Hillori Connors is an amateur adult from Topsfield, MA who enjoys competing at the lower levels of eventing in Area 1. Her horse is Chantilly All Quality (aka Fig), an 8 year old, 17 hh ISH gelding that she has had for almost 1 year. Shortly after Fig’s arrival, he had several back-to-back minor injuries, and just started back under saddle in January. In 2020, they are looking forward to getting back into full work, and hopefully competing at some of their favorite Area 1 events. We thank Hillori for reporting from Aiken this winter!
What is it about Aiken that makes all us Area 1’ers so envious? Obviously there is the milder weather; who wouldn’t want to be enjoying sunny, 60 degree weather in February with your favorite pony?! But try to explain the allure to your friends who have not experienced Aiken as of yet. What is it that makes it so special?
A lot of us from Area 1 likely think of Aiken as an eventing community, however, there is something here for every discipline! Aiken is a community built almost in its entirety around horses. The Aiken Horse District, near to town, is an equestrian community filled with beautiful farms where the streets are unpaved and the horses have the right of way. You can ride through this beautiful area of town in the middle of the street! This area of town is also comprised of The Aiken Training Track, two polo fields, and The Aiken Horse Park (also known as Bruce’s Field). On February 23, you can sign up to ride your horse on the Aiken Training Track, where you can walk, trot or breeze your horse around the track! Where else can you have the opportunity to ride your horse on a bone fide racetrack? On February 28 and 29 is the Grand-Prix Eventing Showcase at Bruce’s Field, where International horses and riders will compete for $50,000.
The Aiken Horse District also leads you to Hitchcock Woods, an approximate 2,000 acre forest that provides miles upon miles of beautifully maintained trails for hacking, hunting and driving. The footing is quite remarkable, in that it is a clay/sand mixture with no rocks, something very hard to find in New England! There also is a track within the woods and many natural jumps. In Early April, the Hitchcock Woods hosts it’s annual horse show, which has been running for 100+years.
In addition to the great hacking, there are many local events to help you prepare for your upcoming eventing season, regardless of your level or goals. Every Tuesday, Bruce’s Field hosts stadium jumping and dressage schooling where you can practice you show jumping and/or dressage test in a show environment, but without the stress of a competition. You are even allowed a “do over” if needed. Every Thursday, Apple Tree Farm South hosts schooling 2 and 3 phases in a very casual environment. Go from riding an Advanced level dressage test to schooling the intro stadium course. Then there are several other schooling and sanctioned events within a very small radius, so you have frequent opportunities to school and compete all winter, allowing you to hone your skills.
One of the most amazing aspects of Aiken is the large contingency of top escalon riders wintering here. At any given event, it’s like the who’s who of eventing. It is a bit surreal seeing the likes of Phillip Dutton, Boyd Martin, Lillian Heard, Ryan Wood, Doug Payne, Tim Bourke and many others, schooling their young horses or competing their top mounts at these events. Its easy to be a bit star struck! But it is also very inspiring, watching these riders school and educate their youngsters and top mounts.
In addition to riding and competing, there are a lot of social events to take in: Tuesday night cocktails at the historic Wilcox Hotel, Mexican and sushi at Takosushi, amazing pizza from Mello Mushroom, fun drinks and bites at Wiskey Alley, The Aiken Brew Pub, and not to mention there is a Waffle House on every corner.
Although I have visited Aiken a couple of times without my horse, this is the first year that I have brought my horse, and am fortunate enough to be spending the winter here as “the world’s oldest working student” for Babette Lenna and Beventing. It’s been amazing to experience Aiken on horseback, and hopefully many of you have as well. If not, it should be on all our “bucket lists”!