The horse industry is one facet of South Carolina agriculture that is garnering more attention these days, due to the state’s world-class horses, horsemen and events.
Take Quarter Horse trainer Jay Starnes of Summerton, who recently became the first trainer in U.S. history to earn more than $1 million in show winnings. His phenomenal career started just eight years ago with a $250 win at a show in Clemson and culminated last October with a $50,000 check from a master’s class win at the AQHA Congress.
Jay, who grew up in the horse business, pursued his own career and is now considered one of the top young trainers in the country. He and his wife Kristy have clients from as far away as Australia.
In another discipline, Liza Towell Boyd of Camden is acknowledged the best hunter rider in the country, and her horse, Brunello, was recently named Horse of the Year. In 2013, Liza won the prestigious $170,000 U.S. Hunter-Jumper Association International Hunter Derby and followed that achievement a month later with a win at the World Champion Hunter Rider Professional Finals at the Kentucky Horse Park. The competition required the top six riders in the country to compete on horses they had never ridden.
Liza is the winner of 21 International USHJA derbies. Her mounts Brunello and Quatro are owned by Janet Peterson of Landrum and Liza’s parents, Jack and Lisa Towell of Finally Farm.
“These are serious athletes,” Liza says. “Training horses is not a 9 to 5 job; it’s seven days a week. We work out a schedule for them about a year in advance.”
Another world-renowned South Carolina horseman is Cot Campbell of Aiken, president of Dogwood Stables. In last year’s Preakness, his Palace Malice cruised home to a win that had “the people of Aiken dancing in the streets,” Campbell says. Known for his charm and wit, Cot hit upon the idea of spreading the cost of a racehorse among several owners – and syndication was born. Cot was inducted into the Thoroughbred Association Hall of Fame in 1996.
From South Carolina’s heritage horse, the Marsh Tacky, to the carriage horses of Charleston, to the world’s richest steeplechase – The Colonial Cup held in Camden each fall – horses are a vibrant part of the state’s economy and its history.