Monday, March 25, 2013

Rites of Spring | 3/25/2013

The Aiken Triple Crown
 By Pam Gleason, Photography by Gary Knoll

When people in Aiken talk about the Triple Crown, they probably are not referring to the three jewels of Thoroughbred racing. Instead, they are more likely to be talking about the Aiken Triple Crown, three different equestrian events that take place on three successive Saturdays each spring. The action starts with The Aiken Trials, a day for young Thoroughbreds to race at the Aiken Training Track. Next comes the Aiken Steeplechase, a National Steeplechase Association sanctioned affair that takes over Ford Conger Field on the edge of the historic district. Finally, there is the Pacers and Polo match on Powderhouse Field, a polo game that benefits the University of South Carolina Aiken’s baseball team, the Pacers.

The Aiken Triple Crown has its roots back in the days of the old Winter Colony. In the early spring, when horsemen who came down for the winter prepared to pack up and move north again, they typically organized several days of competition in their various sports. The Aiken Horse show was one of the competitions. The others were mostly races – hunt races over fences, some for ladies only (the Diana Cup), flat races on the Aiken Training Track, races for mules and harness races on the Mile Track. There were also polo games, a polo pony show, dog shows, shooting competitions, and tennis and golf matches. Anything the Winter Colonists enjoyed doing over the winter could become a competition in the spring.

The Aiken Triple Crown itself came into being in 1971. In that year, the Aiken Chamber of Commerce teamed up with horsemen and supporters of equestrian events to establish the event. Originally, the Triple Crown included a card of harness races at the Mile Track (now McGhee’s Mile) on the first Saturday, followed by the Aiken Trials at the Training Track, and finishing with the Aiken Hunt Meet, which is now the Aiken Steeplechase. The idea was to bring the community together and give Aiken its own signature happenings. The first Triple Crown was a success, and the events soon became Aiken’s most important rites of spring.

This year, the Aiken Trials, which have been held every year since 1942, will be on Saturday, March 16 at the Aiken Training Track on Two Notch Road. The card calls for five races for 2-year-olds and maidens, and one race for older horses who are winners of a race. The young horses are generally animals that have been training at the track all winter long, and are taking their first racing steps in front of a crowd. Horses training in Aiken are very high caliber and often go on to run in some of America’s most prestigious races. This makes the event especially exciting. You can get closer to the horses at the Training Track than you can at a regular track, and you might get see a champion horse before he is famous.

Tickets are on sale at the Aiken Training Track Website: The cost is $10 for general admission and $75 for the Winners Circle Pavilion tent party. There are also some other events surrounding the trials, such as the popular “Breakfast at the Gallops” on Wednesday, March 13. The breakfast itself is at the Track Kitchen, and attendees have the chance to meet some trainers and learn more about how Thoroughbreds are trained while watching them at their morning work.
Tickets are $20 and benefit the Aiken Thoroughbred Hall of Fame and Museum.

The Aiken Steeplechase is the most popular event of the Triple Crown events, although this was not always the case. In fact, back in the beginning, organizers considered providing a lancing tournament in the morning as an added attraction because the steeplechase “traditionally draws the fewest number of spectators.” The hope was that “people would possibly remain for the afternoon of racing.” (The Aiken Standard, January 26, 1972, page 8a.)

There are no such problems today. In fact, the spring steeplechase is generally packed. All the railside parking spots are reserved years in advance, and the only way to get one is to enter a lottery for the few spaces that may become available each year. There is a well-attended party in the tent near the finish line, and the infield is always crowded with spectators and parties. The infield also has a wide selection of vendors, as well as booths for various charitable organizations. Estimates of the crowd vary from 20,000 to 30,000 or more, making it easily the most popular equestrian event in Aiken. The main attraction is the card of NSA sanctioned races on the flat and over hurdles, featuring the Imperial Cup. There is also an annual carriage parade, put on by the Aiken Driving Club.

The Aiken Steeplechase is on Saturday, March 23 at Ford Conger Field at the intersection of Powder House and Audubon roads. Gates open at 9:30, with the first race at 1 p.m. General admission tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the gate. Tickets to the guarantor tent are also available, as are tickets to the annual Spring Gala, held in the tent on the night before the races. For more information, visit or call 803-648-9641.

The third jewel in the crown, the Pacers and Polo match, is the first official polo game of the spring season, and will take place on March 30. The match is organized by the Aiken Polo Club at the club’s Powder House Polo Field, just across the street from the steeplechase. Usually, the game, which is at the 8-12 goal level, pits a team sponsored by Biddle Realty against one sponsored by Burger King, though last year, Designer Builders was a sponsor. An important benefit for USC Aiken athletics, Pacers and Polo generally attracts an enthusiastic crowd. This year, for the first time in a long while, the game does not conflict with the Aiken Horse Show in the Woods, and so is likely to be especially well attended.

Tickets are $8 in advance or $10 at the gate ($5 for children) and will be available from USC Aiken and at various places around town, such as All Star Rents, the Odell Weeks Center, and Floyd and Green. There is also a hospitality tent with an open bar and lunch catered by Outback Steakhouse. Tickets to the tent are $50 per person if you buy them between March 1 and March 15, and $75 per person after March 15. For more information, visit

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in The Aiken Horse. It is reprinted here by permission.

Friday, January 18, 2013

New Challenges | 2/18/2013

Jodi Hemry Eventing

by Pam Gleason 

“Each horse is different,” says Jodi Hemry. “When I’m training a horse, I try to tailor the individual program to the horse and do what works for him – something that works on one horse isn’t necessarily going to work on another one. I really try to listen to the horse, and do what he is telling me.”

In June of this year, Jodi, an event rider and trainer formerly based in Ridge Spring, started her own business, Jodi Hemry Eventing LLC. Her operation is currently located at Bridle Creek Equestrian in Aiken, adjoining Red Oak Farm, which is owned by Phillip Dutton, the Olympic eventer. There, she is giving lessons, working with horses for clients and training her own competition horses.

“A big part of my business is selling horses,” she says. Jodi takes in sales horses for training, and has discovered that she has a knack for finding them the right homes. Her success as a matchmaker relies on the same philosophy of listening to the horse and finding him the right job.

“I’m not just limited to eventing,” she says, noting that one of the great things about being in Aiken is that there are so many different disciplines in town. “I might get a horse that has evented, but that doesn’t really enjoy running around a cross country course. That horse might do well in the hunter/jumper ring – he might be happy to jump four feet all day long. Sometimes I get a horse that is a really lovely mover, but isn’t all that enthusiastic about jumping. I might sell that horse as a dressage horse.”

Whatever the discipline, Jodi is always thrilled when she has made a good match, which relies as much on finding the right rider as on finding the right job for the horse. There is a little bit of mystery in this: the horse has to be suited to doing what the rider is hoping to do, but a good match always depends on chemistry.

“There are times when a rider tells me about what they have done and what they are looking for in a horse, and I’m not sure if they will get along with a particular horse or not. But then they come out and ride, and you can see right away that it is going to work. They just click, and you know it’s going to be a really good pair. You can see it on the rider’s face and you can see it on the horse’s face. That makes me really happy.”

Jodi, who is originally from Montana, was first exposed to eventing when she was in college at Colorado State. She graduated with a degree in business, and then one of her riding instructors encouraged her to pursue a career in horses. She took a position in Massachusetts as a working student with Torrance Watkins, a member of the 1984 gold medal-winning U.S. eventing team. From there, she went to work for Bruce Mandeville, a Canadian Olympic eventer who spent his winters in Aiken. Bruce brought her to Aiken in 2003, and she liked it so much she never left.

Today, in addition to selling horses, Jodi also competes and coaches her own students. She has had considerable success in both arenas. One of her students, Amy Boyle, was the United States Eventing Association Preliminary Amateur event rider of the year in 2011, on her horse Skip to My Lew.

“I really enjoy teaching,” says Jodi, who focuses on imparting good basic skills and on giving her students confidence in their abilities. “When my students have a successful event, or when they move up a level or jump something for the first time, it’s a real sense of accomplishment. It’s always great when they do something they didn’t think they could do.”

In her own riding, Jodi works with Kim Severson, an Olympic medalist and a regular on America’s international teams. Jodi has brought horses along to the two-star level and hopes to compete in the Advanced division in the future. In the short term, she is focused on getting her horses ready for the upcoming season, and expects to compete in one- and two-star events in 2013. She says that she loves eventing for its challenges, as well as for the fact that it produces wellrounded horses.

“I really like that the horse is trained in more than one discipline,” she says. “You get the dressage training, which is the basics. You get the galloping for the cross country, and then the technical skill that you need for the stadium. I think the horses enjoy the cross training, and I think they benefit from it. It’s challenging, but I enjoy the challenge.”

Jodi Hemry Eventing LLC currently has a number of horses for sale, and has room for a few more students. Jodi says she would like to take in more horses for training or for sale, and that she expects the market for event horses to be good this winter. She is looking forward to a busy season in Aiken doing what she loves: teaching, training, competing and just being around event horses.

For more information, visit the website: www.

This article is copyrighted and first appeared in The Aiken Horse. It is reprinted here by permission.