Saturday, February 20, 2010

Aiken's Snow Storm

Snowbirds Get Snow
Ask horse people who came to Aiken from the North why they are here, and most of them will reply “to get away from the snow,” or some variation of that statement. That’s why it was a bit ironic that many horse people in the community were so excited when snow was predicted for the evening of Friday, February 12.

Of course, snow is not entirely unheard of in Aiken. Every few winters there will be snow in the forecast, and sometimes there are even a few flakes, or a cool dusting that throws the local forecasters into a tizzy. Usually, however, the snow never comes, or if it does, it’s hardly enough to whiten the sidewalk.

The winter of 2010, however, was a winter for snow everywhere. There were feet of it in North Carolina, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and all points north. When the snow started to fall in Aiken on Friday night, it was real snow, with big, determined flakes. It was clearly going to stick.

By the next morning, there were about five fresh white inches in downtown Aiken, and farms in the Wagener area recorded as much as seven or eight inches. There was so much snow that they had to postpone the classes at the Progressive Show Jumping horse show at Highfields Farm in Aiken, as well as the Saturday divisions of the United States Eventing Association horse trials at Pine Top Farm in Thompson, Ga.

Saturday morning, the earth was white, the sun was bright, the air was warm, and pretty much everyone in the county took a snow day. Children, adults and animals alike played in the snow. People took pictures, threw snowballs, made snowmen, and commented, over and again, on how beautiful it all was. Numerous websites of local stables now feature photographs of their barns and paddocks covered in snow. Perhaps their owners were so carried away with the novelty, they forgot that a snow-covered barn is hardly a way to advertise Aiken as a great place to ride in the winter.

Of course, snow in Aiken is different from snow in most other places. For one thing, no one had to worry much about digging themselves out. As the day wore on, the sun grew stronger, and the snow started to disappear. By the late afternoon, it was mostly gone, lingering a little longer under the trees, like a reverse shadow. On Sunday, the snow was just a memory. And like so many things you see only briefly, it certainly was beautiful.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Aiken’s Triple Crown

If it’s spring, that means it’s time for the Aiken Triple Crown, the three-weekend-long celebration of horse sports that includes The Aiken Trials, The Aiken Steeplechase and the USC Aiken Pacers and Polo match. These three events are among the biggest spectator sports on Aiken’s equestrian calendar. The spring steeplechase is undoubtedly the largest draw, bringing in as many as 20,000 spectators to Ford Conger Field for a day of racing and socializing in the sun. Steeplechase weekend (March 19-20) always includes a gala party under the trackside tent the night before the races. This year, the party is called “The Great Gatsby,” and will feature music by Too Much Sylvia. Proceeds benefit Public Education Partners. Contact the Aiken Steeplechase office for reservations to the party or for tickets to the races. (803.648.9641.) Or visit the website for more information.

The first weekend of the Aiken Triple Crown is the Aiken Trials, a day of racing for fledgling race horses at the Aiken Training Track. The trials have been an annual tradition in Aiken since 1942, providing young horses the opportunity to experience a real race in front of a crowd before they head out to the parimutuel tracks.

This year, the Aiken Trials will take place on Saturday, March 13. The day will feature six races, four of them for 2-year-old maidens, and one, the Cup of Aiken, for older horses that have already won a race. One race (probably the third) will be the polo pony race sponsored by The Aiken Horse. Last year was the first time that the polo pony race was held at the Trials, and it was a big success. There were six entries, all proven polo ponies ridden by actual polo players. The horses raced 300 yards (the length of a polo field) from a standing start. The winner, Eli Yale, set a track record of 17 seconds. Eli is a former racehorse and the grandson of the great Storm Cat, but his Trials win was the first of his career. He is expected to return to defend his title.

Polo players who have a fast horse should start getting ready now. All horses in the race must be playing ponies, and all riders must be polo players. If you are interested in racing, send an email to, or give us a call at 803.643.9960.

If you would like to watch the races, gates open at 10:30. The events start off with the Aiken Driving Society carriage parade at 1 pm, followed by the first race. The races are usually over by around 4:30. Tickets may be purchased in advance at various locations, including Boots, Bridles and Britches and Aiken Saddlery. If you buy in advance, tickets are $10. They’re $15 on the day of the races.

Other events surrounding the Aiken Trials include Breakfast at the Gallops, a popular morning program that will take place at the Training Track on Thursday, March 11, from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. This will be a fundraiser for the Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and will feature local trainers who will discuss horses and horse training. Tickets are limited, and this is often a sold out event. Finally, on March 14, the racehorse Quality Road will be honored as the Aiken Trained Horse of the Year at 12:30 pm in the courtyard of the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame in Hopeland Gardens. For more information, visit the Aiken Training Track website: or the Hall of Fame website ( or call 803.642.7650.

The final leg of the Triple Crown, the USC Aiken Pacers and Polo Match, is the first official polo event of the spring season. It will take place on Powderhouse Field on Saturday, March 27. This match usually pits a Burger King team against a Biddle Realty team, and is one of the best attended polo contests in Aiken. The game is a benefit for the University of South Carolina Pacers baseball team. In addition to horse polo, it will also showcase a bicycle polo exhibition, put on by Boxwood Bicycle Polo Club.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Celebrating Aiken

In case you haven’t heard, the city of Aiken was founded in 1835, so this year, it is turning 175, quite a respectable age. To commemorate the occasion, the city is having a yearlong party called “Celebrate Aiken!” The festivities began on January 9 with a kick-off party called “Sights, Sounds and Tastes of 1835,” an event designed to educate people about the early history of the city. The party took over the downtown area around the Alley, and included such nineteenth century attractions as a flea circus, clogging (a popular folk dance style of the period) and a washboard band. There were also numerous historical interpreters dressed in 1835-era clothing who showed what it was like to live and work in Aiken 175 years ago.
The first quarter of the year is dedicated to “Horses, Health and History,” and includes some specifically equestrian events. The first was the dedication of a historic water trough at Banksia, the grand Winter Colony home that now houses the Aiken County Historical Museum. The cement trough, which had been languishing unused behind the Aiken County courthouse, was moved to the bottom of South Boundary Avenue, near the entrance to the Hitchcock Woods. Its original location was at the corner of Richland Avenue and Laurens Street, where it was a public water supply for people who rode or drove their horses into the city.
County workers took about two weeks to move the trough, refurbish it and install it in its new location. It now provides fresh, potable water for horses that have come from an outing in the woods. The county also installed a drinking fountain for people, and there are plans to fit the trough with a heater so that the water doesn’t freeze in the winter.
On Saturday morning, January 23, the water trough was officially dedicated to the memory of Summer Squall, the great racehorse owned by Dogwood Stable, who died in 2009. Over 100 people came to the dedication, which took place after a meeting of the Aiken Hounds and before a hunt breakfast at Banksia. Numerous people arrived dressed in period costume, including Aiken’s mayor, Fred Cavanaugh. The Henrys, a father and son bluegrass duo, provided musical entertainment.
Other Celebrate Aiken! festivities on tap for the first quarter of the year include a tea party at the Green Boundary Club on February 18. This party, which costs $10 and will have two seatings, encourages “period hats and gloves,” and is already sold out. On February 27, there will be a walking tour of downtown Aiken that starts at Aiken Prep. Then, on March 7, there will be a program at Rye Patch called Aiken’s Horse Heroes. This event will feature speakers and presentations about a selection of the racehorses that are members of Aiken’s Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame.
For more information about Celebrate Aiken! go to the website:

Friends of the Animal Shelter

In 2009, a group of animal lovers got together to form Friends of the Animal Shelter (FOTAS) a nonprofit volunteer organization with the mission of improving conditions at the Aiken County Animal Shelter and increasing the number of animals adopted. Aiken actually has two shelters on Wire Road. The Aiken SPCA is generally for animals rescued within city limits. The county shelter next door is for animals from outside the city. The Aiken SPCA is a non-profit organization with strong community support, dedicated volunteers and an excellent record of placing adoptable animals in loving homes. The county shelter has a larger volume of animals coming through its doors and has, in the past, been less fortunate in finding all of its adoptable pets new owners.

FOTAS volunteers, many of them in the horse community, have been holding fundraisers for the shelter and organizing various events to help upgrade the facility, attract more volunteers, and get more animals adopted. Volunteers are always in great demand. They are needed to do any number of different things, from walking dogs and grooming cats to working in the office, answering the phone and helping with education and community outreach.

Starting on Valentines Day, February 14, FOTAS will have its own website. The site will feature a list of adoptable animals. It will also have a community message board, an events calendar and information about sponsorship and volunteer opportunities.

For more information, call 803.642.1537 or email