Horsetown USA: Three American Cities With Horses in Their DNA
No matter what your discipline is, chances are you can strike up a conversation with any horseman. We might have different saddles and ideas about the length of a horse’s mane, but we’ve got similar passions when you come right down to it, and similar needs, too, like green-space preservation, or access to a variety of feed and farm suppliers.
In some spots, the benefits of horsemen sharing their needs has resulted in some pretty special places. They’ve got beaches and mountains, corrals and polo fields, but there’s one thing these three American towns have in common: they’re built around the horse.
Aiken, South Carolina
Aiken, once a sleepy Southern town, became a watering-hole for the wealthy in the late nineteenth century. By the early decades of the twentieth century, it was a hub for polo and horse racing. Today, horsemen with every sort of tack populate Aiken, and the town has evolved into an equestrian paradise, including 70 miles of riding trails within the 2,100 acre Hitchcock Woods forest preserve, within the city limits. A traffic light features a signal change button at rider height, so that equestrians don’t have to dismount to cross Whiskey Road.
And the show and social calendar intermingle, so that everything from steeplechasing and exhibition racing to polo, fox-hunting, eventing, and rodeo riding is on offer regularly. Visit Aiken in March for the Aiken Trials, when young Thoroughbreds who have been training all winter are given their first taste of racing, in a spectacular event that brings out 10,000 tailgaters for an elegant afternoon of sport.
In Norco, the horse is just as important as he was before the advent of motor vehicles. More than 400 acres of parkland and more than 100 miles of riding trails lend themselves to the residents who prefer to make their way to town on horseback, and once they’re there, the handy hitching post out front of many businesses lets them tie up their horses, Olden Days-style, while the riders become shoppers and diners for a few hours.
Norco has the slogan of “HorseTown USA” right on their welcome sign, and the city streets are truly lined with bridle paths: this was a city that didn’t accidentally become a mecca for equestrians: it was built that way! The local equestrian center has a busy calendar with barrel racing on weeknights, gymkhanas, team roping, breed shows, and hunter/jumper shows on the weekends, and open riding sessions during weekdays. In Norco, the horse is part of everyday life on a scale not seen anywhere else in the country.
If you love your horses, but you need your beach-time, Wellington is the answer. Located near West Palm Beach and its Bahama-blue Atlantic waters, Wellington is an equestrian “village” with trails, arenas, polo fields, and palm trees. Just bring your checkbook if you’re thinking of house-shopping; your neighbors will include Bill Gates and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, at least seasonally. Their daughters, along with thousands of other equestrians, spend months out of the year competing in the Winter Equestrian Festival, a three-month horse show extravaganza for hunter/jumpers.
Not into jumping? Wellington Classic Dressage’s busy show calendar has recently been joined by the Global Dressage Festival. And Wellington was founded on polo, with more than 60 polo fields in play during the winter months, drawing the greatest players from around the world with their ponies and mallets.
The more than 12,000 horses that are in residence, at least during the winter, has prompted the Village of Wellington to designate special equestrian zoning, preserving equestrian properties against high-dollar subdividers and keeping public and private equestrian trails, used to access training facilities from home stables, safe from closure.
Visit Wellington anytime between January and March for a taste of the equestrian high-life (and a trip to the beach!).