My Introduction to Aiken
Aiken’s horse country has seen some dramatic changes over the years. The first time I visited Aiken was in 1992. I was competing a couple of horses at the Sporting Days Horse Trials on my way up to New England after spending a winter in Florida. Growing up in the horse business, I had heard about Aiken, but at that tim. it had not yet experienced its resurgence as an southeastern hub for equestrian pursuits. Upon arrival, I was pretty underwhelmed. Aiken was very quiet and sleepy at that time, and coming off a winter in Wellington, a veritable amusement park of equestrian communities, Aiken seemed too quiet a place for me to consider.
The buzz about Aiken continued to grow, and I revisited in the fall of 1994. On this trip, instead of limiting my travels to Sporting Days and Hotel Aiken, I visited a number of horse people whom had already made Aiken their home – Lellie Ward, Adam and Shelley Onderdonk Snow, Tom Biddle, and more. I traveled all over town. I realized with amazement that one of the most unique things about Aiken is that the training tracks, steeplechase track, horse show grounds, the 2100 acre Hitchcock Woods, along with various stables and farms are all located in the center of town! The downtown is charming, the people are friendly, and I never looked back. I made Aiken my home for the next 20 years.
Aiken in 2016 looks very different from Aiken in 1992. Today, Aiken is as active as any equestrian community in the world. Aiken has polo fields, horse show grounds, race tracks, the Woods and more farms and equestrian facilities than ever before. Horse people flock to Aiken for its mild winters, excellent footing (no rocks, and it never freezes!) and world famous trainers of all disciplines. The schooling and show facilities are outstanding. Some recent additions include Stable View and The Vista, as well as the Aiken Horse Park and old favorites like Lellie Ward’s Paradise Farm and Full Gallop Farm for event riders. Our very favorite trainer, of course is a treasured member of the Best Life Team – John Abbott, of Bridlewood Farm.
I fully expect Aiken’s horse community to continue to grow in the future and to become even more popular with horse people all across the country. Fortunately, there’s room to grow. Aiken’s leaders are focused on responsible development. I look forward to good, positive growth. I can hardly wait to see how Aiken looks in another 20 years!