Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Spanish Trainer, American Horses

On December 17 and 18, Jose Francisco Garcia came to Coves Darden Farm just east of Aiken to conduct a dressage clinic. Jose Francisco Garcia is from the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art in Jerez de la Frontera Spain, where he is a "jinete professor especialista", the highest level of horse trainer. The Royal Andalusian School is world famous for its riding school, which specializes in the art of high school dressage.

Mr. Garcia, who has been working at the school for 26 years, has been responsible for the training of some famous Spanish horses. For instance, when the Spanish team won the silver medal in dressage at the 2004 Olympics in Spain, one of the horses, Oleaje, ridden by Ignacio Rambla, was an animal that he trained for eight years.

Miguel Coves and Dorothea Darden, who invited Mr. Garcia to their farm, both agreed that he was possibly the best rider they had ever seen.

"I have never seen anyone ride a horse like him," says Miguel. "When he gets on a horse, it changes completely. When I see him riding my horse, I want to buy it again!"

"He has a great eye for what a horse needs," adds Dorothea. "He seems to know exactly what to do at the exact right time. It's been fascinating to watch him. He can get so much out of a horse. When he gets on, the horse just transforms."

Riders in the clinic agreed with these sentiments. Although Mr. Garcia is certainly an upper level trainer, he had no problem working with lower level horses, even those that had never really schooled in dressage before. Nancy Bruen Smith brought Mattox, her 9-year-old Percheron-Thoroughbred field hunter.

"Before I came here, I asked myself, am I crazy doing this?" she says. "He is so wonderful, I felt embarrassed at my level to come and take a lesson. But I accomplished so much in just that one lesson, that I can work on what I learned for weeks."

Shirley Singelton, a dressage trainer from [JBG1]Madison, Ga., brought two horses. One was a Swedish Warmblood schooling at Second level. The other was an Azteca (half PRE and half Quarter horse) belonging to her daughter that had been having trouble with his flying changes. Shirley was impressed with Mr. Garcia's understanding of this horse.

"He is the first trainer who really 'got' him," she says, noting that there was a real difference in the way the horse rode at the end of the session.

On Friday afternoon, clinic participants watched while Mr. Garcia schooled Orlando IV, a PRE stallion owned by Coves Darden Farm. At the beginning of the session, spectators chatted amongst themselves. But as the horse and the man worked in the arena, a hush settled over the place. By the end, everyone watching was silent and spellbound.

Francisco says that he enjoys giving lesson to horses and rider of all levels and abilities.

"The level is not important. What is important is to be able to help the person improve his own horse. I think the people came away happy, and the horses came away changed.

"When I give a clinic in America, the people riding dressage tend to have a harder contact," he continues. "I like to convey the art of understanding the horse's feelings, to show people how to play with his balance. It is important that the horse does not suffer, that he goes forward, feels important and enjoys himself. To learn the art of equestrian tact. . . it is like unheard music."

Mr. Garcia will be back for future clinics at Coves Darden Farm. For more information, visit the website: To watch a video of Francisco Jose Garcia's ride on Orlando IV, go to the CovesDarden channel on YouTube:

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Salute to Driving

Most people in Aiken are at least reasonably aware that Aiken has many carriage driving enthusiasts. After all, the Aiken Driving Club is quite visible at many of city’s large horse events such as the Aiken Steeplechase and the Aiken Trials. People may not be quite as cognizant of the fact that the carriage driving or coaching group is only one part of the Aiken driving community. The other part, which mostly stays in the Windsor area, are combined driving competitors.

Combined driving, the driven equivalent of a mounted three day event, is an exciting, fast moving international discipline that is recognized by the Federation Equestre International. Driving is part of the World Equestrian Games, and has its own regularly scheduled international championships at various places in Europe. Both ponies and horses compete, and there are divisions for singles, pairs and four-in-hands. It is a growing sport in the United States and Aiken is one of three or four places on the East Coast where driving enthusiasts converge in the winter months. The area boasts one prestigious combined driving event (the annual Katydid CDE) and several smaller ones, along with schooling events, classes and clinics.

All this activity has attracted some of the top whips (drivers) in the business, many of whom are veterans of international competition, or have international aspirations.  Being selected to represent the USA overseas is a great honor, but it is also expensive, especially for drivers, who have to transport several carriages and harnesses as well as their horses. The United States Equestrian Foundation provides some funding, but the majority of the USEF support tends to go to other equestrian sports that have a larger popular following.

Lisa Singer, who is one of America’s top drivers, and Bev Lesher, who owns Courage to Lead, one of America’s top driving ponies, decided that it was time for Aiken to help the USEF help the drivers. This year they are starting what they hope will be an annual three-day event intended to raise money for drivers while providing the Aiken area with more exposure to their discipline. The Salute To Driving and Low Country Dinner will take place from February 19 through 21. It will include American Driving Society clinics, a combined test and various other activities. There will also be a low country dinner at Trout Walk Farm in Aiken. All proceeds will go to the USEF and be earmarked for the driving discipline.

“What often happens is that people who have the talent to compete on the international level can’t do it because they can’t afford to travel to Europe,” says Bev, whose pony Courage to Lead won the bronze medal at the World Pony Championships in Greven, Germany in 2009. “We’re doing this because we want to give back to the sport, to help make it possible for our best people to represent us internationally. It’s a matter of national pride.”

Bev and Lisa also hope to educate the uninitiated, who might not know what combined driving is all about. “We’re hoping to have streaming video from the top competitions – the Laurels, Live Oak, the World Championships  - so that people can see the sport at the highest levels and start to appreciate the athleticism of it and how exciting it can be.”

For more information, call Bev at 717.554.1241. 

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Polo Saturday on the Hunt

How do you get more people out hunting? Theresa King, who recently earned her colors with the Aiken Hounds, thought one good way might be to invite some polo players to come along. As a polo player who started hunting about four years ago, Theresa knew that people who love galloping on the polo field might like to keep on galloping through the woods when the polo season was over. After all, she was bitten by the hunt bug after her first taste of riding with the drag.

“I just love it,” she says. “I love the speed of it, I love jumping and I love being in the woods. I thought that there are so many polo players who turn their horses out in the winter without realizing that there are other options that they might really enjoy. I thought we should make an easy way for polo players to try hunting to see if they liked it, and that’s where the idea of Polo Saturday came from.”

Linda McLean, who is the Master of Foxhounds at Aiken, and Katherine Gunter, who is the huntsman, agreed to give it a try. Invitations went out to Aiken’s polo players, urging them not to pull their horses’ shoes just yet, but to leave them on for a special hunt. The event was originally scheduled for Tuesday, November 16, a few days after the official end of the polo season. Rain disrupted the plan, and so Polo Tuesday became Polo Saturday, a change that may have made it even more attractive. The hunt was open to all polo players at no charge. They did not have to wear hunt attire, but could come in their boots, whites and polo helmets. 

No one was quite sure how big the turnout would be beforehand. But on the day of the hunt, polo players took full advantage of the opportunity. In fact, the field was among the biggest of the year with almost 70 riders. Many of the players came dressed for a match, while others wore a combination of hunt and polo attire. Of course, the regular members of the field were riding too, but they may have been outnumbered by those from the polo side of the aisle. Barb Uskup from 302 Polo provided the stirrup cup at Memorial Gate.

In Aiken, of course, polo and hunting often do go together. Some current hunt riders have played a bit of polo, while some polo players also do quite a lot of hunting. In addition to Theresa King, other polo players often seen on the hunt field include Jack Whittemore, Christine Cato, Kim Rodriguez and Todd Martineau. David Smith, who is the Master of Whiskey Road Foxhounds, is also a long-time and dedicated polo player. 

The tradition of polo players joining the hunt goes back to the days of the Winter Colony when such families as the Hitchcocks, the Bostwicks and the Knoxes all participated in both sports. Whether many more of today’s polo players will soon be out shopping for black jackets and velvet caps remains to be seen. However, several poloists who made their first forays into the Woods on Saturday were back on a horse at Opening Meet. This time, they looked pretty much like all the other foxhunters in their traditional clothing. Of course, you could pick them out pretty easily – all their horses had roached manes. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

New Riding Coach at USCA

This fall, the University of South Carolina Aiken named John Abbott as the coach of its new riding team. The team will practice at John’s Bridlewood Farm and is expected to start competing regularly in Intercollegiate Horse Show Association shows starting this February. The team has already been to two competitions, the first at Berry College in Rome, Ga. on October 23 and the second just a week later at Lander College in Greenwood, S.C.

The new riding team is a division of the USCA Equestrian Club, which has about a dozen members. The team itself, which requires tryouts and regular lessons at Bridlewood, has just three members at the moment, but John expects that number to grow in the coming months. The IHSA offers competitions in hunt seat as well as Western riding, but John says that right now all of the team members are English riders.

“I hope to build it up into a big program,” he says. “Already, I’ve given tours of the barn to a handful of girls who are considering coming to USC Aiken next year and want to bring their horses with them.” In addition, John says that about half a dozen members of the equestrian club have started taking lessons and expressed an interest in trying out for the team.

Intercollegiate Horse Shows are a democratic affair. In regular horse shows, riders bring their own horses and compete on them, which has the effect of favoring riders who have greater financial resources: a less talented or dedicated rider with a fancier horse will often beat a more talented or dedicated rider with a run-of-the-mill horse. In intercollegiate competition, the host school provides the horses and all the riders compete on comparable mounts. In fact, they draw which horse they will ride out of a hat shortly before entering the ring.

“I think it’s a great program,” says John. “It puts everyone on an equal footing, and it gives young people who might not have the resources to compete an opportunity show and get a taste for it.”

For more information about the USCA Equestrian Club or the Riding Team, contact Sarah Wach at

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Foxhunters on Parade

The second event in the Equine Performing Arts Series happened Saturday, November 13 when representatives of the Aiken Hounds and Why Worry Hounds arrived at Hopeland Farms for the Foxhunting Parade of Hounds and Hunt Breakfast. The event was part of a series is sponsored by the Equine Steering Committee of the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce. The series is intended to help connect the Aiken’s equestrian community with the community at large by providing educational events showcasing various equestrian disciplines.

A rather large crowd came out to Hopeland Farms, where they were served brunch under a tent overlooking a rolling field and a few hunt type jumps. There were various foxhunting exhibits on site, including a dog kennel holding a number of extremely sweet-looking young foxhounds. Before the arrival of the hunts themselves, guests were entertained by a string quartet.

The parade began with George and Jeanie Thomas, Masters of Why Worry Hounds, who arrived dressed in all their hunt finery to lead the pack across the fields with the help of their whippers-in, Emma Biederman and Juli Hearn. Then, Linda Knox McLean and Katherine Gunter brought the Aiken Hounds Penn-Mary-Dels out for a quick romp up and down the hills and over a few jumps. At the end of each of the demonstrations, the masters brought their packs up to the tent where guests could get a closer look at the horses and the hounds. Some guests got a very close look at the hounds, since several of them ran into the tent, hot on the trail of some entrees. Meanwhile, several people spoke about hunting and hunt traditions, including Larry Byers, who is a foxhunter and a member of the Equine Steering Committee, and Joseph Hardiman who is the professional huntsman at Whiskey Road Foxhounds.

Although many of the people who attended the event looked as if they were already familiar with the hunt scene, there were also quite a few people there who had never before seen foxhounds or foxhunters. But even those who already knew hunting were impressed by the scenic quality of the event as the horses and hounds galloped up the hill, punctuating the muted autumn landscape with vibrant spots of color. And the hounds appreciated it too, especially the ones that got a little lucky in the tent. 

Next in the series is the Polo Asado and Tango, which will be held on Powderhouse Field (Powderhouse Road across from the Ford Conger steeplechase course). This dinner and dance will be at 6 p.m. on April 1, the night before the annual Pacers and Polo match, a game that traditionally opens the spring polo season in Aiken and is considered the third leg of the Aiken Triple Crown.

For tickets and more information, contact the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dressage at Devon

Dressage at Devon, held each fall in Pennsylvania, is probably the most prestigious annual international dressage competition held outside of Europe. It includes a complete breed show, as well as several days of dressage competition and regularly attracts top riders and their horses from all over the United States and beyond. This year marked the show’s 35th anniversary.

The Aiken-based rider Shawna Harding and her horse Come On III were among the biggest winners at the show this year. First they won the Grand Prix Special qualifier on Saturday, October 2 with 65.149%. Then they returned to the ring on Sunday to win the Gramd Prix Special with a 68.292%.

Come On III, is an 11-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding that Shawna imported and brought up through the levels. This is the horse’s first year at the Grand Prix level, and his performances are getting stronger with each show. After the competition, a reporter asked the judge, Gary Rockwell, if Come on III was an Olympic caliber horse.

“Absolutely,” he replied.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Goodbye to the Barrel Finals

For the past 17 years, the National Barrel Horse Association has held its championship show at the James Brown Arena in Augusta (also known as the Augusta Civic Center.) This was a huge show, often drawing 600 or more competitors from across the country, as well as from Italy and South America. The Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau estimated that last year’s championships, which attracted about 8,000 fans, had a local economic impact of about $1.4 million.

This year, however, the National Barrel Horse Association accepted competitive bids from three other cities to hold the show: Tunica, Miss., Jackson, Miss. and Perry, Ga. Perry, which offered a substantial sponsorship package, was the winner. And so, the 2010 championships will be at the Georgia State Fairgrounds from October 25 through 30. In addition to offering the NBHA a better financial deal, the facilities in Perry also afford the event more space and more conveniently located stabling. 

Sherry Fulmer, who is the executive director of the NBHA, told the Augusta Chronicle that the bid from the Augusta Civic Center was “not even in the ballpark.” However, the NBHA is based in Augusta, and, according to Ms. Fulmer, it is not out of the question that the finals will someday return to the area

The news that NBHA finals are leaving Augusta sparked speculation that the Augusta Futurity, an annual cutting horse event, would also be on its way out. So far, however, the Augusta Futurity is still slated to come to the civic center from January 21 through 29, 2011. However, according to show management, there will be some changes in the way the show will be run.

In the past, all of the cutting runs were held at the James Brown Arena in downtown Augusta. The majority of the horses are stabled across the Savannah River at the Hippodrome in North Augusta, S. C. This meant that they had to be trailered down Route 1 every time they had a class. The distance was not long, but sometimes there was slow traffic, making the trip a bit of a headache.

This January, the qualifying go-rounds will be held at the indoor Morris Arena at the Hippodrome, with the finals taking place in the Augusta Civic Center. This way, competitors will spend less time on the road and the competition will be more convenient all the way around. It may be a good thing for the vendors, too. Although some vendors have always set up shop at the Hippodrome, the majority have been at the civic center. This year, those that are targeting the competitors (tack shops and the like) may choose to stay at the Hippodrome where they will have more exposure to the people who are riding and caring for their horses all week long. 

Monday, October 11, 2010

Time for Steeplechase

The 19th renewal of the Fall Steeplechase is coming to Ford Conger Field on Saturday, October 30. As usual, there will be dinner and dancing in the railside tent the night before the event: this year the theme is “Twilight in Transylvania,” in recognition of Halloween. There will be six races, starting at 1 p.m., with the traditional Aiken Driving Club carriage parade between the first and the second races. The featured race is the Budweiser Holiday Cup.

The races at the steeplechase are put on by the National Steeplechase Association, which runs race meets at tracks up and down the East Coast. The Aiken Spring Steeplechase, held on March 20 this year, was the first meet on the NSA calendar. The fall steeplechase is one of the last. Steeplechase horses, riders and trainers travel from meet to meet, trying to win purses and to earn enough money and races to put them at the top of the yearly standings.

By the time Aiken’s fall meet rolls around, most of the big money races will already be over, and the majority of the horses that will be racing here will be less experienced chasers. This is not to say that there won’t be good horses or trainers in evidence. The runaway top trainer this year is Jonathan Sheppard, who almost always brings a few horses to Aiken and is a fan of the town – he even played polo here in years past.

Sheppard, whose horses have won about 30 percent more money this year than those of his next closest rival in the trainer standings, also recently hit a milestone in his career. On September 25, Arcadius, a horse that he saddled for Hudson River Stables, jumped to victory in the $100,000 Helen Haskell Samson Stakes at Monmouth Park in New Jersey. This gave the 69-year-old Sheppard his 1,000th career win over fences. This is especially impressive considering the low annual number of jump races held each year in the United States – generally there are fewer than 200 per year.

Sheppard, who was elected to the Racing Hall of Fame some 20 years ago, has been the leading trainer in the U.S. 24 times so far. He is the first trainer ever to saddle 1,000 steeplechase winners in this country.

For more information about the steeplechase or to buy tickets to the races or the dinner, visit the website ( or call 803.648.9641.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Katydid is Coming

Now that the United States Combined Driving four-in-hand team has won a silver medal at the World Equestrian Games, there is no excuse for horse people in Aiken not to know about the sport. If you are not clear on what it is all about, you can get a good introduction at the Katydid Combined Driving Event held from November 7 through 10 at Katydid Farm in Windsor. (It’s on State Park Road and you can’t miss it.)

A combined driving event is just like a three day event, except that the competitors are driving their horses rather than riding them. They also might be driving more than one of them: there are divisions for pairs, for four-in-hands and for tandems, in which one horse is hitched directly behind the other. Dressage is on Friday and cones (driving’s equivalent of stadium jumping) is on Sunday. The best day to come is Saturday for the marathon, when the whips will race their horses through the hazards on the cross-country course– the water hazard is a favorite for spectators.  The hazards are timed, so the faster they go, the better.

Katydid has become a well-established Aiken tradition and is also an important event on the national driving calendar. In fact, many of the top whips in the country are likely to be at Katydid, so if you come out to watch, you will have the chance to observe the best in the business. Admission is free, and the action gets started in the morning.

Equine Performing Arts Series

This fall, everyone in Aiken is invited to attend a new series being presented by the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce’s Equine Steering Committee. The program, called the Equine Performing Arts Series, is intended to showcase various equestrian disciplines, with the aim of “connecting the equine community to the community at large,” according to the chamber’s promotional literature.

The plan is to make the series an annual event, and eventually, to cover all the disciplines represented in Aiken. This year, three disciplines will be represented and there will be four different events. The first event is a kick-off party to be held at Hatchaway Bridge Farms on Saturday, October 23 at 6:30. The theme of the party is “Shagging on the Hill,” and it will feature Kendall Standish, a cabaret singer, and her partner David Brown. The Palmetto Groove band will follow for those who like to dance. Dress is casual.

The second event takes place on Saturday, November 13 at 11:30 a.m. Called the “Traditional Foxhunters’ Parade and Hunt Breakfast,” it will be held at Hopeland Farms and will feature the Aiken Hounds and the Why Worry Hounds. Representatives of each of the hunts will come dressed in their hunt finery and give a demonstration with their packs.

The next event, the “Polo Asado and Tango” has two parts. The first part is an Argentine barbecue and dance held under the tent at Powderhouse Polo Field on the evening of Friday, April 1. If you attend this party, you will also get a ticket to the “Pacers and Polo” match the following day. Pacers and Polo, which is a benefit for the University of South Carolina Aiken’s baseball team (the Pacers), is the third leg of the Aiken Triple Crown and the traditional start of the spring polo season.

The final event, “Show Jumping – Grace over Fences” will be held in conjunction with the Aiken Spring Classic Horse show at Highfields Event Center on Friday, April 29. Liza-Towell Boyd and Harold Chopping, both professional riders who frequent Aiken’s show rings, will give a jumping demonstration.

Tickets to the individual events will be $60 apiece. If you buy a ticket to the whole series, it’s $150.  You can buy your tickets online on the Chamber of Commerce website ( or at Aiken Saddlery, Equine Divine or Meybohm Realtors downtown.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Spanish Horse Inspections

On September 27, the veterinarian Dr. Aida Huertas came to Coves-Darden Farm in Aiken to conduct a “revision” for the Asociación Nacional de Criadores de Caballos de Pura Raza Española (ANCCE, the Spanish association that registers and inspects purebred Andalusian horses.) Dr. Huertas lives in Spain and works with the ANCCE. She flew to the United States, and spent about two weeks traveling around the country to inspect horses from different states. Before coming to Aiken, she was on the West Coast (Washington and California) and the Midwest (most recently she was in Ohio) and after Aiken she was on her way to Florida.

Like many European breed associations, the ANCCE requires that horses that are going to be used for breeding purposes pass an inspection to ensure that their conformation represents the breed standard. When a horse with approved parents is born, he is “inscribed” in the stud book, DNA typed and microchipped. When he is 3 years old, he can be “revised.” If he passes the revision, he can be used for breeding purposes. If he doesn’t, he becomes a grade horse for all practical purposes: his foals will not be eligible for registration. Both mares and stallions must be revised.

Basic revision has a number of different steps and it must be conducted by an ANCCE veterinarian from Spain. First, the vet scans the horse for the microchip and compares the information on that chip with the horse’s official “carta” (passport.) Then, she conducts a series of measurements. Stallions must be at least 1.52 meters tall at the withers (15 hands) while mares must be at least 1.5 meters (14.3 hands). She also measures the circumference of the cannon bone below the knee and takes several other measurements of various parts of the body. Finally, she conducts a visual inspection to ensure that the horse has no other conformational flaws that will disqualify it. For instance, horses in the Pura Raza Española (PRE) studbook are not supposed to have dished faces. A more common conformational flaw is a “fallen crest” meaning that the crest of the neck flops from one side to another, something that heavy-necked horses can be prone to.

About 30 horses were revised at Coves-Darden Farm this September, including over two dozen Coves-Darden horses and several that shipped in from farms around the area. The majority of these horses passed and had their cartas stamped “apto” (for the stallions) or “apta”(for the mares) to indicate that they had been accepted as ANCCE breeding stock.

Basic revision is the first level of ANCCE approvals. A horse that has been revised can later undergo more rigorous evaluations to become “calificado” (“qualified”).  There are only a handful of qualified PRE horses in the United States, seven of them at Coves-Darden Farm. One reason that so few horses in the U.S. are qualified is that there is currently no way for horses to undergo the more rigorous qualification examination in this country. Miguel Coves and Dorothea Darden of Coves-Darden Farm are working with the ANCCE to bring those examinations here sometime in the near future.

Coves-Darden Farm, established in Aiken two years ago this October, is an active breeding farm and currently has some 75 PRE. horses coming from many of the top bloodlines in Spain.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The World is Coming

After five years of preparation, Lexington, Kentucky is bracing for the arrival of the world’s best equine athletes. They are coming for the 2010 Alltech World Equestrian Games, which begin on September 25 at the Kentucky Horse Park.  Although at this writing the games are less than a month away, the American teams are not yet set. However, each discipline has submitted a list of “nominated entries” to the Fédération Equestre Internationale, the organization that oversees international equestrian sport. Aiken has a number of representatives on these lists, including a handful of horsemen who are virtual shoo-ins.

One of the probable competitors is Robin Brueckmann, who will likely be riding on the para dressage team. Although Robin lives in North Carolina, the horse she will compete is Raison d’Etre, a Thoroughbred/Holsteiner cross gelding owned and trained by Ellie Schobel, one of Aiken’s premier dressage riders. Robin was selected as a “nominated entry” on the American team after final selection trials at Lamplight Farm in Wayne, Illinois this past June. Para dressage is a dressage competition for people with disabilities; 2010 is the first time that it will be included in the WEG. The competition runs from October 5 though October 10.

Other probable entries are three event riders who train and compete here during the winter months. The first and most likely is Phillip Dutton, who has been the first-ranked event rider in the United States for ten years straight. Phillip is on the nominated entry list with five horses, one of which is Connaught, a 17-year-old Irish Sporthorse gelding owned by Bruce Duchossois, a full-time Aiken resident. Phillip was born in Australia, but became an American citizen in 2006, in time to represent the U.S. at the 2008 Olympics in Hong Kong.

The second eventer with Aiken ties is Boyd Martin, another rider who grew up in Australia. Although Boyd has always held dual Australian/American citizenship (his mother, an American, represented this country at the 1968 Olympics on the speed-skating team) he only recently switched his competitive nationality from Australian to American. Boyd first came to Aiken as Phillip’s assistant, and now has his own training business called Windurra USA that he runs with his wife, Silva, an FEI-level dressage rider and coach. Boyd is nominated with two horses, Remington and Neville Bardos.

Aiken’s third eventing hopeful is Kim Severson, who won the individual silver medal and team bronze at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Kim is nominated with the grey Irish Sporthorse gelding Tipperary Liadhnan. Although Kim’s home base is in Virginia, she spends several months in Aiken each winter, where she competes her young horses and conducts annual clinics.

The nominated entries for the eventing team have one mandatory outing left, the LandRover 2010 USEA American Eventing Championships in Fairburn, Ga. from September 9 through 12.  Definite entries for the WEG will be named by September 25, and the eventing portion of the games runs from September 30 through October 3.

The final Aiken hopeful is Bill Long, who lives in Southern Pines, N.C., but who is on the nominated entry to compete in combined driving with a team of Gelderlander geldings lent to him by Jack Wetzel, an Aiken resident. The geldings (Digger, Director, Exodus and Bowman) are relative newcomers to the sport of combined driving, although they are an experienced four-in-hand coaching team. In fact, anyone who has seen a carriage parade in Aiken can probably picture them now: they are the stunning foursome of black horses with white socks and blazes that are customarily the parade’s leaders.

Jack Wetzel turned the team over to Bill Long, an experienced international competitor, not quite two years ago, and they have been competing against the best in the country ever since. As one of ten nominated four-in-hands, they are a definite possibility to compete, most likely as an individual entry rather than as part of the four-man American team. They are participating in a mandatory outing at the Carolina Horse Park in Southern Pines on August 28 through 31.  The combined driving competition at the WEG runs from October 7 through 10.

If all this talk about the World Equestrian Games is making you wish you had bought tickets, take heart. It might not be too late. Although no one is saying this out loud, tickets and hotel rooms don’t appear to be selling as wildly as the organizers had hoped.  In fact, tickets are still available, even to the hottest events such as the Grand Prix Freestyle and the Individual Show Jumping Final.  Some ticket prices have been discounted, and hotels around Lexington, which had raised prices with visions of a bonanza, have mostly dropped them again. Check out for last minute arrangements.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Angel is Gold in Puerto Rico

Angel Karolyi, who rides with Andrea King of Hollow Creek Stables in Aiken, flew to Mayaguez, Puerto Rico this July to compete in the Central American and Caribbean Games as part of the Venezuelan show jumping team. Angel, who was born in Venezuela, was selected for the team this winter in Florida. He piloted Abigail Walker’s James T. Kirk, a 10 year-old half Thoroughbred gelding that he often shows in the Aiken-area Grand Prix.

The Venezuelan team, anchored by Pablo Barrios, beat all comers to win the Nations Cup competition, earning Angel, who jumped solidly, a gold medal. Barrios also won both the speed competition and the overall individual gold. It was the first time in the 21-year history of the games that one country has won all three gold medals in the jumping division.

“It was great experience,” says Angel, who will be back competing in Aiken at the Equus Events shows this fall. “It was a big step up for me and for the horse.”

Angel will be taking time off from his own showing schedule to attend the World Equestrian Games as a spectator this month. “Venezuela is not sending a show jumping team,” he says. “But there will be two Venezuelans there, Pablo Barrios and Andres Rodriguez. It’s very exciting to see the people from Venezuela starting to do so well on an international level.” Pablo Barrios recently won the puissance class at the Irish International Horse Show in Dublin.

Angel plans to show in Aiken and Tennessee this fall, riding several different horses, including James T. Kirk, Galant (a horse that has carried him to numerous Grand Prix wins) and a new horse for him, Rolling Stone who is, he says “a great horse that just needs a little more experience.”

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Shawna’s Winning Way

Shawna Harding has been making a name for herself on the Grand Prix circuit this year riding her 11-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding, Come On III. Although she only recently moved the horse up to the Grand Prix Level, the pair did well enough to qualify for the Collecting Gaits Farm USEF Festival of Champions in Gladstone, New Jersey this August. This two-weekend-long competition featured the top dressage horses and riders in the nation. It was, in fact, the final qualifying event for riders who hoped to make the U.S. dressage team at the 2010 World Equestrian Games.

Although Shawna and Come on III acquitted themselves admirably against the toughest competition in the nation, the pair did not quite make the cut this time. It is likely that with more experience at this level, they will be able to improve their performance and be contenders for future competitions.

But Shawna may also have some other opportunities. Come On III is not the only winning horse that she is riding and training. She has also been bringing along a 9-year-old Hanoverian gelding named Rigo, owned by Tonya Rowe. Shawna has been competing Rigo since he was imported from Germany in 2006, and the pair have racked up an impressive list of scores, wins and titles from First Level in 2006 up through FEI Prix St. Georges Level this year.

This July, Shawna and Rigo were invited to compete at the U.S. Developing Horse Championship at Lamplight in Wayne, Ill.  There, the pair put away the competition, winning both the qualifying test and the championship by a wide margin and an overall score of 71.697 percent.  The Developing Horse Championship is for horses that are from 7 to 9 years old, and is intended to recognize up-and-coming horses with the ability to compete internationally.

If Rigo continues along the same path he is on now, Shawna may soon have two horses competing at the Grand Prix Level with a serious shot at representing the U.S. in international competition.  Although both horses are talented, willing animals with big hearts and a strong work ethic, physically they are quite different. Come On III is an imposing, 17.2 hand bay with an immediately striking appearance. Rigo stands about 15.2, and is most impressive for his extravagant movement. (Shawna reportedly calls him a “little sausage.”)

If you haven’t seen Shawna competing lately, you can always catch up with her career on YouTube. Shawna has her own YouTube channel where you can see many of her rides, including her two tests with Rigo at the Developing Horse Championships this summer. 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Keeping Pace

Over the last year, Pace Kneece of Aiken County Farm Supply has added a new option to the array of horse feeds available in the area. This option is Keep Pace, a proprietary feed, mixed and bagged at Orangeburg Milling Company. Keep Pace is a beet-pulp-based, high fat, low starch pellet originally designed for horses that have metabolic issues. The feed, which does not contain grain or sugars, has been selling at Aiken County Farm Supply since last December, and has a growing local following.

“It’s simple, but it’s good,” says Pace, explaining that the feed was formulated with the help of Amy DoBranski, a local equine dentist and feed consultant. Concentrates that do not contain grain are becoming popular, both for horses that have issues with grain, such as horses that have foundered, and for horses without such problems.  Keep Pace includes alfalfa meal, soybean hulls and wheat middlings, as well as a liberal dose of flaxseed meal and stabilized rice bran to provide Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. The feed even includes brewer’s yeast, kelp and peppermint.

“It’s a well-priced feed,” says Pace. “And it seems to be catching on. We’ve sold over 240 tons of it just this first year.”

Keep Pace is sold at Aiken County Farm Supply, and will soon be available at various locations around South Carolina and Georgia, including Camden, Charleston and Beaufort, S.C. and Grovetown, Atkinson and Sylvania, Ga.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Let the Waters Flow

If you haven’t been in the horse district since last spring, you may be in for a surprise. For decades, there has been a problem with storm water drainage around Whitney Field. It was a problem that would go unnoticed in years with drought conditions. But when rain has been abundant, the field itself has been soggy, and backyards and basements in surrounding houses have flooded. In 2008, there was enough rain that Whitney Field itself became essentially unplayable, with turf so wet it would come up in sheets when polo ponies stopped quickly.

At the end of May, the Aiken City Council approved a plan to improve the drainage in the area by clearing brush and trees, cleaning out the old drainage ditches that surround the field and installing drains to shunt the water into a series of catch basins and retention areas. There was an existing drainage system at Whitney Field, apparently built in the 1940s, that included ditches and a network of pipes. According to Larry Morris, who is the director of Public Works Administration and Engineering for the city, that system had hardly been touched since that time and was no longer operating.

“All the ditches were full of undergrowth and trees,” he says. “It wasn’t percolating well. We went in there and removed the bushes and a number of trees. They were big trees, because they had been getting a lot of water and they grew well. But they can’t have been that old. I have a picture of the place taken in the 1930s and there was not one tree beside the polo field.”

 The city’s crews removed enough brush to increase the size of the sand track next to the polo field by about a third. This had a dual purpose: not only did it help clear the ground for the new drainage ditches, it also opened up the area so that young horses that train there will have a better view of what is going on around them. According to Morris, the Whitney Trustees, who own the property, asked to have some extra clearing done for this reason.

“When horses know something is moving behind a bush, they are going to shy more if they can’t really see it,” says Morris.

Work on the Whitney Field area started in June. Although the schedule called for it to be completed by Labor Day, there is still a fair amount of work to be done. Heavy rainfall throughout the month of August slowed the job down by keeping the drainage ditches full and making it impossible to do significant work on the drainage pipes. But with a few dry days, the project should be back on track.

“We just ask people to be patient with us,” says Morris. “We’re working on it!”

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Summer Activities

Not too long ago, when you talked about Aiken’s equestrian activities, you would just be talking about things that happen in the colder months, between, say, November and May. Over the summer months, Aiken’s horsemen kept a low profile, training their horses in the early morning hours before the sun got too strong, or turning them out for the summer, or leaving town altogether.

These days however, the calendar has expanded, and there are organized horse activities all summer long. For polo players, there will once again be a summer league at 302 Polo Club. This is the fifth year of organized summer polo in the county.  Practices will be Sundays at 9 am and Wednesdays and Fridays at 6 pm. This is a change from prior years, when all of the practices were held in the morning. The league starts on June 23. Check out the 302 Polo website for more information. (

For the eventing crowd, there will be clinics at both Full Gallop Farm and Paradise Farm. Full Gallop will have Steven Bradley in June and Ryan Wood in July, while Lellie Ward, who owns Paradise Farm, will conduct her own clinics in June, July and August. Full Gallop will also have one unrecognized combined training event per month, culminating in their recognized horse trials on August 28 and 29. (For more information:

For the hunter/jumper crowd, there will also be shows, including economically priced schooling shows at Belvoir Farm in Windsor (, as well as at Red Top Farm in Johnston. Highfields Event Center will hold a local show on July Fourth weekend. In addition, a number of trainers will continue working with their horses and students in Aiken while showing in North Carolina, Kentucky and farther afield.

Things might be a little slower around town, especially in the month of July, but the Aiken horse world does not grind to a halt just because it is a little bit warm. Of course, many people in the community are just resting up for another action-packed September.

Denise Boudrot Hopkins Dies

Denise Boudrot Hopkins, a pioneering female jockey who rode over 1,000 winners on the New England circuit, died this May from brain cancer. Denise, who was 57, rode in her first race in 1972, just three years after Diane Crump broke the gender barrier by riding in a parimutuel race at Hialeah racetrack. She gained national fame in 1974 when she rode 94 winners in 92 days at Suffolk Downs in Boston, giving her the autumn riding title at the track. This feat garnered her a glowing profile in Sports Illustrated, which hailed her as the first of a “second generation of female riders.” Her ability to find the winner’s circle with the most unlikely of mounts earned her the nickname “Longshot Lady.” In the early 1970s, she bought her parents a farm in Elloree, S.C., which was called Longshot Lady Farm.

Denise later married Roland Hopkins, a racehorse owner and newspaper publisher – they first met when he hired her to pilot his longshot, Mostly Jesting, in a race at Suffolk Downs in 1982. (The horse paid $134 when he won.) After 13 years on the track, she retired from professional riding, and hit the horse show circuit. In the mid-2000s, she trained her Quarter Horse gelding, Cleve Kadiddlehopper to be a trick horse, and began traveling around the country performing an act called “The Reluctant Racehorse” in which Cleve would do such things as lie down on the track and sit in a beanbag chair. Denise brought this show to town in 2008, when she and Cleve performed at the Aiken Trials.

Denise will be posthumously inducted into the New England Turf Writer’s Association Hall of Fame on July 29.

New Adoption Center for Aiken SPCA

Seventy-five years ago, a group of New York ladies who spent the colder months in Aiken as part of the Winter Colony got together to create the Aiken Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. In the beginning, the organization was chiefly dedicated to protecting working horses, cattle and mules, doing such things as supplying “any farmer” with “free of charge a rustless snapper bit in exchange for his old wire bit” and giving out leather tubes to put on working harnesses to prevent chafing.  Other activities included an annual pet dog show, which was held at the Tea Cottage in the Hitchcock Woods as early as 1935. This was a precursor to today’s annual Westmuttster show, which is sponsored by the Aiken SPCA every fall.

Over the years, the society grew and changed. Today, the SPCA, which is a 501c3 charity and is not affiliated any other humane or governmental organization, is based on Wire Road. There, it operates an animal shelter, a spay/neuter facility and an adoption center for animals found or surrendered in the City of Aiken. It is a no kill shelter, and frequently accepts adoptable cats, dogs and other animals found in Aiken County and the surrounding areas. According to Gary Willoughby, who is the SPCA’s executive director, the main shelter, built in 1981, was not really intended to be a shelter.

“It was originally designed as a spay/neuter clinic,” he says. “But it evolved into being a shelter as well.”

Starting last January, members of the Aiken SPCA board have been working on a plan to build a new shelter, adoption center and spay/neuter facility on a 10-acre parcel of land that they own on Willow Run Road between Richland Avenue and the bypass. The plan calls for a state-of-the art building, with safe and comfortable living areas for dogs and cats, as well as a barn for horses, goats and potbellied pigs. There will also be an expanded spay/neuter facility with the capacity to perform up to 12,000 operations per year, an education and training center, a retail shop, a medical center and special adoption areas. The 2-acre dog park, complete with splash pool, opened last December.

The new building will cost in the neighborhood of $5 million. For the past year, the SPCA has been in the “quiet part” of the fundraising campaign, according to Gary Willoughby. In that time, they have already raised about $3.2 million, mostly from their board members and other major donors, who have given gifts as large as $350,000.  About two weeks ago, they launched their general campaign, soliciting donations from the community at large.

“Folks can buy bricks that will be installed on paths in the dog park, or bricks and photo tiles that will be installed on the inside of the building,” he says. “There are also naming opportunities for benches and paths in the dog park, as well as for all of the rooms in the facility. You can also donate a live oak tree, like the trees that line South Boundary, which will be planted on either side of our driveway.”

Although the new facility will be able to take in and house more dogs and cats, the focus of the expansion is on the quality of care that the SPCA can provide, not on the number of animals it can accommodate. The expansion of the organization’s spay/neuter program is probably the most important element in the project.

“We can’t adopt our way out of pet overpopulation,” says Gary, explaining that with the new facility the Aiken SPCA will be able to offer spay/neuter services to animals within  a 50 mile radius of Aiken.

“We’ll have a larger facility so that our animals can live in better conditions,” he says. “Dogs will be in rooms where they can’t see their neighbors, so they won’t be stressed out and there will be less barking. The cats will live in colonies with climbing walls, perches and covered screen porches so that they can get some fresh air.

“Our mailing about the facility just went out about three days ago,” he continues. “And we’ve already gotten about 100 envelopes back. There are a lot of big animal lovers in Aiken.”

Organizers hope to be able to break ground before the end of this year, and expect that the new building will take about 10 months to complete.

“We hope to be open by Christmas of next year,” says Gary.

A complete, 18-page brochure with drawings of the new facility may be downloaded from the Aiken SPCA website ( If you would like to donate to the project, volunteer to help the fundraising effort, or buy a brick, a tile or a tree, contact Gary Willoughby at 803-648-6863.

Friday, June 11, 2010

South Carolina’s Heritage Horse

As of this June, South Carolina has its own official State Heritage Horse. This is the Marsh Tacky Horse, a rare breed native to the coastal areas of the state. Descended from the original horses brought to the new world from Spain, the Marsh Tacky once roamed in feral herds throughout South Carolina’s low country. Sure-footed and hardy, the horses were often used for transportation and are said to have been the mounts of General Francis Marion, the Revolutionary War hero, whose forces repeatedly stymied the British by disappearing into a maze of swamp trails along the coast. This earned Marion the nickname “Swamp Fox” as well as the title “Father of American Guerilla Warfare.”

The Marsh Tacky is a small horse, standing 13 to 15 hands high. It comes in a range of colors, but is often dun, grullo or roan, colors often associated with horses descended from Spanish stock. Its most notable trait is its calm, level-headed temperament. People who ride Marsh Tackies says that they are extremely comfortable, and a recent study conducted at Mississippi State University showed that the horses are actually gaited, performing a “broken trot” in which the diagonal pairs of legs are disassociated as they hit the ground, creating a smoother ride. The gait is quite distinctive, and appears to be closest to the marcha batida gait performed by the Mangalarga Marchador, which is the national horse of Brazil. The Marsh Tacky gait doesn’t have an official name yet, but some candidates include “Swamp Fox Trot” and “Barrier Island Shuffle.”

The American Rare Breeds Conservancy lists the Marsh Tacky as “critical” on its endangered species list. The Carolina Marsh Tacky Association, formed in 2007, currently has just 252 horses listed on its registry, but is in the process of devising a strategy to preserve the breed while optimizing and protecting its genetic diversity.

The bill to get the Marsh Tacky recognized as the official breed of South Carolina passed the State Senate in April and the State House on June 1. It was ratified on June 7. Also this June, the North Carolina House of Representative designated the Colonial Spanish Mustang as that state’s official horse. Governor Bev Perdue is expected to sign that bill into law this month.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Aikenite’s Preakness

On May 15, Aiken had a local horse to cheer for in the Preakness Stakes at the Pimlico Racetrack in Baltimore.  Aikenite, a 3-year-old colt owned by Dogwood Stable, drew post position one, on the inside rail. The morning line put his odds at 20-1, but people who knew the horse thought he might have the ability to pull off an upset. He came to the race as one of two colts trained by Todd Pletcher. The other was Supersaver, the horse that won the Kentucky Derby just two weeks earlier.

Aikenite, who won his maiden in Saratoga as a 2-year-old, earned just over $300,000 in his eight starts before the Preakness. Although he hadn’t been back to the winner’s circle since Saratoga, he had run several impressive graded stakes races, and his late-closing style seemed to indicate that longer distances might suit him.

Dogwood’s president, Cot Campbell, gave the jockey Javier Castellano, his instructions before the race.

“I told the rider to take him back about ten lengths off the pace, and at the half mile pole to push the button and come running,” says Mr. Campbell.

But the race would not go Aikenite’s way.

“It just wasn’t a good day for him,” says Campbell. “He didn’t like the racetrack, or for some other reason, the real Aikenite did not show up that day. After the race, the jockey said to me ‘I pushed the button, but there was nobody home.’”

Although he did make a good move for short while, Aikenite finished near the back of the pack, along with his stablemate Supersaver.

“I felt bad about it for the City of Aiken, because so many people were rooting for him,” says Campbell. “He’s just a lot better than what he showed that day.”

Aikenite is entered in an allowance race at Belmont Park on June 19, and his connections will assess his future after that.

“If he runs a big race, maybe we’ll go back to stakes races. Right now we need to win a race with him, to get his confidence back,” says Campbell.

Dogwood has some other horses to get excited about, among them Lou Brissie, who made his debut at the Aiken Trails this March. A son of Dogwood’s champion Limehouse, Lou Brissie was second by a nose in his race at the Trials, which does not count on his official race record. He then went to Keeneland in Kentucky, where he broke his maiden on April 15. He won his second race, the Grade III Kentucky Juvenile Stakes, on April 30.  His next race will be the Bashford Manor Stakes at Churchill Downs on July 3.

“He’s following in the exact same pattern as Limehouse,” says Cot, noting that Limehouse also broke his maiden at Keeneland, then won the Kentucky Juvenile, and went on to win the Bashford Manor. Limehouse won seven of 21 starts in his career, which included a fourth place finish in the 2004 Kentucky Derby behind Smarty Jones. In 2005, he was named Aiken Trained Horse of the Year. He now stands at stud at Vinery in Kentucky. Lou Brissie is from his second crop.

According to Cot Campbell, Dogwood is having a good season, and already has more winners this year than they did in all of 2009. The stable moves to Saratoga for seven weeks in the summer, where many of their 2-year-olds will run their first races.

“We’re happy,” says Cot. “We’ve got a lovely bunch of 2-year-olds, and we’re excited about them, but we’re excited every year about the 2-year-olds. That’s the nature of the game.”