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.