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.”