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.
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 VanBeuren’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.
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.
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.