How do you get more people out hunting? Theresa King, who recently earned her colors with the Aiken Hounds, thought one good way might be to invite some polo players to come along. As a polo player who started hunting about four years ago, Theresa knew that people who love galloping on the polo field might like to keep on galloping through the woods when the polo season was over. After all, she was bitten by the hunt bug after her first taste of riding with the drag.
“I just love it,” she says. “I love the speed of it, I love jumping and I love being in the woods. I thought that there are so many polo players who turn their horses out in the winter without realizing that there are other options that they might really enjoy. I thought we should make an easy way for polo players to try hunting to see if they liked it, and that’s where the idea of Polo Saturday came from.”
Linda McLean, who is the Master of Foxhounds at Aiken, and Katherine Gunter, who is the huntsman, agreed to give it a try. Invitations went out to Aiken’s polo players, urging them not to pull their horses’ shoes just yet, but to leave them on for a special hunt. The event was originally scheduled for Tuesday, November 16, a few days after the official end of the polo season. Rain disrupted the plan, and so Polo Tuesday became Polo Saturday, a change that may have made it even more attractive. The hunt was open to all polo players at no charge. They did not have to wear hunt attire, but could come in their boots, whites and polo helmets.
No one was quite sure how big the turnout would be beforehand. But on the day of the hunt, polo players took full advantage of the opportunity. In fact, the field was among the biggest of the year with almost 70 riders. Many of the players came dressed for a match, while others wore a combination of hunt and polo attire. Of course, the regular members of the field were riding too, but they may have been outnumbered by those from the polo side of the aisle. Barb Uskup from 302 Polo provided the stirrup cup at Memorial Gate.
In Aiken, of course, polo and hunting often do go together. Some current hunt riders have played a bit of polo, while some polo players also do quite a lot of hunting. In addition to Theresa King, other polo players often seen on the hunt field include Jack Whittemore, Christine Cato, Kim Rodriguez and Todd Martineau. David Smith, who is the Master of Whiskey Road Foxhounds, is also a long-time and dedicated polo player.
The tradition of polo players joining the hunt goes back to the days of the Winter Colony when such families as the Hitchcocks, the Bostwicks and the Knoxes all participated in both sports. Whether many more of today’s polo players will soon be out shopping for black jackets and velvet caps remains to be seen. However, several poloists who made their first forays into the Woods on Saturday were back on a horse at Opening Meet. This time, they looked pretty much like all the other foxhunters in their traditional clothing. Of course, you could pick them out pretty easily – all their horses had roached manes.
This fall, the University of South Carolina Aiken named John Abbott as the coach of its new riding team. The team will practice at John’s Bridlewood Farm and is expected to start competing regularly in Intercollegiate Horse Show Association shows starting this February. The team has already been to two competitions, the first at Berry College in Rome, Ga. on October 23 and the second just a week later at Lander College in Greenwood, S.C.
The new riding team is a division of the USCA Equestrian Club, which has about a dozen members. The team itself, which requires tryouts and regular lessons at Bridlewood, has just three members at the moment, but John expects that number to grow in the coming months. The IHSA offers competitions in hunt seat as well as Western riding, but John says that right now all of the team members are English riders.
“I hope to build it up into a big program,” he says. “Already, I’ve given tours of the barn to a handful of girls who are considering coming to USC Aiken next year and want to bring their horses with them.” In addition, John says that about half a dozen members of the equestrian club have started taking lessons and expressed an interest in trying out for the team.
Intercollegiate Horse Shows are a democratic affair. In regular horse shows, riders bring their own horses and compete on them, which has the effect of favoring riders who have greater financial resources: a less talented or dedicated rider with a fancier horse will often beat a more talented or dedicated rider with a run-of-the-mill horse. In intercollegiate competition, the host school provides the horses and all the riders compete on comparable mounts. In fact, they draw which horse they will ride out of a hat shortly before entering the ring.
“I think it’s a great program,” says John. “It puts everyone on an equal footing, and it gives young people who might not have the resources to compete an opportunity show and get a taste for it.”
For more information about the USCA Equestrian Club or the Riding Team, contact Sarah Wach at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The second event in the Equine Performing Arts Series happened Saturday, November 13 when representatives of the Aiken Hounds and Why Worry Hounds arrived at Hopeland Farms for the Foxhunting Parade of Hounds and Hunt Breakfast. The event was part of a series is sponsored by the Equine Steering Committee of the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce. The series is intended to help connect the Aiken’s equestrian community with the community at large by providing educational events showcasing various equestrian disciplines.
A rather large crowd came out to Hopeland Farms, where they were served brunch under a tent overlooking a rolling field and a few hunt type jumps. There were various foxhunting exhibits on site, including a dog kennel holding a number of extremely sweet-looking young foxhounds. Before the arrival of the hunts themselves, guests were entertained by a string quartet.
The parade began with George and Jeanie Thomas, Masters of Why Worry Hounds, who arrived dressed in all their hunt finery to lead the pack across the fields with the help of their whippers-in, Emma Biederman and Juli Hearn. Then, Linda Knox McLean and Katherine Gunter brought the Aiken Hounds Penn-Mary-Dels out for a quick romp up and down the hills and over a few jumps. At the end of each of the demonstrations, the masters brought their packs up to the tent where guests could get a closer look at the horses and the hounds. Some guests got a very close look at the hounds, since several of them ran into the tent, hot on the trail of some entrees. Meanwhile, several people spoke about hunting and hunt traditions, including Larry Byers, who is a foxhunter and a member of the Equine Steering Committee, and Joseph Hardiman who is the professional huntsman at Whiskey Road Foxhounds.
Although many of the people who attended the event looked as if they were already familiar with the hunt scene, there were also quite a few people there who had never before seen foxhounds or foxhunters. But even those who already knew hunting were impressed by the scenic quality of the event as the horses and hounds galloped up the hill, punctuating the muted autumn landscape with vibrant spots of color. And the hounds appreciated it too, especially the ones that got a little lucky in the tent.
Next in the series is the Polo Asado and Tango, which will be held on Powderhouse Field (Powderhouse Road across from the Ford Conger steeplechase course). This dinner and dance will be at 6 p.m. on April 1, the night before the annual Pacers and Polo match, a game that traditionally opens the spring polo season in Aiken and is considered the third leg of the Aiken Triple Crown.
For tickets and more information, contact the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce. www.aikenchamber.net.