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.