Visit Aiken, South Carolina, where Main Street is a bridle path and people are in love with horses.
After grooms come in at 4:30 a.m. to rouse young Thoroughbreds, local trainers like Ron Stevens use the historic 1-mile Aiken Training Track for morning exercise. More information about racing in Aiken may be found at www.theaikentrainingtrack.com.
Quick-witted and ever-genteel, Cot Campbell of Dogwood Stable acts as Aiken’s racetrack sage. “The Derby, Saratoga, people in pretty hats,” he says. “You’re selling ambiance.” Visit www.dogwoodstable.com to learn more about Cot’s journey as a horseman.
More than a refined tradition, polo is an excuse to tailgate around Whitney Field, circa 1882.
In the late 1800s, wealthy families from New York chose Aiken as a winter setting for their horses, because of both mild temperatures and clay-sand topsoil, suitable footing for the animals. Decades later some of the founding families’ names―Hitchcock, Whitney, Bostwick―remain, as do classic horse traditions such as the steeplechase.
Ed and Leslie Giobbe, who live next to the Adam Winthrop Polo Field, spend as many twilight hours as possible atop Bravo and Timex, their 26- and 24-year-old horses. “They’re family,” Leslie says.
In the 2,100-acre horsemen’s preserve Hitchcock Woods, sounds of both gallop and gossip float through longleaf pines and magnolia. Begun in 1939, the town-center equine escape is free and open to the public. To view a full map of Hitchcock Woods, go to www.hitchcockwoods.org.
An indigo sky heralds sunrise over Dogwood Stable. As fresh hay bales are put out and saddles tightened, the stalls feel as expectant as a silent church choir.
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