Horses are an integral part of life in Aiken, SC. You are likely to see them crossing Whiskey Road as they travel from the horse district to Hitchcock Woods, training early mornings at Aiken’s Training Track or playing polo on weekends in the spring and fall at the historic Whitney Field. And their riders, some who are descendants of the original winter colony families of the 1880s, are seen in restaurants and stores wearing riding pants and boots.
One of Aiken’s most famous horses is Belmont Champion Palace Malice of Dogwood Stables. In recent years, Palace Malice could be seen early mornings running on Aiken’s Training Track.
Aiken’s annual Triple Crown draws large crowds from across the nation to watch horses race, offer friendly wagers, and socialize rail-side with good food, and colorful hats and bow ties. The series, scheduled for three consecutive Saturdays in the spring, includes the Trials, Steeplechase and Pacers and Polo. A fall Steeplechase is also offered. And the variety of equestrian events has expanded since Bruce’s Field, on Powderhouse Road, was transformed last year into the Aiken Horse Park designed to host many additional equestrian events throughout the year, including Hunter/Jumper and Dressage schooling shows.
The Trials, which celebrated its 75th year in 2017, includes several races featuring horses that have been training to be future champions at Belmont, the Preakness or Kentucky Derby. These two-year-olds typically are running their first race. Older horses who have never won also participate as they seek their first win. Races are from a ¼-mile to 4 ½ furlongs at the Aiken Training Track. If you don’t want to bring your own refreshments, you can buy a ticket to the VIP tent for open bar and buffet or purchase from onsite vendors.
Steeplechase, the second event, draws the largest crowd of about 30,000. Races include jumps throughout the course at Bruce’s Field. This event has been a tradition for 51 years. Guests compete in contests for the best hat, most colorful pants and best tailgate. And the kids play jockey in the stick horse race preceding the main event. A carriage parade also entertains the audience with a variety of horses, and riders and drivers wearing period costumes from the year of the carriage. The Guarantor Tent is the site for the gala the night before and continuing the day of the event with elaborate decoration and dining, live band, open bar and rail-side views. As you watch the races, you will know if a horse is ready for a jump when his ears point forward.
Pacers and Polo, the third event, is a fundraiser for USC Aiken athletic scholarships. Competing team sponsors over recent years have been Alison South Marketing Group and Burger King, a friendly rivalry for a good cause. The event is a prelude to the Aiken Polo Club’s spring season. This year is the 135th anniversary of polo’s introduction in Aiken. Field-side parking is available at this event and at regular polo season events. A VIP tent is offered at Pacers and Polo and at regular season matches at Whitney Field, where polo began in Aiken in 1882.
Field-side parking spots are available for purchase, which is an entertaining way to spend an afternoon watching polo with your friends or business associates. You can feel the thunder of the horses and hear the hammer of the mallets as the ball often flies over the rail. Polo matches include four to six periods called chukkers, and horses are changed out every one or two chukkers. Some high goal polo matches and tournaments are also held at New Bridge Polo and Country Club. Aiken’s Polo Club lists seven field locations. You can find out more about spring and fall polo schedules at aikenpolo.org or call their hotline for weather status at 803-643-3611. Facebook updates also are posted.
Harness racing is another equestrian event offered in the spring. The McGhees’ Mile Standardbred Races features at least six races at McGhee’s training center on Banks Mill Road.
Aiken’s Annual Horse Show, established in 1916, continues to be held in Hitchcock Woods also in the spring. The three-day show maintains its traditional rustic charm and elegance.
In the fall, be sure to attend the Thanksgiving morning “Blessing of the Hounds,” in Hitchcock Woods. The spectacle of this tradition will become a treasured memory as clergy bless the hounds, the trumpets sound, and the riders in formal attire prepare for the fox hunt. Aiken Hounds is distinguished as having the oldest drag hunt in the nation.
Even at Christmastime, horses take center stage in Aiken’s December parade, and they sometimes have their own equestrian parade downtown, as well.
As you tour Aiken, you will discover the horse district off Grace Avenue, the clay-packed street that intersects with Whiskey Road. Designed for horses, this road will take you into the horse community, which is near Whitney Field and other equestrian places.
Enjoy the beauty of our horse community and experience the thrill of watching these strong and agile athletes compete in many sporting events or just trot down an unpaved street.