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 www.alltechfeigames.com 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!”