The Aiken Horse Park Foundation has a lot to be grateful for this Thanksgiving.
Even though the novel coronavirus pandemic has disrupted many plans in 2020, nearly 20 events have been held at the foundation’s Bruce’s Field and more are scheduled before the year ends in a record-setting run for the horse show facility on Powderhouse Road.
Earlier this week, two Horse Park Foundation officers – President Jack Wetzel and Vice President/Treasurer Tara Bostwick – revealed that the nonprofit would be receiving a major donation in the future.
Wetzel has included in his will a $3 million gift that will be added to the foundation’s existing endowment.
“We are overwhelmed by Jack’s generosity,” said Bostwick of the bequest.
Accomplished horseman Bruce Duchossois, Wetzel’s life partner, spearheaded the effort to create the foundation in 2013.
His dream was to develop a state-of-the-art equestrian center, which also had an old-fashioned feel to it, on more than 60 acres near downtown Aiken.
But Duchossois, a member of the National Show Hunter Hall of Fame, didn’t get to see his vision become a reality because he died in July 2014.
The first horse shows were held at Bruce’s Field, which was named in Duchossois’ honor, the following year.
“I am so honored to help perpetuate this wonderful gift that Bruce has left us all,” said Wetzel in a Horse Park Foundation news release. “Aiken embraced us both in the mid-1980s when we first made our home here. Like Bruce, I wanted to show my appreciation to my adopted home that will not only have a significant impact on the equestrian community, but also lay the groundwork for others to follow.”
Elaborating on that prepared statement, Wetzel told the Aiken Standard that “the main thing for me is to help Bruce’s Field stay the way it is and this is a way that it can be done.
“I just wanted to follow in Bruce’s footsteps and also help make sure that the (Horse Park Foundation’s) board doesn’t have to worry about funds,” Wetzel added.
At first, the foundation’s plan was to focus on its two Aiken Charity Horse Shows for hunters and jumpers in May. But its schedule of events quickly expanded.
The number of other hunter/jumper shows grew, and dressage shows were added to the schedule.
In 2019, the Horse Park Foundation launched the $50,000 LiftMaster Grand-Prix Eventing showcase, and its first two editions attracted Olympic-caliber riders.
“When you start a place like this, you want people to enjoy it and come back,” Wetzel said. “Usually it takes a lot of years to establish yourself in the equestrian community, but we have had tremendous success in a short amount of time. It has been more than any of us ever envisioned."
In addition, Bostwick said, the events at Bruce’s Field have added millions of dollars to Aiken’s economy.
But because of the facility’s popularity with equestrians and its influence on the community’s financial state, there is “a certain responsibility on our part and we are very conscious of that,” Bostwick said. “Jack’s gift really will help us plan for the future, set budgets and goals, and remain true to our mission.”
The donation, she believes, also could help the Horse Park Foundation obtain additional high-level financial support.
“The precedent has been established,” Bostwick said. “Jack has set the bar. We hope that others will follow suit and help us grow our endowment.”