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.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Tally Ho Polo

Back in November, Linda Knox McLean, Master of The Aiken Hounds, invited area polo players to come out and enjoy a day of foxhunting. A large number took her up on the offer, swelling the Saturday morning hunt field to at least 70. Several polo players even decided to add hunting to their repertoires, keeping a horse or two in work over the winter and buying a whole new wardrobe of hunt clothes.

This March, as the foxhunting season wound down, Barbara Parker and Clint Nangle of Overbrook Farms, a polo development in Wagener, decided to reciprocate. They invited members of Aiken's hunts to come out for a polo lesson followed by a round-robin tournament. Members of three hunts took up the challenge. On March 13, teams from Why Worry Hounds, The Aiken Hounds and Whiskey Road Foxhounds gathered at Overbrook Farms, where they started out with drills, and then got a taste of real polo competition.

If the foxhunters proved one thing, it is that polo really brings out the competitive spirit in everyone. Each team was composed of first time polo players, along with one or two riders who were well versed in the both sports. The game was supposed to be played "at a level appropriate for first time players riding foxhunters." During the drills, the first time polo players trotted around conservatively, trying to get the hang of hitting the ball. It looked like it would be a friendly, slow little game.

But all that changed when the round robin started. The foxhunters wanted to win, and their horses were surprisingly game. There was no more trotting. Riders and horses galloped across the field, determined to score goals and earn glory.

The round robin ended in a tie. This meant the tournament would be decided by a shoot out. Why Worry Hounds won, on the strength of good goal by Jeff Shuler. Katherine Gunter's hunt horse Augustus was named the best playing foxhunter.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Coves Darden Show

Judges and officials traveled all the way from Spain for the Inter States Pura Raza Espanola (I.S.P.R.E.) regional show at Coves Darden Farm just east of Aiken on Route 4. This show, held March 4 through 6, was the first in a series of three regional championships to be held in the United States under the auspices of the AssociaciĆ³n Nacional de Criadores de Caballos EspaƱolos (ANCCE), which is the organization that registers and inspects PRE (commonly called Andalusian) horses in Spain.

The show was primarily a conformation show for mares, stallions, geldings, colts and fillies. There were also "functionality" tests for stallions and geldings, which consisted of a basic dressage test. Each class awarded ribbons from first through third place. At the end of the show, championships and reserve championships were handed out to the top two stallions, mares, colts and fillies. There were also special awards for the champion owner, the horses with the best movement, and the one with the best functionality.

Competitors came from as far away as Florida and Virginia to take part in the new show series, and, judging from the scores handed out by the judge Saul Davalos Vidal, the quality of the horses was quite high. Champions included Fresona Roy, a 3-year-old filly owned by Kathy and Donald Stewart, who was both the juvenile movement champion and the juvenile female champion of the show. The Hacienda Terpak's Juny, a stallion who competed in the "over 7" class won the best movement award for adult horses. Coves Darden Farm took home championships for functionality with Berbenero B, and had the champion mare, stallion and young horse with Faraona CLXI, Tronc II and Nevado, respectively, earning the farm the champion owner award.

Future shows in the I.S.P.R.E. USA series will be held in Texas and California, with finals planned for November in Texas. For more information, check out the website: