Saturday, July 14, 2007

Tales of Aiken

Aiken, South Carolina . . . nothing like it in the world. This town is horse heaven. I had the privilege of visiting in 2003 and was back this week for a three day visit. It helps if you love horses, and if you have friends in town to visit.

When you turn on to South Boundary Avenue you find yourself surrounded by the American South at its finest. Live Oaks, a type of Oak tree with gnarly branches, line the street and the branches reach up from both sides crowning the thoroughfare. As I pulled my Airstream through this beautiful vista of trees and southern homes the sight overwhelmed me. My friend Gina lives along South Boundary, and her farm: Red Barn Stables is just a block off of this beautiful street. I turned down a side street to park at Gina's barn and set up my Airstreaming house for a few days.

I am a decent rider and Gina got me mounted up in no time. We did three wonderful rides--two of these were in Hitchcock Woods. The Woods are the legacy of horse lovers from over half a century ago. The land, all 2,200 acres of it, came primarily from just a few families. It is owned by a private foundation and open to horses, as well as people on foot. Hitchcock Woods is filled with the ubiquitous southern pines of course, but also many hardwoods. There are well maintained jumps for the horses (which we put to good use), and perfect footing of sand everywhere. The red clay country is some twenty plus miles away.

Aiken is the only town I've ever seen where you can live in an urban neighborhood (it's a small town, but still a city), keep horses on a couple of acres, and have access to great restaurants and bars and a place to ride where you can literally go for hours without crossing a road (you do cross a road or two on your way in to the woods, but the town is well equipped for horses with handy equestrian crossings).

Gina was a true southern hostess and she showed me a grand time. In addition to the great rides we had fun lunches and even funner dinners every night. (Is funner a word? Is now!).

I missed another friend of mine who lives there, due to my neglect in tracking down her number, but otherwise it was a perfect visit.

I even managed to conduct a fair amount of business during my "days off" there.

With 47 polo fields and more coming soon, Aiken is polo crazy. Between polo, foxhunting, eventing, steeplechasing, and regular horse racing, Aiken has it all including many looney horse people with their horse money. Such a town is bound to have more than its share of intrigue. I got my fill of tales from the town's dark side. I heard of a death in the hunt field (that's foxhunting--see my March 2004 entry for more on foxhunting near Aiken). I met a gentleman who banged his head so hard during a hunt he's still recovering and has a ways to go. I heard of an old-timer who died in his field with his cows--a heart attack in his eighties. A good way to go all things considered. Then I heard the worst one of them all. This one didn't involve horses (or cows) as far as I know. Last fall a man in his fifties dropped in to see his mother. He murdered dear mum, rolled her up in a blanket, put her in the front yard by some bushes, and proceeded on his way to his daughter's wedding. "Sorry honey, grandma can't make it." Damn . . . you have to wonder what prompted that--though with people it could have been anything or nothing. The crime scene is along our horse route into Hitchcock Woods.

Back to the sunny side of things . . . bad things happen everywhere after all.

It was a fun, fun visit.

Thanks Gina.


Go to for a view of South Boundary Ave.