Originally a Winter Colony of international sporting enthusiasts, Aiken is now one of the country's most important equestrian centers with facilities for trail
riding, fox hunting, hunter-jumper events, race tracks, steeplechasing, polo and year-round training of race horses and sport horses of all disciplines.
The largest urban forest in the country, Aiken's Hitchcock Woods, is at the heart of the village, its 2,200 acres laced with more than 65 miles of pine scented, sandy trails that are limited to foot and hoof traffic. There are five active fox hunts in the Aiken area, with miles of gorgeous gently rolling hunt country. Celebrating over 130 years of the "sport of kings," Aiken is home to about forty polo fields, many active polo clubs, and has hosted the International Federation of Polo's Gold Cup as well as the prestigious third leg of the Triple Crown of Polo.
Aiken also features world class golf, tennis, soccer programs, excellent shopping and dining, a variety of cultural activities, a regional medical center and the nationally ranked University of South Carolina at Aiken.
Because of its history, Aiken is a unique place. From its broad parkways to its bustling parks and recreation facilities, from its historic estates to its newly constructed residential neighborhoods, from its sprawling horse farms to its downtown horse district, Aiken is the result of over 175 years of homebuilders, storeowners and civic leaders who took pride in their town. Together, they built one of the most picturesque communities in the southeast, if not the country.
Historically, Aiken was a retreat for Charleston residents escaping malaria and the marsh lands of the South Carolina low country. Aiken later became home to a "Winter Colony," as people of great wealth from the North flocked here to escape bitter winters. The town was also a popular health resort with a perfect climate combining warm, dry air, scented with pine and abundant spring water, which resulted in a healing combination. Wealthy horse enthusiasts soon discovered Aiken and brought their animals for pleasure and training. As they fell in love with the area they built extravagant cottages and stables that still survive today.
Many of the traditions of the past still influence Aiken today. Polo is still played on Sunday afternoons just as it has been since 1882. Majestic live oak
and magnolia trees line the streets where many of the grand homes are built. The sound of cheering fills the air when the horse races take place in the
spring and fall. The green of the golf courses that fill Aiken can be seen throughout the town. People smile and speak as they pass on the downtown streets,
which are filled with unique shops, art galleries, antique stores and a variety of popular restaurants.
A rich heritage and pristine beauty, balanced by exciting activities and a cosmopolitan flair make Aiken a place for all.
The Aiken Chamber of Commerce has this to say about our great City:
Aiken County, South Carolina: A place where horses are kings.
With a population of around 150,000, Aiken County is a comfortable place to live and work. From the riverfronts of North Augusta, to the abundance of clay
roads located in the City of Aiken and the soft rolling hills throughout the county, there is something for every horse lover!
The equestrian culture first blossomed in the late 19th century, when wealthy Northerners established a winter colony in Aiken. They were attracted by the temperate climate, but soon found that the sandy soil was perfect for conditioning their horses. Aiken’s first polo match was played in 1882 and polo continues to be a much-loved tradition. There is fox-hunting sponsored by the Aiken Hounds hunt club in the famed Hitchcock Woods, a 2,200 acre preserve which is the largest urban forest in the United States and is virtually in the middle of town. During the winter months, thoroughbreds take center stage when nearly 350 horses are stabled in various barns and train from dawn until late morning.
In March, Aiken hosts its own Triple Crown. It starts with the Aiken Trials, a series of flat races held at the Aiken Training Track, then continues the
following weekend with the Aiken Steeplechase. On the third and final weekend there are polo matches.
As you can see, horses have long been kings here and will continue to be well into the future. We have a variety of active equine disciplines throughout the county and we encourage you to explore each and every one! Content courtesy of Dogwood Stables, Inc. (adapted by the GACC).
A little more than one hundred years ago, Industrial Barons began looking for a warmer "Winter Place" to enjoy their new found wealth and to pursue
some of the many facets of the Sport of Kings -- racing, foxhunting, carriage driving, playing polo on fine horses. Lovely Aiken, South Carolina was chosen
as their new “Winter Place.” The new “Winter Colony” spared no expense – they spent millions building beautiful houses, many designed by Willis Irvin,
buying land and preserving thousands of acres of tall pine forests, planting live oaks that are huge today, creating exquisite walled gardens, also building
everything for their fine horses and demanding elegant and famous visitors to come and enjoy the charming & now, vibrant Old Town. Over one hundred years
have passed and Aiken has a treasured legacy - all because it was a perfect "Winter Place" for fine horses and their lavish owners and thus Aiken began to
be called the "Town the Horses Built."
Fox Hunting began in Aiken in the early 1900s and has always been an important part of equestrian sporting culture here. The mild weather and sandy soil footing allow for hunting with few interruptions throughout the winter season. As the weather turns cold and the ground starts to freeze in this nation's northern hunt country, horsemen begin arriving in the Aiken area. There are five active hunts in the area that welcome visitors and invited guests to participate, including the Aiken Hounds, Why Worry Hounds, the Whiskey Road Fox Hounds, Edisto River Hounds, and nearby Belle Meade Hunt in Georgia. The informal season usually begins in October with formal opening meets in mid to late November.
The Aiken Hounds hunt in the beautiful Hitchcock Woods, and were established in 1914 by Mr. & Mrs. Thomas Hitchcock. The Aiken Hounds' Opening Meet and Blessing of the Hounds is held on Thanksgiving Day at Memorial Gate in the Hitchcock Woods. During the regular hunt season, the Aiken Hounds meet on Tuesdays at 2:00 pm and on Saturdays at 9:00 am.
Why Worry is a very relaxed hunt with an open, friendly atmosphere. Founded in 1996 and recognized in 2003, the Why Worry Hounds hunt country consists of the beautiful sand hills in Aiken, Edgefield and Allendale counties in South Carolina, as well as some lovely property in Burke County, Georgia. Why Worry Hounds welcomes visitors, and, as they say, "Every day hunting is a good day -- why worry?"
The Whiskey Road Fox Hounds were established in 1976, and recognized by the Masters of Foxhounds Association in 1979. The formal season begins with their opening meet in November, with cubhunting in October. Hounds go out twice a week, on Thursdays and Sundays, through mid-March. The pack is kennelled near the Vale of Montmorenci in Aiken County, and the Whiskey Road Fox Hounds regularly hunt large tracts of land in Aiken, Allendale, Bamberg, Lexington, Saluda and Hampton counties.
And so we invite you to come with your fine horses and enjoy the some mild climate, good footing and southern charm that have enticed equestrians then and now.
Triple Crown of Polo at Aiken's New Bridge Polo Polo has played an integral role in the history of Aiken, South Carolina, from the 1800s, when Aiken was famous
for its "Winter Colony" of wealthy easterners, to the 1960s when Aiken was hailed as the "Polo Center of the South." Today, polo is still
played at Whitney Field, the site of the longest consecutive period of play on one field in the United States. More than a dozen members of the national
Polo Hall of Fame hail from Aiken, and the sport's revival has seen the development of many substantial polo farms, over 40 polo fields, and six polo clubs
in the Aiken area.
New Bridge Polo & Country Club hosted the USPA Gold Cup in 2004 and 2005. In 2006 and again in 2007 New Bridge Polo was selected to host the prestigious Aiken Gold Cup, the third leg of the Triple Crown of Polo. The 2007 finals were televised on ESPN.
Other active polo clubs in the Aiken area include the Aiken Polo Club, which celebrated 125 years of continuous play on Aiken's historic downtown Whitney Field last year. The Langdon Road Polo Club boasts "Florida-level" polo with high-goal tournament play. Farmer Road Polo Club and 302 Polo Club also have full schedules of tournaments.
Today, the Aiken Polo community is unique and unrivaled in talent and opportunity. There are more than 70 polo professionals who make their homes in Aiken. With its infrastructure, which began over 100 years ago, Aiken can easily meet the polo enthusiast's needs. No other community can come close to the quality of the horse experience you will find in Aiken.
The Aiken Steeplechase Association was founded in Aiken in 1930 by several influential horseman among these were Thomas Hitchcock, Temple Gwathmey and Harry
Worcester Smith. The first official race was run in Hitchcock Woods (a beneficiary of the Aiken Steeplechase Association) along the Aiken Hounds draglines.
Over a thousand people gathered to watch, some from as far away as Camden. To keep them company, several hundred children from Aiken Preparatory School and
Fermata School were mounted on their ponies for a better chance at viewing the sport. Aiken has been home to many steeplechase greats and to many exceptional
trainers: Thomas Hitchcock, Over the last hurdle at Aiken Steeplechase the dean of American Steeplechasing and Ambrose Clark, one of the sport's greatest
players, to name a few. Many other people have the passion for the sport and it is to their credit that the sport in Aiken was renewed in 1967 after a
twenty-five year hiatus due to war and civic development. The past efforts of Charlie S. Bird, III, G.H. Bostwick, MacKenzie Miller, Willard Thompson,
Ford Conger, and Paul Mellon revived the tradition of steeplechasing in Aiken and have left a legacy that the Association now calls upon again to secure the
future of the sport. It is the goal of the Aiken Steeplechase Association to continue this legacy started by these sporting gentlemen. For more information
please visit www.aikensteeplechase.com.
The Aiken Training Track was established in 1941. The mile track has a base of red clay with a sandy loam cushion and excellent drainage. Nearby there is a
5/8ths sand track, grass fields and miles of wooded trails for relaxing rides. The environment is one of tranquility -- perfect for the young yearlings who
come to Aiken for their early education, and also wonderful for the older, seasoned runners who need a break from the track.
The name Aiken is synonymous with the thoroughbred racehorse. Forty champions have been developed here, and their history can be explored by visiting Aiken's Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame. Some of the most prestigious outfits in American racing are fixtures at the Aiken Training Track – either seasonally or year round. These include Dogwood Stable, Stonerside Stable, Chime Bell Farm, H'n'D Stables, and Legacy Stable, as well as countless independent owners and trainers.