliminary course goes along wooded paths and between pretty fields with rolling hills. There is also a galloping track and a dressage ring. Jumping Branch, like most places in Aiken, boasts excellent sandy footing., 803.642.3485

Paradise Farm. Manager: Lellie Ward. Course: Tadpole through Preliminary over rolling, open hills and between fields. Paradise Farm features a nice, sloping hill that affords an impressive and extensive view of almost the entire course. Again, the footing here is superb., 803.643.0138

Sporting Days in Aiken. Manager: Joannah Glass. Course: Another Tadpole through Preliminary course over open terrain with an extensive view. The course includes hunt fences as well as all the traditional crosscountry jumps. The footing is excellent., 803.648.0100

Other Venues
Chime Bell Chase. Managers: Woody Baxt and Alan Young. This is a beautiful property on the southside of town, so if that’s where you’re based, it will be your most convenient option. Tadpole through Preliminary jumps are scattered throughout the property. Inviting jump trails wind through the woods (Beginner Novice/Novice level) and the Whiskey Road Foxhounds (one of Aiken’s six recognized hunts) runs a very popular hunter pace here on the Monday of Presidents Day. Added bonus: the water jump is always full! The charming Mr. Young meets visitors at the entrance with the necessary release form, so you must call ahead for an appointment.,, 201.410.6028.

Hopeland Farms. Manager: Cathy Howard. Some of the original property here has been sold off, but there are still about 20 very nice schooling fences available, Tadpole through Training, on good footing. Hopeland is convenient because it’s close to town and its water jump is especially good for green horses. Appointments are absolutely required. Call Cathy at 803.645.2682 and she’ll greet you personally when you arrive.

Pine Top Farm. Manager: Glenn Wilson. Pine Top’s a bit over an hour’s drive, but it features jumps up through the Advanced level. The fences are varied and scattered across open fields and through wooded areas. Get a group together and make a day of it. It’s worth the trip.,, 706.595.3792, 706.449.1907

Need Anything?
Forget to pack your favorite dressage saddle pad, your spurs, buckets, a grain scoop? Encounter an unexpected wardrobe malfunction. No worries! There are no fewer than nine tack, feed and supply stores in and around town. Aiken County Farm Supply, Aiken Saddlery and Supply, Banks Mill Feeds (bulk sales only), Boots, Bridles and Britches, Double HH Feed & Supply, Equine Connection, Oak Manor Saddlery, Southern Saddlery and Zach’s Tack are all located within a 15- to 25-minute drive, depending on your base of operations

Maybe you need some repairs to your equipment. In that case, for any and all manner of boot or tack repairs just call Aiken’s “Saddle Doctor,” Holly Spencer (803.642.5166). Her shop is right behind the Aiken Training Track in town, and she’s a whiz.

Recognized Horse Trials In Aiken

September 27–28: Pine Top Farm

October 18: Paradise Farm

November 28-30: Pine Top Farm

January 31–February 1: Pine Top

February 3–4: Full Gallop

February 7–8: Sporting Days

February 10–11: Full Gallop

February 14–15: Pine Top

February 20–22: Paradise Farm

February 27–March 1: Pine Top

March 6–8: Jumping Branch

March 10–11: Sporting Days

March 14–15: Sporting Days