Friday, December 2, 2011

Confronting Drugs in Racehorses

Glenn Thompson, who trains racehorses out of the old Whitney barns in Aiken during the winter, has written a book about drugs in racing. The book is called “The Tradition of Cheating in the Sport of Kings,” and it contends that the vast majority of horses racing today are being illegally medicated by their veterinarians on race day. This epidemic of illegal medication, Thompson says, is contributing to the breakdown of racehorses and threatening the future of the sport.

Some of the medications that Thompson discusses are corticosteroids such as dexamethasone. Others are hormones such as ACTH, which is used to help horses relax. Others are vitamins and chemical compounds such as magnesium sulfate (Epsom Salts) and vitamin B1, which are used in conjunction with Lasix on horses that are bad bleeders.

Some of these substances sound relatively benign (giving vitamin B1 to a racehorse does not sound like such a terrible thing), but what Thompson is coming out against is not so much the compounds themselves, but the way they are being used.

“It is illegal for a vet to give a shot of anything other than Lasix on race day,” he says. “But you see vets going in to give the horse his Lasix, and they have four or five needles in their hands. It happens all the time.”

Another thing that Thompson points out in his book is that the medication rules are different from one state to the next, which can be confusing for trainers and bad for horses.

“In some states you are allowed to give adjunct medications with Lasix, but in other states you aren’t. It would be better if the rules were the same everywhere.”

Glenn’s book, which took him about three weeks to write, was published as an e-book by Smashwords, an electronic book publisher. It is available for download to a computer, iPad or other mobile device for $9.99.

Glenn, who will be back in Aiken to train this winter, says that most of the reaction to the book so far has been positive.

“People have come up to me and shook my hand,” he says. “The only negative reaction that I have gotten was from one of my vets, who quit. He didn’t say anything to me, he just stopped coming to my barn.”

To order a copy of the book, visit

Equine Divine

Equine Divine, one of Aiken’s favorite shops for art and décor items with an equestrian theme, is under new management this fall. Dini Jones, the new owner, came to Aiken from Ohio and is looking forward to supplying Aiken’s horse lovers with fine art as well as prints, note cards, books and clothing.

New things that are available at the store include a nice selection of Barbour jackets as well as some very stylish warm vests that can be worn to the barn or around town. Dini is also carrying a line of custom-made boots from La Mondial boots, which are made in Ecuador. You can buy polo boots, field boots, or cowboy boots, all made to order, for the low price of $599. For the gentleman who is not a rider, there are custom-made golf shoes for $299.

“I saw them at a trade show and I loved them,” says Dini.

There is also a new selection of items for children and some cool strings of horse, farm animal and cowboy boot lights that you can put on your Christmas tree. You can check these items out at the store on Laurens Street, or do you shopping online:

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Semi-Retirement For Cot

This November, Cot Campbell, who is the president of Dogwood Stables, announced that he is going into semi retirement. Cot, who is 84, is widely acknowledged as the pioneer of racehorse partnerships. Dogwood Stable, which has been putting together partnerships for the ownership of racehorses since 1971, currently has 90 partners involved in 43 different partnerships.

Although Cot will not be forming any more racing partnerships after January 1, he will continue to manage the existing partnerships, and there may be other ways that Dogwood will stay in the racing game.

“It may well be that Dogwood—in a newly-structured form—will continue the formation of new racing partnerships, but my only responsibility will be to see to the servicing of the partners and partnerships that are on the books now,” he is quoted at saying in a press release from the company.

“I adore racing horses, and will always keep at it, being involved in a variety of ways. What a wonderful life I have. However, though I am plenty fit and healthy, I am ready to ease off after doing this since 1971. This move will be no great shock, so it follows that we will be talking with several outfits and individuals that could be part of a restructured Dogwood, hopefully including a couple of key people currently with us.

“We have a wonderful client roster. Some partners who have been with us as long as 35 years. Many have become close friends. Since we started we estimate that we have brought into racing around 1200 people, and we have certainly bought that many horses.”

Over its history, Dogwood Stable has campaigned 76 stakes winners and had 15 Grade One winners. The stable has competed in six Kentucky Derbys with seven horses, run in 10 Breeders’ Cup races (winning the Juvenile Fillies with Storm Song in 1996), and collected two Eclipse Awards (for Storm Song and Inlander.) Summer Squall’s 1990 Preakness victory was a high-water mark for the stable.

Dogwood’s current star is Aikenite, a 4-year-old colt by Yes It’s True. Aikenite ran in the $1.5 million Breeder’s Cup Sprint on November 5 at Churchill Downs. Although the colt broke slowly, he came on strong in the homestretch, ultimately finishing fourth and bankrolling $90,000. This brings his career earnings to $866,635.

“I am so proud of Aikenite,” Cot said in a prepared statement. “He ran against the greatest sprinters in the world and was fourth    and we are thrilled with that accomplishment. He always comes running and the sprint was a thrilling race. He gave it his all – and that’s all we could ask of him.”

The Eyes Have It

The eye, it is often said, is the window of the horse’s soul. Horse’s eyes, like people’s eyes, are each unique. No two horses have the same patterns in their irises. Even horses that are clones have different patterns because these patterns are created by an interaction of heredity and the environment.

With that in mind, a company called Global Animal Management, which is a subsidiary of Merck Animal Health, has created a new equine identification system called eyeD. EyeD requires a veterinarian to take infrared pictures of a horse’s eye using a special camera. The vet then attaches the camera to a computer with a USB cord, and sends the information to a central computer. 

“In a nutshell, it’s a new, non invasive way to identify horse,” says Davis Knupp, who is the marketing manager for the product. “What we are doing is taking an eyeprint. We can assign a unique identifier to each eyeprint, and we have a database we can store that information in. We also provide a way for veterinarians to have their own local database.”

This kind of identification system has a wide range of possible applications, from recovering of stolen horses to accurately verifying the identify of racehorses – a racehorse of the future might be identified by an eyeprint rather than by a lip tattoo. The product was launched this fall at the American Association of Equine Practitioners annual meeting and is being made available exclusively to veterinarians.

“None of the breed registries have endorsed it yet,” says David. “But it has all been very positive. We sold over 30 systems at AAEP, so we’re working on implementing it with veterinarians and getting it up and running. We’ll also be launching it internationally in Canada, Germany, France and Italy – there is a lot of international interest.”

The first thing that horse owners might see the eyeD system used for is with their next Coggins test.

“We are integrated with a company called Global Vetlink, which provides electronic vet records and electronic Coggins test records. We’re also integrated into some veterinary practice management software. Using the eyed system with these other systems creates efficiency and accuracy in the veterinary clinic.”

When a horse is first enrolled, the vet takes an eye print of both eyes – this way of something happens to one eye, there will still be another one that can be used to identify the horse.

“It’s more accurate than DNA,” says David. “It’s the most accurate way we have to identify a horse.”

Welcome to the future.

Horse Lover’s Perfume

Women who love horses are not like other women. They would rather get a saddle for Christmas than a diamond necklace. When they get dressed up to go out, they still might have just a little bit of manure on their shoes, even if those shoes are patent leather pumps. They prefer the smell of the barn to Chanel Number 5.

With that in mind, Elliott Levy and Coleen Reed have created a new fragrance especially for horsewomen. The new scent, Eau de Cheval, (literally “water of horse”) is intended to remind horsewomen of their favorite horses and stables.

“It has sweet alfalfa and English leather,” says Elliot. “I wanted them to add a little manure, but they wouldn’t. In place of manure, there is a hint of musk.” This is described, on the website, as “that indescribable dreamy equine essence.”

The fragrance was created by RS Essentials in Aiken, a company that makes exclusive skin care products, soaps and candles using natural ingredients. RS Essentials opened on Richland Avenue last June. Elliott Levy is the executive director of the Aiken County Historical Museum.

Elliott says he is convinced that Eau de Cheval is a product with great marketing potential in the equestrian world – after all, what woman wouldn’t want to smell like the stable? It is also a perfume with a purpose.

“One half of the profits will go to Friends of the Gaston Livery Stable,” says Elliott. This group, spearheaded by Coleen Reed, is working to raise enough money to purchase the historic Gaston Livery Stable on Park Avenue. The stable, which housed a thriving business during the days of the Winter Colony, is one of only five all-brick barns in South Carolina, and the only one that still has an original carriage lift, which was used to hoist carriages into the loft for storage.

Friends of the Gaston Livery Stable has raised almost enough money for the down payment on the property. It will have to raise a lot more to complete the sale and then to set about the process of restoring the stable, which has not been used in decades and has fallen into disrepair. Eau de Cheval might be just the thing.

You can purchase your own two-ounce bottle of Eau de Cheval ($39.95) at RS Essentials or the Aiken County Historical museum. It is also available online through the website While you are visiting that site, be sure to watch the promotional videos, which feature Walker Spruell and Sharer Dale, both of Aiken. There are two separate videos, one for the English and one for the Western riding crowds. They were created by Jamie and Christi Koelker, local filmmakers who also have made documentaries about various historical subjects such as, most recently “Horse Creek Valley, a Tale Worth Telling” which was shown recently on SCETV.

Elliott says that if Eau de Cheval succeeds in raising enough money to save the Gaston Livery stable, it might later be used to raise money for other Aiken nonprofit groups. “You can’t save the world,” he says. “But you can have a positive impact on your corner of it.”

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Dog and Hound

Horse people and dog people have a lot in common. In fact, most horse people are probably also dog people in one way or another, since horses and dogs tend to go together. Both animals are on the move and they like going places. If you are on a trail ride, taking your dogs along can make it more entertaining, since you can watch them enjoying themselves. People who go foxhunting often say that one of the primary reasons they love the sport is that they get to watch the hounds work.

If you look back in Aiken’s history, you will find that a number of the people who were prominent in horse sports in the era of the Winter Colony were also influential in the canine world. For instance, Lulie Hitchcock was famous for her beagles. Claudia Phelps was a well-known breeder of English Pointers. She has also been credited with bringing West Highland Terriers to America.

Because the dog world and the horse world do intersect, we often come across interesting dog stories, and we have written quite a few of them in this paper. For instance, we wrote about the dog rescue run by Ron Danta and Danny Robertshaw, who are prominent horse show riders and trainers. We wrote also wrote about the field trial dogs trained by Mark Fulmer at Sarahsetter Kennels – this story didn’t have much of an equestrian connection, beyond the fact that people follow their field trial dogs on horseback. But we liked the story, and we loved the pictures. 

In fact, we have come across so many great dog stories that we have decided to dedicate more space to dogs in our paper. We also want to help support the rescue and education efforts at the Aiken SPCA as well the work being done by Friends of the Aiken County Animal Shelter. So, starting with the December/January issue, The Aiken Horse will contain our new venture, The Dog and Hound, a fourth section dedicated to dog stories, dog people, and pretty much anything canine. We are planning to produce this paper four times a year: Winter (with our December/January issue), Spring (with our February/March issue), Summer (with our Summer issue) and Fall (with our September issue.)

The Dog and Hound will follow the model of The Aiken Horse, with the best writing and photography we can give you. We know there are a lot of interesting stories out there, and we can’t wait to tell them. Of course, we will also include a separate calendar for dog events, as well as a separate news column for what is going on in the canine world. We are planning to donate a significant amount of space to dog rescue groups, and we hope that the dog people in the Aiken area and beyond will consider us their newspaper, just as Aiken’s horse people welcomed us as theirs.

If you would like more information, please visit our We also have a Facebook As ever, we welcome any suggestions for articles or any other information that readers might have for us.

Aiken Fall Festival

Horse shows in Aiken seem to be thriving. Rick and Cathy Cram of Progressive Show Jumping are currently in the process of building a fourth barn to accommodate all of the horses that ship in to their Highfields Event Center on Gaston Road. Progressive Show Jumping itself holds many shows there – the biggest is the Aiken Spring Classic, to be held this coming year from April 18 through 29. This show is a staple on the Aiken spring calendar, regularly attracting riders and horses from all over the Southeast.

The Crams also lease their facility to other horse show companies. For the past several years, Equus Events Horse Show Productions, owned by JP and Megan Godard, has been taking over Highfields for two weeks in September for the USEF ‘A’ rated Aiken Fall Festival. This show includes such attractions as jumper classics and stakes, the South Carolina Hunter Jumper Association Governor’s Cup Equitation finals for junior riders, and Hunt Night, a group of classes for horses that can normally be found on the hunt field rather than in the show ring. 

This year, the Aiken Fall Festival, which ran from September 8-18,  filled Highfields to capacity with horses and riders from North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and other states farther afield. The first week of the competition brought a number of different horses and riders to the winner’s circle. Thursday’s $5,000 Open Welcome Stake went to Josh Dolan of Hilton Head, riding his horse Skylands Con Chino Z. On Friday evening, competitors headed to the hunter derby ring for the $2,500 National Hunter Classic. There were 21 entries, but the top four places would go to two riders, Liza Boyd from Camden and Daniel Geitner from Aiken. Liza was first on Marilla Van Beuren’s Marksman and third on Stephanie Saunders’s Heartbreaker. Daniel was second on Janet Peterson’s Damocles and fourth on Robin Hughes’s Zo Doro.

In Saturday’s featured class, the $15,000 Aiken Premiere Jumper Classic, Hardin Towell riding Kelly Maloney’s Fieona edged out Daniel Geitner on Tara Bostwick’s Sympa. The final feature event of the weekend was the Governor’s Cup Equitation Finals. The winner of this class was 17-year-old Allie Augustine from Mount Pleasant.  

By many counts, the second week of the show belonged to Daniel Geitner. Daniel started his streak on Thursday by winning the $5,000 Open Welcome Jumper Stake aboard Ann Ritter’s Jumbo Jet. He followed that performance with the Green Working Hunter Championship riding Zo Doro, and the Reserve Championship in the same division on Paige Wilson’s Best Foot Forward. He then rode Damocles to the High Performance Hunter Championship and the Grand Championship in the hunter division.

Friday evening featured Hunt Night. In this division, followers of local hunts showed what they could do in Field Hunter, Handy Hunter and Hunt teams classes.  Cathy Chambers, who rides with Why Worry Hounds, rode her horse Oscar to the championship for the second year in a row. Patti Brantley, Kathy Nofsinger and Arnie Bloom won the Hunt Teams competition, riding under the colors of Live Oak Hounds.

The final feature of the week was the $15,000 Aiken Fall Festival Jumper Classic, held on Sunday evening. The course, designed by JP Godard, was a tricky one, yielding only six clear rounds out of 22 competitors. In the jump-off, just two riders would go clean; Harold Chopping on Patent Pending (owned by Kendra Bullington) and Josh Dolan on Skylands Con Chino Z. Harold Chopping took home the first place honors, beating Josh by just .810 of a second. Daniel Geitner settled for third aboard T/Salemon, owned by Karen Kerby.

Ten Goals

On the first Monday in October, the United States Polo Association National Handicap meeting took place at the Willcox hotel. A lot of interesting things happened at this meeting, including the assignment of the first-ever intermediate “half goal” handicaps to players between -1 and 2 goals. (The Board of Governors voted to institute these handicaps on Saturday, October 1.) 

The other milestone was that Aiken’s own Tommy Biddle was raised to 10 goals in the arena. Tommy, who has been playing as a 9 in the arena and a 6 on the grass, is a skillful and imposing player – when he hits a ball, it may as well have been launched from a rocket. Polo spectators in Aiken witnessed his power this fall in the finals of the USPA National Copper Cup 12 goal, which he won with his team, Blanco Texas. A few years back, he also played (and won) the United States Arena Polo Championship at the Polo America arena in Aiken’s Steeplechase neighborhood. This spring, he captained America’s winning team in the USPA Townsend Cup, a 22-goal arena match-up against an English team, which took place at the Empire club in California. 

The 10-goal rating is the pinnacle of polo success, and you don’t get there unless you are, literally, the best. While it certainly isn’t easy to get to 10 goals on the grass, it is even harder in the arena – throughout its history, the USPA has been extraordinarily stingy in giving out 10-goal ratings to arena players. Since the association was formed in 1890, it has named 49 10-goal outdoor players, but only four 10-goal arena players. The first was Winston Guest in the 1920s. The second was Clarence Coombs (known as Buddy), who reached 10 goals in 1951. The third was Joe Henderson, who played in the arena at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center and attained his 10-goal rating in the early 1990s. And now, in 2012, Tommy Biddle is the fourth.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Gold Tray

Keeneland Race Track, which opened in Kentucky in 1936, holds two prestigious race meets each year, one in the spring and one in the fall. Billing itself as “racing as it was meant to be,” Keeneland preserves the “tradition, ambiance and vision established by its founders – to showcase all that is noble, fine and enjoyable about Thoroughbred racing.” Keeneland has always attracted the top horses in the sport, including such standouts as Whirlaway (who won the Triple Crown in 1941), Alysheba (a Hall-of-Famer who raced in the 1980s) and Northern Dancer, a 1960s racehorse who became one of the most influential sires in Thoroughbred history.

Keeneland’s graded stakes races are special events. Not only do the winners earn cash, the owner of each winning horse also takes home a gold julep cup. When an owner wins eight cups, he or she gets the Keeneland Tray, a solid gold serving tray.

This spring, the 4-year-old colt Aikenite romped to victory in the Commonwealth Stakes at Keeneland, earning his owner, Dogwood Stable, the winner’s share of the $175,000 purse, as well as Dogwood’s eighth Keeneland Stakes victory and that coveted gold tray.  To celebrate, Dogwood is throwing a Gold Tray Party at the Aiken Racing Hall of Fame and Museum in Hopeland Gardens. The party is on Friday, November 11 from 5 to 7 and everyone is welcome. There will be light snacks and refreshments and Dogwood’s president, Cot Campbell, is expected to say a few words.

“There is no official program,” says Mary Jane Howell, who is the public relations director at Dogwood. “We’re basically saying a big thank you to Aiken.”

Aikenite is currently being pointed toward the Breeder’s Cup at Churchill Downs November 4-5. In his most recent outing, the Grade III Phoenix Stakes at Keeneland on October 7, he ran a thrilling, come-from-behind race, finishing second by a short nose to Mrs. S.K. Johnston’s New Zealand-bred Hoofit. There is no word yet on which Breeder’s Cup race Aikenite will enter.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Great Art, Great Place

The Aiken Thoroughbred Hall of Fame and Museum is putting on an exhibit of the works of the late Allen F. Brewer from September 18 to October 18. There is an opening reception at the museum on Saturday, September 18 at 2 p.m., and the public is invited to attend. There, they will have the chance to meet the artist’s daughters, Susan Brewer Tonarely and Sherry Brewer. Show hours will be Tuesday through Friday from 2 to 5 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 2 to 5 p.m. The exhibition is open to the public with free admission.

Allen Brewer (1921-1967) is considered one of the world’s foremost equine artists. He worked in oils, watercolor and pencil. Critics have rated his work highly in such areas as composition, perspective, handling of light and shadow, and the ability to suggest the underlying structure of bone and muscle. Horsemen have admired his paintings for their ability to reproduce an exact likeness of a particular horse.

Brewer is best known for his depictions of famous racehorses. The list of horses he has painted include Citation, Dr. Fager, Man O’War, Nashua, Northern Dancer, Stymie and Swaps. He also made portraits of several Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame members, including Capot, Kelso and Tom Fool. 

The Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum is located in Hopelands Gardens at 135 Dupree Place and celebrates Aiken’s contributions to equestrian sports. Prints from this exhibit will be for sale and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Hall of Fame. For more information, please visit the website:

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Pony Club Polo Players

After 12 long years of work and negotiations, this summer the United States Pony Club has decided to accept polo as an official discipline.

“There were two main reasons that the Pony Club decide to accept us this year,” says Kris Bowman who is the director of club development at the United States Polo Association. “The first was that they saw how strong our intercollegiate and interscholastic program was – this year we had 110 teams. So they could see that if kids learned polo in the pony club, they could take it somewhere, they could play on an interscholastic or an intercollegiate level.

“The second reason was that they wanted to expand any programs that would retain boys in the Pony Club.”

Polo’s official induction into the USPC was marked by three days of games, clinics and demonstrations at the 2011 Pony Club Festival at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, from July 24-26. Clinics included sessions with the foot mallet, on horseback and in a hitting cage.

The polo demonstration match featured two members of Aiken’s interscholastic polo team, Ty Morris and Austin Allen. Austin is a junior member at Aiken Polo Club, while Ty plays with Overbrook in Wagener. Both young men are pony club members who are also veterans of polocrosse. Aiken is expected to have its own pony club polo team in the very near future.

“We expect Aiken to be one of the leaders in the pony club polo movement,” says Kris.

Kris is excited about the prospect of pony club introducing polo to hundreds, if not thousands of enthusiastic kids.

“Our interscholastic programs start when kids are 12,” she says. “But pony club starts when kids are much younger. So here we’ll have these amazing young riders, already playing polo by the time they are old enough for the interscholastic program.”

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Aiken Drivers Abroad

This summer and fall, no fewer than six Aiken-based drivers packed up their horses, harnesses, carts and carriages and flew to Europe to train and compete. Five of these whips are in the pony divisions and are on their way to the World Pony Driving Championships in Lipica, Slovenia from September 22-25. One, Joe Yoder, trained in Germany with the American driving coach Michael Freund and then competed with the rest of the American team at the Reisenbeck CAI in July. From there, he went to Conty, France for the FEI World Pair Driving Championships from August 25-28.

Joe, a young driver who recently relocated to Aiken from Montana, drives a pair of black Gelderlander geldings owned by Jack Wetzel. Earlier in the year, he drove these geldings to the United States Equestrian Federation national pairs championship at Live Oak in Florida. The FEI World Pair Driving Championships were his first international competition.

At the championships, things started out well for the Americans. Joe Yoder had an excellent dressage test, scoring 44.03, which was good enough for sixth place in that phase. His teammate, Misdee Wrigley-Miller, scored 52.86 and came in seventh, putting the United States into fifth place going into the marathon.

The weather in France had been wet and the ground was quite saturated on the next day, marathon day. It was a day of changeable weather, with sun one moment and pouring rain the next, the kind of day that can play havoc with competitors and spectators alike.

Kathrin Dancer, the third member of the American team, was the fifth driver of the day, and the first of the Americans. She went clean with no time penalties. Misdee Wrigley-Miller had the 26th start position. She also made it through the course without penalties, despite a driving rain that drenched her halfway through her run. Joe Yoder, the driver who was expected to do best in the marathon and who had a chance of medaling, had an unlucky draw. He went 50th out of 70 drivers. By this time the course was heavy, muddy and cut up. He slogged through, but it was not pretty. His groom fell off the cart on the fifth hazard, and he incurred more penalty points on the course. He ended up in 57th place. Wrigley-Miller and Dancer were 28th and 45th respectively.

The next day, cones day, was not a great one for the Americans either. Wrigley-Miller was eliminated on the course, Yoder had two balls down for six penalty points and finished 21st.. Dancer dropped a ball and had time penalties for 9.66 points and 29th place. Overall, Yoder ended up in 27th place and the American team came out 10th. Although these scores may sound somewhat disheartening, this is a new team with little international experience. Things can only get better!

The pony drivers are still training in Germany in preparation for their trip to Slovenia. On the same weekend as the World Pair Championships, the American ponies competed at the German National Championships in Minden. American drivers fared best in the singles division. Miranda Cadwell, who trains in Southern Pines, N.C. came in second, while Shelley Temple, who has a winter training base in Windsor, finished fifth.  Suzy Stafford, another Windsor driver, was just out of the ribbons in 11th place.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Who Has America’s Favorite Trail Horse?

The American Competitive Trail Horse Association has a new reality TV series called America’s Favorite Trail Horse. Competitors tried out for the show back in April in three- minute mounted auditions that included some simple trail obstacles. Auditions were held all over the country and were open to anyone 21 and older - all you had to do was pay the entry fee (it was $149, a little steep for some riders.)

The top 100 horses and their riders were selected as finalists. These horse and rider combinations participated in the national finals, a five-day ride held at the Franklin Family Ranch near Austin, Texas in May. This ride was filmed for 13 one-hour episodes that will air on the HRTV every Tuesday at 8 pm starting on September 13. (The shows are also repeated three hours later at 11 and then again at 10 a.m. on Sunday.) Episodes 2 through 11 will each feature ten different trail horses. After the show, America will have the chance to vote for their favorite horse in that episode, and the winner of each show will get $5,000. Episode 12 will feature the ten previous winners. America’s votes will then determine which horse is selected as America’s favorite trail horse. Winning comes with a cash prize - $25,000 for first, $15,000 for second and $10,000 for third.

According to the ACTHA website, “The purpose of America’s Favorite Trail Horse is to bring attention to the great American trail horse that has served this country so magnificently. It is our sincere hope that this effort will cause many to get back in the saddle again. . . .”

Friday, July 15, 2011

Edgar Cato

Edgar Thomas Cato, one of Aiken’s most influential horsemen, died on June 21. Mr. Cato was born in Aiken County in 1925 and grew up in Augusta. Along with his father Wayland Sr. and his brother, Wayland Jr., he founded the Cato Company in 1946. Cato stores specialized in women’s apparel and were an immediate success. By 1948, the company had seven stores in small towns in South Carolina. A year later, the company had over $1 million in revenue and it continued to grow and expand.

Mr. Cato was a sportsman, horseman, pilot and philanthropist. His sailing adventures took place mainly in Newport, R.I. and Charleston, S.C. He competed successfully in many regattas and was a two-time 12 meter world champion and an IRC champion. He was a supporter of and contributor to the International Yacht Restoration School and Sail Newport’s public access sailing programs. He also created the Hissar Sailing Center at the College of Charleston and the Edgar T. Cato Dinghy Park in Newport.

Many people will remember Edgar Cato wearing his hunting pinks and serving as the Master of Foxhounds of his own private pack, the Flat Branch Hounds at his Augusta Plantation in Windsor. He was not just an avid foxhunter, he was also a supporter of foxhunting and of the Aiken equestrian community. According to Linda Knox McLean, he was the largest single donor the Hitchcock Woods has ever had.

He had interests in horse racing and especially in steeplechasing. His steeplechasers, racing under the name Brigadoon Stable, were frequent entrants in races on the National Steeplechase Association circuit, including the semiannual races in Aiken. His most successful horse in recent years was Erin Go Bragh, who won the New Jersey Hunt Cup in 2008. His commitment to the sport was deep and he served two terms as a board member of the NSA.

Finally, he was a generous supporter and sponsor of polo. He created Loughrea Plantation about ten miles east of town, a spectacular polo farm that has two of the best tournament fields in the area. His Brigadoon polo team, captained by his daughter Christine, has been an important presence in low, medium and high goal tournaments in South Carolina and Florida.

A memorial service for Mr. Cato was held Saturday, June 25 at the Aiken Thoroughbred Hall of Fame and Museum.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Polo Plans

Once again, numerous polo players are staying in Aiken for the summer, and there are several players who will be hosting informal, private chukkers on their own fields to give their green horses some experience and keep their hand-eye coordination up to par. At least two clubs will be offering organized games and practices. One is Overbrook in Wagener, and the other is Aiken Polo Club, which has not had a summer polo program for about 20 years.

According to Overbrook's Clint Nangle, the polo at his club will be casual and laid back. "If you want to go charging down the field, it's probably not the right place for you - we have a style of play that is more easy-going," he says. Practices are currently scheduled for Wednesday evenings at 6:30 pm and Saturday mornings at 9:00 am, but the schedule could easily be modified to accommodate players' schedules.

Overbrook is also offering coaching chukkers with pointers on rules and plays, and has been running a full lesson program with private and semiprivate sessions available for riders of all types, beginners through advanced. Clint says that the lessons have been quite successful, bringing in numerous new players, both from the greater Aiken equestrian community and from Lexington and Columbia. The chief instructor is Christine Cato, who brings a wealth of polo experience at all levels, from low goal club chukkers up to the 20 goal and beyond. (For more information, check out the website: or call 803-646-8350.)

Aiken Polo Club's summer season is not just the first summer polo it has offered in a long time, it is also the first arena polo the club has ever had. The club will be using the new polo arena at Hilltop Farm east of town on Hatchway Bridge Road. Practice chukkers are scheduled for Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 9 am, with more practice days if there are enough people who want to play.

Aiken polo club's manager, Craig Fraser, says that there are plans to have lessons, lease horses, clinics and a progression league. The practice season starts June 18 and will conclude in mid August or carry on until the fall outdoor season starts in September if people want to play. For chukkers, call the regular APC hotline: 803-643-3611. For more information, contact Craig: or 803-292-3377.

In other polo news, this spring New Bridge Polo Club decided to encourage more participation at their club. They are lowering their dues by almost 50 percent, bringing them more in line with other club dues in the area. Now, homeowners at New Bridge can play polo for $3,000 per year, while outside players can join for $3,500 per year. New Bridge holds three practices a week and maintains practice and stick and ball fields. Members are welcome at the practices, can use the stick and ball fields, and get a discount on club tournaments. They can even use the other club amenities, which include a swimming pool and tennis courts. Practice days are Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, so they mesh perfectly with Aiken Polo Club, which holds practices on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. If you join both clubs, you will have somewhere to play six days a week!

Willie Hartnett, who manages the club says that there are a few other changes on the horizon this fall. For instance, the club always holds an 8 goal, the Copa de Plata in the fall, but this tournament is usually just a club event. Now it will be a USPA event, and a qualifier for the National Presidents Cup, held each April in Palm Beach. There is a lot of enthusiasm for this tournament and for all the other  fall tournaments. In fact, Willie says that there are already a handful of entry forms in the office from teams that are either very organized or very eager for the season to begin. "We expect a big season on the 8 to 12 goal level," he says.

Aiken International Horse Park

The Equine Steering Committee of the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce is moving forward with plans to develop a world class international horse park in Aiken. Although the ESC has been talking about a horse park since its inception in early 2009, it has yet to create a formal plan and a proposal to do so. This spring however, the committee commissioned Jeff Wallace, a former editor at the Aiken Standard, to put together a draft of a white paper entitled a "Vision for an International Horse Park in Aiken County." The paper was then circulated to the members of the Equine Steering Committee, the chamber's board of directors, and to the membership of the Equine Support Council for review, comments and suggestions.

The proposal, which is 16 pages long, gives a summary of the history of the horse industry in Aiken and makes a case for the construction of a "comprehensive multi-use facility amenable to all equestrian disciplines." The ideal location for the park is deemed to be "somewhere in the 1-20 corridor, close to but not in Aiken proper." The park is envisioned as something that will help the equestrian industry in town, but which also is something that Aiken itself needs for a healthy future. Since the 1950s, the Savannah River Plant has been the major driver in Aiken's economy. With closures at the plant "more the rule than the exception", Aiken would be well advised to "look to other areas to bolster its future economy."

The proposal calls for a facility that encompasses at least 600 to 1000 acres, with space for a cross country course, permanent barns, a covered arena, and an "architecturally striking" signature building that is seen as a tourist destination in itself. The park would also have its own trail system, which would, ideally, connect up with a countywide system of trails that the Equine Support Council is in the process of establishing. The plan calls for the use of as much green technology as possible in the construction of the park, thus making it a "national model for conservation and green development." Use of green technology might also make the construction of the park eligible for various government grants and loans.

All of this is still in the very early planning stages, however. Not only is the draft white paper being modified through discussions with members of the Equine Support Council, but the Equine Steering Committee has yet to decide how the park should be funded, who exactly should own it, and even if they should pursue the project. An international horse park of the size and stature envisioned by the ESC's plan would necessarily cost many millions of dollars. Exactly where that money might come from in these uncertain economic times is certainly an important question. But proponents of the horse park are not daunted. Even if the money for the project is not all there yet, and even if the facility has to be constructed in stages, they believe that a horse park is vital to the future of the equestrian industry in the area, and even to the future of Aiken County itself. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Aiken International

Horsemen who train in Aiken are doing quite a bit of traveling these days, and will be doing more in the near future. This spring, Shawna Harding, whose base of operations is Aiken, was selected as one of three riders to represent the U.S. at the World Cup Dressage finals in Leipzig, Germany at the end of April. After that competition, she stayed on in Europe to continue competing, giving her two mounts, Come On III and Rigo, valuable experience and exposure on the international circuit.  Come On III is a stunning 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood that Shawna has owned and campaigned since he was a youngster, while Rigo is a10-year old Hanoverian gelding owned by Tonya Rowe.

Earlier this year, Shawna won the $25,000 Carol Lavell Advanced Dressage Prize which helped fund her trip overseas. Other fundraisers included an auction of 30 bags of feed donated by Charlie Herrick, owner of Banks Mill Feeds. Shawna will be showing in Germany, Austria and Italy before returning to the states.

This summer, a number of Aiken-based combined driving competitors will also descend on Europe. In August, Jennifer Matheson, Suzy Stafford, Wendy O'Brien and Shelly Temple will be transporting their ponies and vehicles to Germany to train with the U.S. driving coach Michael Freund before traveling to Lipica, Slovenia to represent the United States in the FÇdÇration Equestre Internationale World Pony Driving Championships. There, they will be joined by another Aiken based driver, Janelle Marshall, who will represent Australia, her native country. The World Pony Championships take place from September 21-25.

The FEI World Pair Driving Championships (for horses) will be held in Conty, France from August 24-28. Aiken will also have a representative in that event: Joe Yoder, a recent Aiken transplant, will be driving a pair of Gelderlander geldings owned by Jack Wetzel and trained by Vance Coulthard, both well-established Aiken horsemen. Jack's Gelderlanders started out as a four-in-hand of carriage driving horses, and were a familiar sight leading Aiken's many carriage parades. Just about two years ago, they entered their first combined driving event with Bill Long, a veteran competitor, acting as whip, and last fall, competed in the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky. This winter, Joe Yoder took the reins, driving them to the top of the standings in numerous pair competitions on the national circuit. In March, Joe and Wetzel's pair won the United States Equestrian Federation's National Pairs Championship.

Wetzel's team will fly to Germany to train with Michael Freund in early July. They will probably enter some warm-up competitions before taking on the world in France. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Fire at True Prospect

Early in the morning of May 31, a fire destroyed the barn that the event rider Boyd Martin was renting from Phillip Dutton at Dutton's True Prospect Farm in Pennsylvania. There were 11 horses in the barn at the time, and three people living in the upstairs apartment. Lillian Heard, Caitlin Silliman and Ryan Wood were awakened by the fire and sounded the alarm. Along with Phillip and Boyd, they managed to rescue five horses from the blaze. The surviving horses were transported to the George D. Widener Hospital for Large Animals at the University of Pennsylvania New Bolton Center. Six other horses perished. Lillian, Caitlin and Ryan were treated and released from Jennersville Hospital.

The horses in Boyd's barn included numerous upper level eventers, some up-and coming horses, as well as the personal horses of Caitlin Silliman and Lillian Heard: Lillian's Ariel, a young mare competing at the Preliminary level, was one of the horses that died. The other horses that did not make it out were Call Me Ollie, Charla, Phantom Pursuit, Cagney Herself and Summer Breeze. Survivors included Catch a Star, Ambassador's Rose, Otis Barbotiere, Minotaure du Passoir and Neville Bardos, the horse that Boyd rode at the 2010 World Equestrian Games. After several weeks of treatment for burns and smoke inhalation, all five horses have been released from the clinic, but only one, Ambassador's Rose, has so far been able to return to work. The prognosis for the remaining horses is unclear, although they are reported to be healing rapidly.

The eventing community was shocked by the tragedy, and immediately united around all those affected by the fire. In the weeks since, there have been numerous fundraisers to help defray costs for Boyd as well as to help Ryan, Lillian and Caitlin, who lost all of their possessions in the fire. The outpouring of support has been immense, with charity auctions at various events, bake sales, special schooling events and an online charity auction on eBay. Many individuals and companies have stepped up to offer their support. For instance, EcoGold, a Canadian company that sponsors Boyd, donated 50 percent of proceeds from orders of their saddle pads to Boyd's team, raising over $8,000 in two weeks. At one charity auction, $14,000 was raised - then Alan Shinton, a generous supporter of eventing, stepped up to match those funds, bringing the total to $28,000. The June 12 Lumber River Starter Horse Trials at the Carolina Horse Park in Raeford, N.C. donated a portion of their funds to victims of the fire. Closer to home, Full Gallop Farm in Aiken made their June combined test a benefit for the True Prospect recovery funds.

Separate, tax deductible funds have been set up for Caitlin, Lillian and Ryan. There is also a general relief fund. To donate or for more information, visit the website at South California Equestrian Sports ( or go to Boyd Martin's site. ( 

Boyd Martin and his team make their winter home in Aiken where they are based at Bridle Creek Equestrian Community. Fire investigators in Pennsylvania have determined that the fire was accidental and electrical in origin. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Aikenite Flies

A special thoroughbred with an obvious Aiken connection is bringing acclaim to his home town on the stakes racing circuit. Aikenite, a 4-year-old owned by Dogwood Stable, has been having a great 2011 so far and is rapidly becoming one of the city's favorite sons.

Aikenite started out the year with a second place finish in a race in March. Then, in April, clinched a 21/4 length victory in the Grade II Commonwealth Stakes at Keeneland. On May 7, Kentucky Derby day, he was entered in the prestigious $348,900 Grade II Churchill Downs Stakes on the Kentucky Derby undercard. He drew the number one position (not his favorite) and was sent off as the seventh choice of the betting public. But his jockey, John Velasquez, gave him a great ride, letting him sit off the pace for much of the race, and then sending him home in the stretch. He ran down the race leaders to win by a nose and take home a winner's purse of over $200,000.

In his next race, the $500,000 Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park on May 30, Aikenite came in fourth. It was a fast race: the winner, Tizway, turned in the second fastest time for the race in its history. Aikenite is now being prepped for the Grade I Forego Stakes at Saratoga, and may even be headed to the Breeders Cup in early November. Cot Campbell certainly hopes that he is. In fact Cot has made an interesting wager with Lucky's Race and Sport Book in Las Vegas. At 10-1 odds, he has bet $5,000 that a Dogwood horse will win a Breeder's Cup race this year. Dogwood currently has 40 horses, including several promising 2-year-olds that have yet to show anyone what they can really do, so all of Cot's chances are not riding on his 4-year-old. But if he Aikenite does win, it will be sweet for Dogwood and for all his local fans.

On another note, Aikenite has so far banked over $700,000 in his race career. If he wins over $1 million, he will become eligible to be named the Aiken Trained Horse of the Year by the Aiken Thoroughbred Hall of Fame and Museum located in Hopeland Gardens. 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

SPCA Barn Tour

The fourth annual Aiken Barn Tour took place on Saturday, April 16. This tour, in which participants were invited to take a look inside some of Aiken's most beautiful barns, included eight properties, all of them located along Aiken's 302 equestrian corridor east of town. Barns on the tour included numerous private stables, all of them constructed within the past six or seven years, and all of them spectacular.

The tour started at 11 a.m., and for seven of the barns it was self-guided: people on the tour got a map and then drove themselves to the various properties. Many of the properties were quite close to each other. For instance, Peter Michaels's Quartermore Farm on Flowing Well Road was right across the street from Mary Guynn and Justin Pimnser's Dollamor, and right around the corner from Laura and Mike Regan's Evergreen Farm and the Hunt Box on Hickory Creek, owned by Jim and Gayle Curtiss. Other properties included Chequers, a lovely farm in Hatchaway Bridge Farms where Arthur and Sandy Vann breed Gypsy Vanner horses; Bridlewood, which is John Abbott's show hunter barn; and Windswept farm, a private dressage facility owned by Theresa and Pat Blewett.

The piäce de rÇsistance came at 2:30 with the guided tour of Crestview Farm on Cooks Bridge Road. This property, hidden behind massive electronic gates, includes barns, paddocks, pastures, polo fields, and pavilions, all custom-built to the highest standard and using unique materials. Although Crestview held the final game of the 2010 Silver Cup on its tournament field last fall, this was the first time that the public was invited to take a look at the barns. Visitors were impressed, to say the least.

After the guided tour, Crestview's president, Alan Meeker, put on an exhibition polo match on his field. This match featured numerous Aiken-based players, including Meeker himself, as well as several players who haven't spent much time in Aiken before, such as Carter Carnegie, who is the interim co-president and CEO of the Breeder's Cup, Ltd.

The barn tour got lucky with a sunny day and had a great turnout. All proceeds went to the Aiken SPCA, which is a nonprofit no-kill shelter. Just a few weeks after the barn tour, on May 19, the SPCA celebrated the groundbreaking of its new expanded facility, the Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare. The facility new which will include the SPCA adoption center, an educational and training center and a regional spay and neuter clinic, is scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2012.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Townsend Cup

Back in March of 1923, a team of three American polo players in Manhattan played an international arena polo match against a team of three British players. The John R. Townsend International Cup was put on in conjunction with the national arena polo championships in the Squadron A Armory which once stood on Madison Avenue between 94th and 95th streets.

The British team arrived a month before the tournament started and spent the intervening weeks practicing the indoor game as it was played in America. The Americans were beating the British pretty badly in practice, until a few days before the tournament when the British were able to ride their own horses which had been brought over by ship. Then, they surprised everyone by beating an accomplished American team by a score of 10 to 4. But when it counted, the Americans came out on top, winning all three games by decisive margins (41/2-1, 11-2, 10-4.)

The British didn't return to contest the cup again until 2004, when again they lost, playing at the Empire Polo Club in California.  They lost once more in 2008, playing against a team that included John Gobin, an Aiken resident and 6-goal arena player.

The Townsend Cup returned to Empire this March 26. The American team consisted of two players with Aiken connections, John Gobin and Tommy Biddle (9 goals), who played along with Shane Rice, a 7-goal arena player who has been a part of the Aiken scene in recent years.

Once again, the American team was dominant, downing the British by a score of 15 to 9.

Aiken Dry Goods

Polo players will have a new place to shop for mallets, boots, tack and other equipment this spring at Aiken Dry Goods, a store that has just opened on Laurens Street, right next to the Hotel Aiken.

Aiken Dry Goods offers an eclectic mixture of clothing that ranges from designs by Free People and True Grit to riding clothes by Euro-Fit and Gersemi. There is also jewelry and various décor items. The back wall is devoted to tack, mostly imported from Argentina, and the back room will soon stock polo mallets, boots and other gear of the game.

Jami Chandler, who moved here recently from Saratoga Springs, is in charge of the clothing and décor part of the store, while her partner Matthew Fonseca, a 3-goal player based in Aiken, will be looking after the polo equipment. Matthew is planning to stock Tato's Mallets as well as hard-to-find Argentine brands such as Sebastian Ucha and Casablanca Polo Gear.

Aiken Dry Goods is on Facebook.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Horse Show Season

April is horse show season in Aiken. Of course, there have been horse shows going on all winter long, including schooling shows at Three Runs Plantation on the southside and at Belvoir Farm South in Windsor. The Progressive Show Jumping Aiken Challenge Series, held at Highfields Event center on Gaston Road, included five AA rated shows from January through March, each of which boasted a mini prix and hunter classic.

But April is when the horse show crowds really come out. It all starts with the Aiken Horse Show in the Woods, held this year from April 1 through 3 at the historic horse show ring in the middle of the Hitchcock Woods. This show is a 95-year-old tradition, started by Louise Hitchcock in 1916 and carried on every year since. The horse show has traditionally been one of the social and competitive highlights of the season, bringing out many riders who can normally be found on the hunt field. It offers traditional classes from old-fashioned hunter shows, including the flat and over fences classes in the foxhunter division (for horses that have been out at least six times this season with a recognized hunt), hunter pairs, hunt teams, the family class, and leadline and costume classes for young children. There is also a full sidesaddle division (including over fences classes) and a gentleman's hack class.

The Aiken Horse Show, which is a benefit for the Hitchcock Woods Foundation (owner and operator of the Hitchcock Woods) is the one time each year when automobiles are allowed into the woods. Spectators come to enjoy lunch in the ringside tent, where they can also bid on an assortment of items at the silent auction. These items range from jewelry to a full African safari donated by International Ventures.  Often, there are also rare books, photographs and Aiken historical memorabilia.

The horse show season heats up with the Aiken Spring Classic I and II, which are held over two long weekends (April 20-24 and April 27 through May 1) at Highfields. These shows are easily the biggest of the year, drawing competitors from all over the region and beyond. Marquee classes include two grand prix, held both Sundays at noon, and the $10,000 United States Hunter Jumper Association Hunter Derby Classic, held on Saturday the 23rd.

In 2011, the Spring Classic has an added attraction for spectators, especially those who may be unfamiliar with hunter/jumper shows. This is an event called "Grace over Fences," which is the final installment in the Equine Performing Arts series put on by the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce. The first two events in the series introduced spectators to foxhunting and to polo. Grace Over Fences will feature the hunter rider Liza Towell-Boyd and the show jumping rider Harold Chopping, who will put on a jumping demonstration on Friday evening, April 29 at 6:00 pm.

The event, which also includes cocktails and dinner, falls on an important day for anglophiles: on that same day, Prince William will marry Kate Middleton at Westminster Abbey in London. For those who want to feel a part of the royal wedding, there will be a sunset reception honoring the royal couple. The dress is cocktail attire: "Dress to impress the Queen," advises the invitation. (It seems unlikely that she will be there.) For more information or for tickets, contact the Aiken Chamber of Commerce website:, or 803.641-1111.

The Aiken Spring Classic shows are being held in a series with the Camden Spring Classics I and II, which will take place at the South Carolina Equine Park in Camden from April 6-10 and from April 13-17. The four shows will form the Carolina Spring Circuit - a full month of AA sanctioned events, including a complete social schedule with various fundraisers and parties.

According to Cathy Cram, who is running the shows in the Carolina Spring Circuit along with her husband Rick, uncertainty in the economy has meant that competitors are generally waiting until the last possible minute to sign up for their classes. Because of this, there is no telling how big the shows in Aiken will end up being. However, as of this writing, entries are about on a par with last year's entries at the same time. How big was last year's show?
"We had to put up 500 stalls," says Cathy.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Driving Champions

Aiken-based drivers had a phenomenal showing at the United States Equestrian Federation National Pair and Pony Championships, held March 24 through 27 at the Live Oak CAI in Ocala, Fla. This combined driving competition crowned three national champions in the pony divisions (singles, pairs and four-in-hands) and one in the horse division (pairs.) Three of the four championships went to drivers, horses and ponies that train in Aiken.

Joe Yoder drove a pair of Gelderlanders owned by Jack Wetzel, an Aiken resident, to the USEF National Pairs Championship. Yoder, an up-and-coming whip who will turn 30 in June, recently moved to Aiken from Bozeman, Montana to drive for Mr. Wetzel. He finished second by just over a point in the dressage phase, and then won the marathon handily to put himself ahead by 15 points going into cones. In that test, he had three balls down to incur 12 penalty points, which was still good enough for first place and the championship. This was Yoder's first national title.

Shelly Temple, who is based in Windsor, drove her Morgan pony "Cooper" (officially LR Ami B-Line) to the USEF National Single Pony Championship. Cooper and Shelly won the dressage by over seven points. Then they finished in the middle of the pack on the marathon phase, but were still in the lead heading into cones. There, they completed the difficult course with no balls down, just three seconds over the very fast 2:38 time allowed, winning the competition. (No pony went double clear.) Cooper was also given the Hanzi award, which is granted to the horse deemed the best in the show. Shelly and Cooper are no strangers to the awards table: they won the national championship in 2006 and 2010, and were reserve champions in 2005 and 2009. This was their second Hanzi award - they also won in 2010.

Jennifer Matheson, an Aiken resident who trains in Windsor, drove a pair of German riding ponies owned by her mother-in-law, Katrina Becker, to the USEF National Pony Pair Championship. Jennifer won the dressage phase by almost 8 points, which gave her a solid cushion going into the marathon. She put in a good effort over that course, coming in second. In cones, she  had four balls down and incurred time penalties, but still came out the winner. Jennifer also won the national pairs championship in 2010.

A large Aiken contingent was on hand at Live Oak, including both spectators and competitors. Suzy Stafford, another driver based in Aiken over the winter months, won the reserve championship in the single pony division, driving Josephine, a 9-year-old Morab mare. In other divisions, Meghan Benge won Preliminary Pair Ponies; Pixie Keating was second in Intermediate Single Pony, Sherri Dolan was second in Intermediate Pair Pony and Irene Gillis was second in Preliminary Single Pony.