Cooler autumn weather brings horse lovers to Aiken for the Fall Steeplechase, polo and horse-driving competitions, all events that highlight the city’s long history with equestrian sports – and its love of a good party.
The steeplechase, held Oct. 25, ( www.aikensteeplechase.com) offers the excitement of a horse-and-rider race over fence and ditch obstacles. The tailgating and tent-party scene are almost as much a part of the day as the race, and visitors turn out in their best – coats and ties for men, dresses and fancy hats for women. Another reason to consider a trip: The Fall Steeplechase typically has more available rail-side space than the sold-out spring event.
The Katydid Combined Driving Event, Oct. 30-Nov. 2, offers the chance to watch beautifully turned-out horses pulling carriages through dressage maneuvers, a carriage race over a 15-km course with obstacles, and a timed driving challenge around cones. “People come from all over the East Coast,” said Peggy Dils, manager for the Katydid event ( http://bit.ly/1s4cse6), which takes place about 12 miles outside of the Aiken city limits. Admission is free, but consider buying a ticket for the Sunday brunch ( www.katydidcde.com/brunch); proceeds benefit the Aiken Land Conservancy).
Aiken is home to a long list of polo clubs, including the New Bridge Polo & Country Club, which has tournaments running most of the fall (polo hotline: 803-644-7706), ending with the Fall Classic, Oct. 24-Nov. 2, a six- to eight-goal match. The Aiken Polo Club – one of the nation’s oldest – holds games most Sundays at 3 p.m. at historic Whitney Field in what Aiken calls its “downtown horse district.” Tailgating there is an Aiken Sunday tradition ( www.aikenpoloclub.org).
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If all the horsey activities whet your appetite for more, check out the Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame, ( www.aikenracinghalloffame.com), located in the historic Hopelands Gardens. The gardens ( http://bit.ly/1v16eRo) are a great place to stroll, unwind and consider the way Aiken has grown from a post-Civil War “winter colony” for wealthy, horse-loving Northerners to a flourishing community still intent on celebrating all things equestrian.
Area information: http://bit.ly/1l8HQK4.