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.