Oct. 21—October at Bruce's Field, a two-week series of equestrian events in Aiken, got underway Wednesday, with hundreds of competitors on hand to put their skills to the test.
Sessions are to run Oct. 20-24 and Oct. 27-31 and add up to "a great show," in the words of Aiken-based competitor Emily Smith. "We've been really lucky to have Bruce's Field here. It's been great for us, as locals, to have people traveling in."
Tara Bostwick, the Aiken Horse Park Foundation's vice president and treasurer, said hopes are for plenty of spectators, especially considering that the 2020 event included limited access, due to COVID-19 precautions. "Great crowd-pleasers" are on tap, Bostwick said, recommending the foundation's Facebook page as a good resource for keeping up with the schedule.
"It's going to be beautiful weather. We have a great food vendor, and we really want people to come and enjoy the competition here," she said, adding that signs are in place to guide spectators approaching from Audubon Drive.
"There is a sign for spectator parking, and they can get out and ... walk around. They can bring what I call a soccer chair, and they'll see where people are sitting."
Plans are in place for action in four rings to have competition Friday through Sunday. A good guess, in terms of prime viewing time, is between 2 and 4 p.m., she added.
Riders from as far west as Texas and as far north as New Hampshire are part of this month's assembly. Some American-based Irish competitors are also on board, and possibly a few Canadians.
The footing at the Aiken facility is world-class, and the community itself is a magnet, in Bostwick's assessment. "There's wonderful options to stay, the restaurants, the town itself, the shopping ... so the combination of the two has really made for a win-win for everybody."
New, permanent stables are also a welcome aspect. That construction project, representing 160 stalls, was completed Sept. 5. "All the horses are in permanent stabling, and that's just great," Smith said.
At least two charitable causes are benefitting directly from this month's gathering: the Kisner Foundation's Tee Up to Read program and the Feeding America program, via the local Lambda Chi fraternity. Canned goods are being collected at the show office for Bruce's Field, at 931 Powderhouse Road.
Nicole Pioli, representing Great Oak Equine Assisted Programs, a local charity serving special-needs clientele around the Aiken-Augusta area, also acknowledged the foundation's activities. "Any time they host a horse show is a win for Aiken," she wrote.
Among others giving thanks for this month's festivities is J. David Jamison, president and CEO of the Aiken Chamber of Commerce. "Normally, we have the fall steeplechase in October, which did not happen this year. That would have brought in a lot of people," he said, acknowledging that the Bruce's Field gathering provides a welcome boost.
"Each horse brings in multiple people with them, and all those people have to eat. When they're not competing, they like to shop and have down time. They stay at hotels, and it all adds up to be a huge impact on the community," he added.
"Aiken County has the most horses of any county in South Carolina. Aiken County has the highest-value horses of any county in South Carolina," Jamison said. "The equine community does have a huge impact on our economy, but it also has an impact on our quality of life."
Among major boosters of this month's gathering are such names as Danny and Ron's Rescue, TownePlace Suites by Marriott, Aiken Saddlery, GGT Footing, Blanchard Equipment and Fairfield by Marriott.
The venue's namesake, the late Bruce Duchossois, bought the acreage in 2000. The foundation's website notes, "His dream was to nurture the property into South Carolina's premier equestrian facility yet maintain its historic character. Following the examples of stewardship and generosity by the generations of previous owners, and knowing that he might not live long enough to see his dream realized, Bruce created a foundation to ensure the long-term survival of his dream. The Aiken Horse Park Foundation is proud of Bruce's Field; its facilities that enable equestrian sport at its finest, but more importantly its character holding fast to the values of tradition and integrity."