The Aiken Horse Show, which starts tomorrow, April 4, at 9:00 AM, has been an Aiken tradition since 1916. The show was dreamed up by Louise Hitchcock as a grande finale to the winter season. It was a show for all the members of the “Winter Colony” who came down from the North to escape the cold and enjoy themselves and their horses in Aiken’s equestrian playground.
That first horse show, held on Saturday, March 18, was advertised as a “Gala Day – Society Event. Unexcelled Exhibition of Thoroughbred Horses.” Mrs. Hitchcock commissioned her own Southern Railway train to bring spectators from Augusta to Aiken to enjoy the festivities. The show was held in the horse show ring in the Woods, where it still is today. Automobiles then, as now, were not allowed in the Woods, but Mrs. Hitchcock decided to make horse show day an exception to that rule, and it is a tradition that lives on.
The first show, which featured 17 classes, was a huge hit, and it became an annual tradition. By the early 1920s, it was considered the highlight of the winter season. It grew to two days, and then three. It was traditionally held as a fundraiser, first for the Aiken Hospital and then for other worthy charities.
This photo, taken in the mid-1930s, shows Patricia Grace aboard one of her imported Irish hunters. She has just won a blue ribbon and a cup at the show. Patricia’s family, based in New York, owned a home on Grace Avenue, and her father, Russell Grace, was an accomplished polo player. She would go on to marry Alan Corey, Jr., one of the top polo players of the day, and they had three children, Patricia, Alan and Russell. Alan III still plays polo in Aiken and is on the board of directors of the Aiken Polo Club.
The photo is by Harry Freudy, who was the preeminent society and horse show photographer of his day. Originally based in New York City, he established a studio in Aiken in the 1920s and came down each winter to photograph the exploits of the Aiken Winter Colony. His exceptional photos provide a clear and revealing impression of those days gone by.