Aiken, South Carolina

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When horse people discover Aiken, they often feel that they have finally come home. The city, located halfway between Augusta, Georgia, and Columbia, South Carolina, is immersed in horse culture.

Downtown, the street signs are embellished with horse heads, restaurant walls display racing silks and polo photographs, and life-sized model horses grace city sidewalks, parks and patios. At lunchtime, people in boots and riding clothes are a common sight on the city streets. In restaurants, one often overhears fragments of horse-related conversation.

Aiken is not exclusively identified with any one particular equestrian sport. The area is well known for fox hunting, for polo and as a place to train young racehorses. However, in recent years the eventing community has also found Aiken. So have combined driving competitors. Spring horse shows draw entrants from near and far.

Trail and pleasure riders abound. The horse community is not limited to English pursuits either. Every winter, the Augusta Cutting Horse Futurity attracts hundreds of cutting enthusiasts, reining is growing and barrel racing has become a big sport.

Aiken’s greatest attraction is probably its atmosphere. The community here is friendly and welcoming. When asked to describe why they are so strongly drawn to the place, residents and visitors alike tend to remark on Aiken’s “small town feeling” combined with its “big city sophistication.” The downtown area boasts shops, boutiques and a remarkable selection of good restaurants. A few blocks away, the stately historic district is still largely unpaved, keeping the roads hoof-friendly.