Drivers Come To AikenBy Pam Gleason
This fall the American Driving Society is coming to Aiken, where it will be holding its annual meetings and convention from September 26 through 29. The board of directors' meetings, which will be at the Willcox and will address important society business, are slated to take up an hour on Thursday and most of the day on Friday. There is also a members' meeting on Saturday afternoon and a few more sessions on Sunday morning.
The remainder of the time, meeting attendees will be able to take part in clinics, seminars and organized drives in and around Aiken. There will also be receptions, lunches, cocktail parties and the annual awards dinner on Saturday night at the Green Boundary Club. In addition, the United States Lipizzan Federation, which is an ADS breed partner, is co-locating their annual North American Lipizzan Symposium with the ADS meeting. Members of the USLF will have their own business meeting at Newberry Hall on Friday, and join the ADS activities for the rest of the weekend.
"We're hoping for around 150 to 200 people," says Susie Koos Acker who is the executive director of the ADS. According to Susie, quite a number of people are coming from far afield, many of them arriving with horses and carriages. People are shipping in from as far as Vermont and Florida, and everywhere in between. Susie herself will be traveling here on a two-day trip from Wisconsin, along with her Welsh ponies: a pair and a single. She is also bringing a marathon vehicle and a pleasure vehicle.
"I don't think anyone else is coming from quite as far away as I am," she says. "But our registration doesn't close until September 6, so you never know. People are really excited about the meetings being in Aiken. That's why so many people are coming from so far away. We're really trying to showcase Aiken as a tourist destination for carriage drivers."
The ADS moves its annual convention around the country, which is a great way for drivers to familiarize themselves with different regions. This year, they wanted to meet somewhere in the Southeast region. Aiken, with its vibrant driving community, was a natural choice. People from the organization came for a site visit in February, and Peggy Dils, who is the president of the Aiken Driving Club, helped give them the Aiken tour.
"I showed them the sights and the possibilities and they were very impressed," says Peggy. "And then the City of Aiken couldn't have been August-September 2013 The Aiken Horse 11 better or nicer or more accommodating."
Elizabeth Harm who is tourism supervisor for the City of Aiken, and Lisa Hall, who is supervisor of the Department of Parks and Recreation, were eager to help make Aiken the destination of choice. In fact, they even helped the ADS get a grant from the city to help advertise the meeting in order to make it a highlight of the fall season for the driving community nationwide. Every year Aiken gives out a number of grants to help promote the city as a place to visit. These grants are funded by an accommodations tax, which is assessed on hotel stays throughout the city. The a-tax money is used to encourage more people to come to Aiken, where they will stay in hotels, patronize restaurants and enjoy Aiken's downtown boutiques. The grant that the ADS received enabled the organization to do more advertising, and they expect that this will pay off in terms of the number of people who come to meetings, as well as in enthusiasm generated in the driving world.
"Aiken has been amazingly helpful and welcoming," says Susie. "It's been better than any place I have ever held a convention in my seven year tenure with the ADS. With the extra advertising we have been able to do, we hope to encourage more people to come to the meetings, both people who members of the ADS and those who are not. The clinics and drives are open to members and non-members, and there are sessions that will be interesting for people who drive, and for people who don't drive but would like to know more about it."
For instance, there will be a featured session on teaching horses from other disciplines to pull a carriage. The clinic, which takes place over three days (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) will be presented by Jeff Morse from Massachusetts, a trainer, ADS board member and founding member of some of the largest Morgan horse organizations on the East Coast.
The clinic is scheduled to take place at the Aiken Training Track. There will be two demonstration horses, both of them Lipizzans from North Carolina, which have been introduced to driving, but are not yet finished carriage horses.
"We don't want to portray training a horse to drive as a quick thing," says Susie. "Driving is a dedication, and it takes a while to do it. The seminar is about identifying what skills the horse already has and discovering the places where he is going to need more education."
Other activities include a pleasure drive at the Silver Bluff Audubon Center on Friday morning, a carriage parade through the streets of Aiken on Saturday morning and a drive through the Hitchcock Woods on Sunday. In addition there will be an "ask the judge" live demonstration on Saturday afternoon conducted by Shelly Temple and Muffy Seaton, both nationally known competitors and judges. Attendees who sign up for these sessions will be able to drive in front of the judges and get feedback on how they are doing. Drivers and spectators will be invited to ask questions, so that everyone will come away with a deeper understanding of what the judge sees.
"We want people to know that the meetings and events are open to anyone who has an interest in driving," says Susie. "And we'd like to encourage people to attend. You don't have to come for the whole meeting if that doesn't fit into your schedule - there is an "a la carte" option.
"We'd also like to let people know that driving is available for you. If offers an opportunity for a change. Maybe a change in life, maybe a change in passion. One of the neat things about driving is that if you are a person who has always been used to big horses, hunter/jumpers, for example, and maybe you have come to a time in your life where you can't physically handle a big animal like that, if you choose driving, you can go down to a pony and drive and still enjoy the horses, the equestrian community and the friendships that horses bring. Driving gives you the opportunity to do horses on a smaller scale."
After the ADS chose Aiken for its meetings, they enlisted Peggy Dils to be the local coordinator, and the whole Aiken Driving Club to offer support services. Elizabeth Harm and Lisa Hall continued to help with logistics, and many local volunteers are giving their time as well. Peggy, who helped design the program of clinics, says that she is excited that they driving world is coming in Aiken.
"I really wanted them to discover Aiken and have a good time here," she says, "If people are interested in driving, whether they are new drivers or more experienced drivers, we're going to be offering them a chance to walk away with something they didn't know before they came. I think it's going to be a great weekend."
For more information, visit www.americandrivingsociety.org or call 608-237-7382. Registration closes on September 6, but some sessions may be available on a walk-in basis. If you are not a driver, don't miss the carriage parade on Saturday, September 28. It is scheduled to run from 9:00 a.m. until noon.
This article is copyrighted and first appeared in The Aiken Horse. It is reprinted here by permission.