Heart of the Horse



Aiken, SC —Aiken Center for the Arts, EQUUS INTERNATIONAL® Film Festival (EIFF), and Horse, Human and nature-William Kriegel Foundation have harnessed their horsepower to present a unique conference focused on HeART of the Horse, April 23-26, in Aiken.  This is a groundbreaking new collaborative event, celebrating the art of community and the equine spirit. Caroline Gwinn, executive director of Aiken Center for the Arts says “We hope to bring diverse groups together focused on the horse-human relationship for discovery and awareness, to achieve new understanding of the significance of the horse-human relationship and bond we share in so many ways – from equine therapy to performance, showing to healing.”  Janet Rose, founder and director of EQUUS INTERNATIONAL, adds “The horse is a powerful, life-changing force and this conference seeks to celebrate and engage — through films, exhibitions, dialogue, demonstrations, and workshops….giving us all a chance to learn from each other and be inspired.”

HeART of the Horse will present a wide variety of award winning horse films for all ages and interests and filmmakers will be on hand to share insights and stories with audiences, along with dynamic speakers from throughout the horse world, and artists to present their works, helping to make this an unforgettable event you don’t want to miss.  Here’s a sneak peek of what attendees can look forward to.

HeART of the Horse will feature award-winning films from EQUUS INTERNATIONAL 2019 including “Riding with thisAbilities,” by Matthew Handal, which followed a therapeutic riding program in New York City over a 10-year period giving us an inside look at the journey of the young riders as they advance and grow beyond their physical challenges, through their relationship with horses. That film spawned the birth of Gallop NYC.  A co-founder of this exceptional program, Alicia Kershaw, will be a guest speaker at the Aiken Conference. Following this theme, participants will hear from 22-year old Sydney Collier, a Para-Olympian, headed for the Tokyo Games.  Her’s is an unforgettable story of inspiration and exceptional achievements, in the face of nearly insurmountable odds, all she says, because of her love for horses and the bond she has built with them. Bringing into focus what is happening locally, Great Oak and PATH international region 3 instructor of the year, Eva Finnan, will join the panel discussion and demonstrate a therapeutic riding lesson.

Another special guest – filmmaker and FEI Rider through the Grand Prix, is Ashley Mancuso, who among her manyaccomplishments, made the award-winning short film and music video”Cobra – Wild to World Champion.” The short documentary chronicles Marsha Hartford-Sapp’s transformation of this wild mustang, Cobra, into an upper level dressage horse and USEF Horse of the Year.  Ashley Mancuso will be in Aiken to talk about her documentary along with sharing her expertise in yoga.  Ashley will present a workshop, Yoga on Horseback, and registrants for the conference will be able to participate on a first-come, first-serve basis.  Cobra and Marsha Hartford-Sapp are tentatively scheduled to join us for this first-time conference.

From California to Aiken crowds will cheer for this film, “Wild – Goliath and Red Lady,” about two horses who are reunited after being captured in the wild and placed into separate holding pens.  The short film is by Clare Staples, who left a life in Hollywood to dedicate herself to America’s wild horses and established a sanctuary for wild horses, called Skydog Ranch.  Another tentative, (as of this publishing,) is special guest and featured speaker Kate Tweedy, whose family owned Secretariat.  2020 is the 50thanniversary of the Triple Crown champion’s birth.

Inspiring stories and films continue with a Montana cowboy, filmmaker and author, who has traveled the world on horseback in search of the best stories to tell.  Author, filmmaker and accomplished horseman, Lex Hames, former national director of film and video for Ducks Unlimited, will present a work-in-progress film,” A Cowboy in China,” based on his father’s real-life experiences in China during WWII, now in development, as well as his multi-generational novel, Heaven on Earth, based on the saga of his ranching family’s immigration from Scotland to Texas to final settlement in Montana.

The gallery walls of Aiken Center for the Arts will feature a juried exhibition from the American Academy of Equine Art, along with a photographic exhibition, “Silent Witness,” by acclaimed Aiken photographer, Shelly Marshall Schmidt. “Silent Witness” is a visual essay of the life-changing relationships between horses, veterans, and survivors of war. Films and panels will explore the horse-military veteran bond; innovative new programs that pair prison inmates with once wild mustangs and other programs that work to heal both horse and human.

“This conference is a true collaboration between three organizations that believe in the spirit of the horse, the horse-human relationship, and the transformative power of community” according to Caroline Gwinn, executive director of Aiken Center for the Arts, Janet Rose, founder/director of EIFF, and director of Development and Communications for Horse, Human and nature-William Kriegel Foundation.  Janet and Caroline are unanimous when they say “It’s a partnership of hearts and minds — we share in the missions of our organizations and purpose of this event. We hope it will be a gathering of great artists and horse-lovers, creating memories that will stay with audiences long after the event is over.”

Giving Aiken an early preview of one of 2020 EQUUS INTERNATIONAL Film Festival’s entries: “Desert Flight” will have a special Aiken premier at HeART of the Horse.  Directed by John Azoni, and starring riders Ashlee Bond, Rich Fellers, and Mandy Porter, this film is a real-life look at the bond between horses and humans from all walks of life, and why they dedicate so much of their lives to the equestrian lifestyle. Desert Flight is an Official Selection of the 2020 EQUUS INTERNATIONAL Film Festival, which will have a full festival event in Montana September 10-12.  (www.desertflightmovie.com).