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 (www.towncountrybb.com, 803-642-0270). A bit farther out and to the east, in Williston, you’ll
find Aiken Barn, Bed and Breakfast (email@example.com, 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 (www.theaikenhorse.com) and The Aiken Standard (the local newspaper: www.aikenstandard.com). Or check in with a local realtor or with the Aiken Chamber of Commerce (www.aikenchamber.net).
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.!
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 excellent.www.fullgallopfarm.com, firstname.lastname@example.org. 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. www.jbfarm.com, email@example.com. 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. www.paradisefarmaiken.com, firstname.lastname@example.org. 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. www.sportingdaysfarm.com, email@example.com. 803.648.0100
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. www.chimebellchase.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, 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. www.pinetopfarm.com, email@example.com, 706.595.3792, 706.449.1907
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