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: www.aikenchamber.net, 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.