Sunday, August 30, 2009

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.

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