When the Aiken Charity Horse Show wrapped up last Sunday after nearly two weeks at Bruce's Field, it produced more than jumps and winners in competition.
It sold Aiken to those who traveled from other states on what we already know about Aiken.
"They find it to be a low-key event where the atmosphere is casual, but excellent," said Tara Bostwick, Aiken Horse Park vice president and treasurer.
Events like this are what sells Aiken to the horse community around the South and beyond. The show was a huge success with everyone involved and those who visited.
"We were thrilled; we feel this was the best year," Bostwick said. "The exhibitors all told us this is their favorite show."
While some may look at horse jumping as something built for the elite upper class, in Aiken we see it as what the city likes to think of itself – it has a hometown feel where you can be comfortable wearing the fitted riding jacket and white shirt, as long as your boots are off.
Because of that casual appeal, it leads to success in the cash box, too. The events raised about $30,000 and that money is going to Great Oak Therapeutic Riding Center, which offers equine-assisted activities that promote the physical, emotional and psychological health of individuals with special needs.
"I am over-the-top thrilled to have been chosen as the sole charity this year," said Wendy O'Brien, chairman of the board of Great Oak. "Our students depend on financial support, and they would not be able to benefit from all we have to offer without the generosity and support of The Aiken Horse Park. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Great Oak in addition to receiving the money, the center will get another benefit from the Horse Park as Great Oak has been selected to host the Special Olympics State Equestrian Show this weekend at Bruce's Field.
"For us to support and champion these athletes, it's a wonderful feel-good opportunity," Bostwick said.
The equestrian events we have here in Aiken take place at various locations – like polo at Whitney Field or New Bridge, harness races at McGhees' Mile or the Aiken Trials at the Aiken Training Track.
But there's no doubt Bruce's Field is the centerpiece for it all, for eventing, steeplechase, shows and Special Olympics.
These past two weeks we saw cars, trucks and trailers with Wisconsin, North Carolina and Florida license plates going to the show; and that can only mean a boost for the economy of Aiken, and we have a major selling point to have them keep coming back.
"We have an atmosphere that exudes hospitality," Bostwick said.