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: www.covesdardenpre.com. To watch a video of Francisco Jose Garcia's ride on Orlando IV, go to the CovesDarden channel on YouTube: www.youtube.com/user/CovesDarden.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Saturday, November 27, 2010
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
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.
Posted by The Aiken Horse at 10:36 PM
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
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.
Posted by The Aiken Horse at 12:25 AM
Monday, October 11, 2010
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 (www.aikensteeplechase.com) or call 803.648.9641.
Posted by The Aiken Horse at 12:31 AM
Sunday, October 10, 2010
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.
Posted by The Aiken Horse at 12:27 AM
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 (www.aikenchamber.net) or at Aiken Saddlery, Equine Divine or Meybohm Realtors downtown.
Posted by The Aiken Horse at 12:16 AM
Thursday, September 30, 2010
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.
Posted by The Aiken Horse at 12:22 AM