Horse Lovers’ Country
Horses are much-loved in the Carolinas. Equestrian centers, schools, communities and towns nurture relationships with these creatures. And the parties!
When Bonnie joined the family, she brought a new element of love and adventure into our midst. The thoroughbred-quarter horse cross loved to jump – and swim. Bonnie and my niece would head down the trail to a nearby pond, and the two would swim together. This horse was no pushover. If she didn’t like you, she had a tendency to rub along the fence, as if to encourage your quick dismount. But, she flourished, and we blossomed having her around us. She was a beauty.
It’s strong in the Carolinas and with good reason. The weather and geography are friendly to horses and they’ve been a part of our lives for so many generations that you can find active associations, world-class events and an appreciation of these natural human companions, even if you don’t own a Trigger or Mr. Ed of your own.
Fact is, for some, being around horses offers the best of all worlds. If you’re lucky (or smart) enough to live in Aiken, Camden or Blythewood in SC, or Pinehurst, Tryon or Southern Pines in NC, you are invited to all the equestrian events which have a strong tradition. Remember, Carolina folks love a party and partying around horses and dogs is as good as it gets.
Another option is to live on the Outer Banks, where wild mustangs evoke a sense of wonder and joy. That’s an entirely different experience – more on their terms than yours – but nonetheless satisfying and rewarding, especially when you remember that they arrived here via shipwrecks from Spanish vessels.
And then there’s the marsh tacky, a unique strain/breed of Colonial Spanish horse found only in South Carolina and is one of the most endangered horse breeds in the world. They once roamed freely by the hundreds through the South Carolina Sea Islands and Lowcountry. Today, there are about 400 marsh tackies left. The breed was named the South Carolina State Heritage Horse in 2010.
During the early days, horses were necessary for transportation and to help around the farm. The equine love affair strengthened when the rich and famous realized the value of wintering their precious steeds in the Carolinas, and built fitting homes and estates for themselves. Due to the dedication of many of the winter residents, as well as landowners and concerned citizens, there are protected open spaces, riding schools and centers, trails which allow horses, and people who nurture and care for them.
Carolina Horse Towns
Aiken, SC: The equestrian culture in this Southern town goes back to the late 1800s, when wealthy families discovered Aiken’s near-perfect climate for people and horses. Since then, they’ve kept coming. The town has done its part by keeping a number of roads unpaved, and promoting a horse-friendly lifestyle. In addition to thoroughbred training and racing, plus a number of events throughout the year, polo has become a significant (and growing) part of Aiken’s fascination with horses.
You can even discover the magic of training thoroughbred racehorses with a behind-the-scenes tour of the Aiken Training Track, which puts you close to the horses, trainers and exercise riders. Definitely camera-worthy.
With boarding, professional trainers, a myriad of equestrian paths, and Aiken’s Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum, folks who enjoy being around horses will love this town. If you happen to own one of these beauties, this may be worth consideration for making a more permanent commitment.
And then there’s Hitchcock Woods. It’s one of the largest urban forests in the nation, with about 2,100 acres of forestland resources. Today, equestrians, hikers, dog walkers and joggers enjoy the 70 miles of sandy trails that provide access to the stunning variety of ecosystems in the Hitchcock Woods.
Camden, SC: About 15 miles beyond Northeast Columbia, Camden has a strong equestrian heritage and culture. Known as the “Steeplechase Capital of the World,” Camden is home to the Carolina Cup Steeplechase Races in the spring, which now include the Marion DuPont Scott Colonial Cup races as well. This is one of the most highly respected and attended steeplechase race meets in the country.
Held annually at the famed Springdale Race Course, the event is known as much for the tailgating and party atmosphere as for the magnificent horse-and-rider teams who compete on the Springdale Race Course.
Along with the Carolina Cup Race Headquarters, the National Steeplechase Museum also is located at Springdale. It had its beginning in the British Isles, and evolved in America. Now, it’s the only museum in the United States dedicated solely to steeplechasing.
Camden also is home to the second oldest polo field in the U.S., the South Carolina Equine Park (SCEP). This world-class 40-acre center is specifically designed for a full range of activities, breeds and users such as hunter/jumpers, quarter horses, paint horses, dressage, ranch horse shows, breed shows and youth events. The park is home to a second covered arena.
These folks love horses so much, they have attracted the international EQUUS Film Festival to Camden. This outstanding world-class festival highlights and awards the diverse and creative efforts of those who artistically pay homage to the horse. There’s also a group – Fast Women – who are investing in their own racehorses and follow, around the world, the training and progress of each.
And they give back. Nature’s View offers a therapy program that involves “horses helping people and people helping horses.”
Camden is also a town full of history, friendly people, and great shopping and dining. Great for a visit, or a lifetime of fun.
Asheville, NC: Let’s begin where America’s version of royalty used to ride their horses. Biltmore Equestrian Center invites folks to bring their horses and explore five different 10-30 mile loops; several trails include optional jumps – the same paths used by the Vanderbilts and their guests at the turn of the century. There are wide, well-marked trails through pristine forests, green pastures, and along the banks of the French Broad River. Guided trail rides using Biltmore horses are also available.
Asheville School has a strong equestrian program for students who board, or attend as day students. Students may board their horses, or ride the horses that belong to the school. Their equestrian staff is very experienced in training and teaching riding. The surrounding area contains small horse farms and stables for boarding and riding.
Pinehurst and Southern Pines, NC: These North Carolina Sandhills are known worldwide for golf, but equine culture is a strong component of the lifestyle as well. The area has an ideal terrain and climate for both, and there’s an active society of hunters, jumpers, dressage and other events for those who ride, and those who watch.
The Carolina Horse Park Foundation (CHP) is a 250-acre nationally recognized, premiere equine competition venue located in Hoke County, NC. The Park is dedicated to the preservation of open space for equestrian and recreational purposes. It offers multi-disciplined capabilities suitable for championship level equine competitions.
The Pinehurst Harness Track is a 111-acre equestrian facility that has been a winter training center for standardbred horses since 1915. Spring through fall is kept busy with events such as dressage shows, hunter and jumper shows, annual dog show and polo matches.
There are horse farms where future champions are bred and trained, as well as small estates where horses are pastured nearby. Others prefer to board their animals, and still others enjoy watching the sport without the ownership responsibilities.
Tryon Horse Country, NC: The foothills that include both Carolinas offer rolling meadows and a temperate year-round climate which attracts equine enthusiasts from everywhere. Between these small towns are horse farms, boarding stables and lots of equine events, programs and classes. The Foothills Equestrian Nature Center (FENCE) enjoys a reputation as one of the finest facilities of its kind, and this 380-acre nature education and horse-centric organization even has a therapeutic riding program for children and adults with physical and developmental difficulties.
Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC) is a grand new facility and hosts events frequently. The FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2018 will be held there, from 10 to 23 September 2018.
Tryon is just minutes away from the charming community of Saluda, and folks find it easy to enjoy a taste of the Blue Ridge Mountains without venturing too far into the hills. The equine culture is friendly and accepting, and attracts folks from everywhere who love the easy lifestyle in the foothills. (More information about Tryon under personal stories.)
Mount Vintage, SC: Ginger Fox Connell is building a home and barn for herself and her horses at Mount Vintage Plantation golf community, in North Augusta. A lifelong lover of the equestrian lifestyle, she’s been keeping her two horses at the horse-friendly, private community since 2009. “I’ve been riding the trails within their 3,000 acres for years and made so many good friends along the way,” she shared. Now, with a strong, supportive (and friendly) community, she’s decided to have her home, barn, horses, pony and donkey, and friends close by.
Her hooved babies are all rescues. Torrent, an off-track thoroughbred, and Cooper, a Dutch warmblood, have been with her the longest. They came from Equine Rescue of Aiken. And then she rescued a Haflinger pony, Cleo, from an organization in Virginia. Clover, the donkey, also came to her via Equine Rescue.
“Clover is like a guard-dog for the rest,” she laughed. “He looks after everyone.”
When she decided to make the move, Ms. Connell purchased eight acres. She is eagerly anticipating having the crowd together. “I’ve met so many great friends,” she explained. “I’ve traveled on riding trips to Europe with my friends, and we ride every weekend.”
And there’s one more appealing aspect of living at Mount Vintage. “I am close to my work in Augusta, and I’m also just a short trailer ride to Aiken. There’s such a common bond among horse lovers. Frequently, we’ll go to Aiken and take our horses for a long, lovely walk through Hitchcock Woods. It’s cool and perfect for horses and people. We all just love it.”
She attributes some of the horse-friendly culture to the climate. “I can ride year-round and that’s a huge benefit,” she exclaimed. “This is a very friendly horse state.”
Tryon, NC: About 15 years ago, Libbie Johnson arrived in the Tryon area via Wilmington, Charlotte, Tampa and New York. A life-long horse lover, and member of a number of equine boards and organizations, she currently serves on the North Carolina Equine Advisory Board, and showcases the area through her website, TryonHorseCountry.org .
“North Carolina is one of the top ten states in the U.S. for equine activity,” she explained. She enthusiastically promotes Tryon Horse Country, with its three horse show venues (Harmon Field, FENCE, and Tryon International Equestrian Center) as well as the many events held there year-round.
“There are 29 horse organizations in our area – insane, but everyone gets along,” she explained. “There are 250 miles of horse trails which are all on private land. We have activities for every horse lover: dressage, fox hunting, jumping, eventing, Western sport, and carriage driving, among others. Polo has even arrived and people are enjoying it as well.”
Tryon Horse Country includes the towns of Tryon, Columbus, Mill Spring and Saluda in North Carolina, and Landrum, Campobello and Gowansville, south of the state line. “Found” by Michigan native Carter Brown in 1917, it’s been welcoming horses, horse lovers, and new residents for the last 100 years.
Mrs. Johnson says that one of the draws for the many retirees who have moved to the area is the trails, where people can take their horses out whenever they like.
“In addition to all of the trails and the events, we’ve found the friendliest, warmest and most inclusive horse communities you will ever find. We just love it here.”
Want a horse in your family?
Florence Humane Society
Equine Rescue of Aiken
Hope for Horses
For further information on horse communities and equine information for the Carolinas, look for local equine publications and websites. Southeast Equine Monthly and Southern Horseman are two other regional publications. Check out local chambers of commerce and the following Websites:
South Carolina Department of Agriculture
North Carolina Department of Agriculture
South Carolina Horsemen’s Council
North Carolina Horse Council
Tryon Horse Country
Tryon International Equestrian Center (TIEC)
Foothills Equestrian Nature Center (FENCE) – Tryon, N.C.
Polo in Aiken, S.C.
Pinehurst Harness Track
The Marsh Tacky Association