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                                                          DRESSAGE IN AIKEN  

                                                                By Amy McElroy

Dressage in Aiken has exploded over the past three decades. I would like to take you on a walk down memory lane to see how dressage life in Aiken has grown. I moved to Aiken in 1983 to fulfill a dressage working student position at Graf Bae Farm. At the time, Graf Bae Farm was well known as one of the elite dressage Hanoverian breeding farms in the country and was the only site on the east coast where they held annual Hanoverian inspections. The farm was owned and managed by Dick and the late Bari Von Buedigen. In 1983 they hired Hokan Thorn of Sweden as their head dressage trainer. At that time the farm stood three stallions, including the most famed dressage stallion Domingo.  In addition to the breeding farm on Sizemore Road ( which is currently DFG Stable). The Von Buedigen’s also owned the ‘’ Pink House’’ located on Easy Street in historic downtown Aiken, as well as the Black Barn on Third Avenue which abutted their backyard. Better known to most as the town barn, where all the dressage riding horses were trained and stabled. A string of FEI horses and some up and coming talented young horses filled the stalls of Graf Bae Farms town barn.

Photos: scan 12 png ( Graf Bee Farm’s Domingo, 5 time ASHA USET Horse of the Year, Leading Sire of Sport Horses - 1990-2000, with rider Hakan Thorn.

 Another well-known dressage farm in the 80’s was Fulmer International owned by the late Robert Hall and his wife Laura. The Halls were the owners, managers, and trainers of their riding school. They were located on Dibble Road adjacent to the renowned Hitchcock Woods. Today you would know this farm as The Stable by the Woods, a popular boarding and training facility. Photo : One that you scanned, giving photo credit to Alex Coleman.

 In the mid 80’s another Hanoverian breeding farm made their roots in Aiken. Green Hills Farm owned by Bob Lucas and his wife Susan, located just off 302 towards Couchton.This farm has changed hands over the years and is currently being leased. Back in the 80’s these were the first large dressage farms in Aiken with developing high performance horses and riders.

In the 80’s Aiken boasted four recognized dressage shows per year all at the showgrounds known as Ramblewood Dressage ( photo scanjpg: Domingo’s 1st USA show at Ramblewood on way to USET/ASHA Horse of the Year, 2nd level 1985; rider Hakan Thorn riding)which was on the south side. (A  side note of interest, frequent FEI competitor was Kay Whitlock of North Carolina, today better known as the organizer of the current Aiken dressage show series held at the Highfields showground.) These shows were well attended by riders from Georgia as well as North and South Carolina. The facility had four sand arenas that were all utilized. Today unfortunately there is a non equestrian housing development in its place.

As an Aiken dressage rider, one would have to travel regularly to Georgia, North Carolina, and even Virginia to meet your quota for competitions.  These would be considered your locals shows! Today Aiken shows are in such abundance you don’t even need to leave town to compete. We have many, many, dressage schooling shows on any given weekend as well as weekdays.  Today, Aiken has 9 rated USDF/USEF recognized dressage shows. At the Highfields showgrounds there are four shows, one with each season. Stable View Farm has started the very popular series of three one day Wednesday dressage shows, and one full weekend show. A new show for 2017 is Dressage at Bruce’s Field. South Carolina also holds three dressage shows in Camden, and four dressage shows in Charleston. This makes 16 recognized shows for 2017!  Just across the border, the new Tryon International Horse Park will be the site of the 2018 World Equestrian Games.

 The South Carolina Dressage and Combined Training Association (SCDCTA) was created in the 80’s. Of interest, the SCDCTA was selected to host one of the REGION 3 Dressage Championships, at the Camden showgrounds. The show was a huge success and started a trend for future championships with great food and spirits, prizes, vendors, gifts and so much more. Today the SCDCTA is going strong. I encourage everyone to join and participate. There are many educational opportunities and a great awards program. The association  has its own version of the USDF medal program, including  a bronze, silver, and gold medal  for the national level tests (non FEI).

Dirt roads were in abundance in the 80’s.  Banks Mill Rd pavement ended near Talatha Church Road. No Cedar Creek, Three Runs Plantation or Bridlecreek. There were no shortcuts from Banks Mill Rd to Whisky Road. There was virtually nothing on the Southside.  There was no development  coming down Silver Bluff, other than a Wife Saver restaurant and the Gem Lakes development. No Red Pepper Restaurant, or Woodside development or Fox Hollow, to name a few.

 Downtown Aiken, however, was still a great place to dine and enjoy an evening out. One of the notable restaurants of the time was Up Your Alley, with there their one- of –a- kind nachos. The historic building is now the home of Trio Bar and Kitchen. The other local hangout was The Bowery,  with their great outside dining, is now the home of The Mellow Mushroom. The downtown proper continues to grow with many restaurants and unique shops.

 Aiken has grown considerably over the past 30 plus years. We now have  many wonderful  training facilities and privately owned dressage farms. We have many local dressage professionals available for teaching and training . There is an abundance of  highly skilled clinicians coming to Aiken. Most recently we had the world renowned Oded Shimoni  and  Christine Trauig  to name a few.

 Aiken currently boasts its own bevy of local accomplished riders: we have three Adult Amateurs who have earned their USDF Gold Medals, Aileen Daly, Cathy Hulbert, and Holly Spencer. We have six professionals who have achieved their USDF gold medals, Charlotte Bayley, Shawna Harding, Silva Martin, Amanda Persons, Elly Schobel[a], and myself Amy McElroy. Today Aiken has two high performance riders who have represented our country on an international level, Shawna Harding and Silva Martin. Aiken has two recipients who have earned the distinction of Century Club riders , Jane Sage and Conni Purciarele ( The Century Club is for a dressage team of horse and rider that their combined ages must total at least 100 who have performed a qualifying dressage test). Today, Aiken also has five USEF recognized dressage judges, Beth Baritt (R) who winters here,  Kate Hutchings (r), Valerie Swygert (r), Deri Jeffers (r) and myself Amy McElroy (S).

Aiken, South Carolina as you can see has become a popular home for many a dressage queen or king! We welcome ya’ll to our charming town. I look forward to seeing what the next three decades will bring, until then may all your rides be a 10!

Shawna Harding ad,  Beth Barritt ad

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