A Conference Celebrating the Art of Community & the Equine Spirit

APRIL 23-26, 2020

HeArt of the Horse 2020 has been postponed to 2021 due to international health concerns. HeArt of the Horse was conceived as a community event in the simplest and in the broadest sense of that word, and so, it is our community – local, national and even international, that we are thinking about. We hope you will make plans to join us in April of 2021.

Aiken Center for the Arts
Horse, Human and nature

International Equine Films | Art Exhibitions | Panels & Presenters | Workshops & Demonstrations

Impacting Human Lives Through Horses

APRIL 23-26, 2020

International Equine Films
Art Exhibitions

Panels & Presenters
Workshops & Demonstrations
Impacting Human Lives Through Horses

HeArt of the Horse 2020 has been postponed to 2021 due to international health concerns. HeArt of the Horse was conceived as a community event in the simplest and in the broadest sense of that word, and so, it is our community – local, national and even international, that we are thinking about. We hope you will make plans to join us in April of 2021.

Aiken Center for the Arts
Horse, Human and nature


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. Although the program in this film is no longer in existence, GallopNYC took up the challenge of forming a therapeutic program with a permanent home in NYC.  An instructor and co-founder of GallopNYC, Alicia Kershaw, will be a guest speaker at the Aiken Conference. 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 many accomplishments, 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).

Presented in partnership by:

Agenda & Registration

See Who's Coming

Kate Tweedy

Author, Secretariat’s Meadow

On the 50th anniversary of the birth of the most famous racehorse of all time, Secretariat, we honor the horse and owner Kate Tweedy.  It takes real “heart” for a racehorse to accomplish what Secretariat did and it seems only fitting that we open this conference to remember such a horse, with “heart.” Come and meet and Kate Tweedy as she talks about life growing up with Secretariat. We will also have a special screening of the documentary by Kate’s brother, John Tweedy, “Penny & Red.”  Kate will share personal stories, excerpts from her book “Secretariat’s Meadow” and talk about the tribute she and her family are working on in memory of Secretariat.


Wild to World Champion Mustang, USEF Horse of the Year

Born in the wild in the foothills of the Nevada Mountains, Cobra’s first years were spent foraging for food and surviving in a herd of wild mustang horses, his family. Later rounded up by the BLM, Cobra found himself in a strange new world full of humans and foreign experiences. Separated from his family, he was offered for adoption numbers times but never selected by an adopter. At the age of 6 the wild mustang was unlikely to be adopted by the average person, so Cobra was deemed an an unadaptable “Three Strikes Horse.” By a strange twist of fate, Cobra was selected to be included in a group of horses for the Extreme Mustang Makeover” and paired with Marsha Sapp for the event. Cobras story has been a true Cinderella Story. From Rags to riches, from wild to World Champion, this amazing horse has been nothing short of an inspiration to those that have met him. His sheer heart beems through and shows in his love of life and love for his trainer. The story of the underdog awakens the imagination as to what can happen when we believe in possibilities, when we believe in ourselves, and believe in the heart of a horse.

Marsha Hartford-Sapp

Head Trainer & Owner of Southern Oaks Equestrian Center

Marsha Sapp is a professional horse trainer and competitive rider residing in Tallahassee, Florida. She is the owner and head trainer at Southern Oaks Equestrian Center, where she also coaches the Florida State University Equestrian team. Marsha is a nationally recognized trainer and clinician, a multiple Top 5 finalist in the Extreme Mustang Makeover, a finalist in the American Horsewoman’s Challenge, a USDF Silver Medalist, and a 3-time World Champion in Western Dressage. Her three-strikes mustang, Cobra, has been honored as 2018 USEF National Horse of the year, has been inducted into the USEF & Equus Foundation Hall of Fame and has been honored as a Breyer Horse.

Melinda Corso

Co-Founder, Reins of Hope

The Director of Montana Reins of Hope, a horse rescue and Equine Assisted Learning facility.  Melinda is a long-time equine enthusiast and has worked as a director of children’s services for a state-wide non-profit in Montana that provides mental health and disabilities services for all ages.  Melinda has a Master’s degree in School Psychology and has worked in the field of children’s mental health and education for over 25 years.

Eva Finnan

PATH Certified, Great Oak Therapeutic Riding Center
Aiken, South Carolina

As a Therapeutic Riding instructor, Eva feels privileged to work with children and adults with physical, cognitive and emotional disabilities. As a young girl she realized how incredibly special horses are and admired their ability to mirror what humans were experiencing and feeling in addition to the physical benefit of the sport of riding. She took the opportunity to volunteer at a therapeutic riding school Giant Steps in Sonoma County and it was here that she realized that working and qualifying as a PATH International therapeutic riding instructor was how she could attend to her own spirit and share her experiences. She knew that horses could be catalyst for positive change and personal growth using powerful equine assisted activities as an effective way to reach people who may be struggling to fully express themselves. Eva lives and works with her husband and two daughters on Sparkleberry Farm in Aiken, South Carolina.

Lex Hames

Author and Filmmaker

Lex Hames is a writer and filmmaker based in Helena, Montana. He grew up on a ranch in western Montana and attended Stanford University.  He was the national director for Film & Video for Ducks Unlimited, and head of video production for the North Dakota Game & Fish Department.  He was the owner of the media production company Far West Communications in Missoula, Montana, and acted as Communications Director for the Montana Wilderness Association.  He served a term as Chair of the Board for the International Wildlife Film Festival. He has won numerous national awards for his writing and filmwork.  His feature film “A Cowboy in China,” based on his father’s real-life experiences in China in WWII, is now under development.  He is also working on the multi-generational novel “Heaven on Earth,” chronicling the saga of a legendary Montana ranching family from Scotland to Texas to Montana, based upon his own family history.  A world traveler and adventurer, his most recent adventures were a visit to Tibet and a 200-mile horseback ride across northern Mongolia.  He has been a lifelong advocate for wilderness, wildlife, and wild places.  He is a believer in myth, wonder, and the power of words.

Anja Cain

PATH International SC State Chair
Charleston, South Carolina

Anja is a Charleston Area Therapeutic Riding Center Instructor & Vaulting Coach and PATH International SC State Chair. Therapeutic Riding lessons are equestrian skill-based lessons for children and adults with disabilities. Interactive Vaulting engages participants in movements around, on and off the moving horse and on a static barrel. Students ages 4 and up that have physical and cognitive disabilities can benefit from Therapeutic Riding, Interactive Vaulting and Groundwork. Charleston Area Therapeutic Riding (CATR) is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing quality Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies. CATR employs ten PATH Intl. certified instructors that work together with 150 volunteers to serve over 140 children and adults with disabilities and 30 wounded military veterans each year.

Alicia Kershaw

Co-Founder, GallopNYC
New York

JD Yale 1978, BA Williams (History and Economics) 1975.  Alicia practiced employee benefits law for 20 years, capping her legal career as a partner at Sutherland Asbill and Brennan, before taking up a post as a Director at Merrill Lynch. During her legal career, she mentored women attorneys and served on the boards of non profit organizations including the Washington Historical Society and the Discovery Creek Children’s Museum of Washington DC.  She retired as an attorney when her husband was relocated to Hong Kong, and embarked on a life of adventure, captaining a championship amateur dragon boat team, traveling, and writing a hiking guide.  She served on the boards of the American Women’s Association and the Financial Women’s Association of Hong Kong, and co – founded The Women’s Foundation (Hong Kong). Returning to New York, Alicia turned her full attention to her non profit work.. She founded the Fund for Women in Asia, which provided capacity building support to women’s organizations in Asia (closed in 2018).  In 2005, she co-founded GallopNYC, a therapeutic horseback riding program in New York City for which she served as Executive Director until June 30, 2018.   Alicia joined the Board of GallopNYC in 2019. Alicia is a PATH INT’L Certified Instructor and a Level 1 E3A Equine Coach.  She is an Auxiliary NY City Parks Enforcement Mounted Patrol Officer. Alicia is married with three children, all self supporting.

Mark Miller

Michael’s Foundation

Mark Miller helped Michael’s Foundation become a reality in December of 2018, whose mission is to inspire, engage, and empower veterans and their families to adapt to civilian life post military service. Mark has been active in business and philanthropic projects in Osceola County since 1987.  From February 29, 1988 – December 31, 2013 he owned and operated Arabian Nights Dinner Attraction.  Miller was the owner/developer on this project, planning and building the 100,000 square foot complex which included a 27,000 sq ft arena where 72 horses performed nightly.  Arabian Nights entertained 10 million people in more than 10,000 performances over 25 years.

Ashley Mancuso

Film Producer, Yoga on Horseback

Ashley Mancuso is a horse trainer, USDF Silver Medalist dressage rider, film maker and yoga instructor who uses yoga to facilitate a better connection between horse and rider. Ashley will be bringing her film, Cobra – Wild to World Champion , which is the story of Cobra, the “three strikes” mustang, who was adopted at one of the BLM auctions by the horse trainer, Marsha Hartford-Sapp for $125. He went on to become a national western dressage champion and Breyer horse model. This short film also won several top awards at EQUUS INTERNATIONAL Film Festival 2019. Ashley will also conduct a workshop of yoga on horseback.

Joe Misner

Founder, Wild2Ride

An accomplished horseman with over 30 years of experience training horses, is dedicated to the Mustang breed. Recognized as one of the premiere mustang trainers in the U.S., Joe has developed a proven method for how to gentle mustangs using a relationship-based approach.

Joe was the 2014 NORCO Extreme Mustang Makeover champion and has competed in 15 Extreme Mustang Makeovers.  He has also been invited to compete in the Mustang Magic Competition. Early on, Joe recognized the power that the horse can have on the human spirit and the healing process.  Joe’s experience includes working with veterans and mustangs in a wounded warrior program and working with high risk youth in teaching them how to connect with the horses.  Recently, Joe ran the Wild horse program at the Rio Cosumnes Correctional facility in Sacramento, CA, one of five horse/ inmate programs in the country, where he honed the Wild 2 Ride Curriculum.  Joe has found his way to Montana and is the Director of the Wild2Ride Academy at Montana Reins of Hope in Missoula, Montana.

Ariel Neo

Filmmaker, Artist

A multi-faceted Breton artist, Ariel Neo paints in oil on large circular canvases which she photographs and stages in nature. Her deep works, in vibrant colors, evoke an original, refined and wild state. Director and producer for 2 years now, she then introduces her works into her short films. The spectator can then discover the source of her inspiration, while the story of each painting is revealed over the narrative. Her paintings are regularly exhibited in France and abroad and her short films are beginning to be recognized and rewarded at international festivals. Her artistic approach, unique in its kind, abolishes the classic boundaries of painting, photography and cinema, thus allowing the spectator to transport themselves in a multidimensional work of art.

Julie Robins

Saratoga WarHorse Project
Aiken, South Carolina

In 2014, Julie was approached by Bob Nevins and Saratoga War Horse to help them create their first satellite program for veterans in Aiken, SC.  Classes began in the fall of that year and are now offered twice a month for those suffering from symptoms of PTSD.  With the great team of people staffing Saratoga War Horse-Aiken, Julie really enjoys sharing the amazing rescued Throughbreds with the veterans for the life-changing round pen experiences.  The program takes place at the Equine Rescue of Aiken and works with off the track thoroughbreds who are being retrained for forever homes.

Janet Rose

Founder, EQUUS International Film Festival & Director, Horse, Human & nature

Former broadcast journalist and nonprofit executive, Janet is passionate about the unique relationship between horses and people, equine welfare and wildlife conservation.  She is a former director of international wildlife film festivals, currently director of Horse, Human and nature-William Kriegel Foundation and founder of Horse Haven Montana, an equine rescue, adoption and education organization,  a not-for-profit “parent” of EIFF.  Janet is also a member of the Equine Experiential Education Association.

Shelly Marshall Schmidt

Photographer, Silent Witness Exhibition
Aiken, South Carolina

It was the horses that first drew this international, award-winning photographic artist, Shelly Marshall Schmidt, to the Saratoga WarHorse program.  But it is her deep compassion, and her subsequent passion for the program in its entirety, that keeps her committed  and returning, season after season.

From her professional assignments and projects in a myriad of other parts of the world, she returns home to be present for every possible Saratoga WarHorse session held at the  Aiken Equine Rescue site. Often in relentless heat and driving rains, from the first participant to the last, she serves as silent witness for these remarkable, life-changing connections, and preserves these moments in time as the veterans and the horses pass through the experience and in front of her lens.  “Silent Witness” strives to present the message and power of healing between the human and the horse, enabled particularly through the Saratoga WarHorse program.  Thanks to Shelly Marshall Schmidt, it has been captured and presented, in breathtaking honesty and beauty.

Clare Staples

Founder, Skydog Sanctuary

Clare Staples is the Founder and President of Skydog Sandtuary and has been working with wild horses for 10 years.  Clare is a qualified EAGALA Equine Therapist and runs all of the Skydog ranches.   She is a long time wild horse advocate and Skydog is the culmination of a lifelong passion to save and protect wild mustangs now and forever. Clare eats, breathes and sleeps Skydog. She manages the social media and answers emails too. The knowledge she has acquired over the last four years makes her one of the leading experts on mustangs and wild horse issues.

Kriss Titus

Founder, Michael’s Foundation

As Founder & CEO of Michael’s Foundation, Kriss Titus draws upon a 30-year career as a high-profile leader, Kriss is a successful entrepreneur. On February 7,2016 Kriss and Larry’s youngest son committed suicide after serving  seven years in the Army with four tours in Afghanistan “Our family’s grief was heavy after Michael died, It was debilitating knowing our son, the brother to his siblings the baby of the family was now among the 22 veterans every day that commit suicide.”

Titus’ son Michael always dreamed of creating a non-profit for to help veterans and their families adapt to civilian life post military service, giving them an opportunity to thrive just not survive. A few years after Michael passed and the family’s hearts began to heal, Kriss and her husband felt the desire and need to make Michael’s dream a reality. Michael’s Foundation became a reality in December of 2018, the mission, to inspire, engage, empower veterans and their families to adapt to civilian life post military service.

Antonia Wolf


Antonia is no stranger to the ways of horses. As a child she dreamed of one day owning her own horse, and in her adult life went on to train many students in the art of horsemanship. Even when life required her to sell her facility, her love for these animals did not wane. She has a deep understanding of their magnificence, and this has given her, as a photographer, a special knack for capturing their spirit in motion. Her images speak to their mystery as creatures, their core beauty. Antonia fell in love with the wild horses of Pryor Mountain and Cedar Mountain. Tracking the shape of their wildness has been a personal journey. Antonia explores creation in all its forms: human life, the natural world, the animal world. Each of her images tries to tell a particular story, held in time. Each of her images—even the most otherworldly landscapes—tries to unearth a humanity that could easily have been overlooked.

Cathy Huddleston

Co-Founder Michael’s Foundation & Program Director/ Lead Facilitator of Equine Programming

For nearly a decade before moving to Florida, Huddleston was Director of the Equine Division of Challenge-U LLC, working as primary facilitator in Equine Facilitated Learning programs for the many corporate clients served by the experiential learning company. She concurrently managed care and training of horses in the Equine Division, along with facility’s operations. With more than 20 years experience as a professional horsewoman, trainer, and riding instructor, Cathy Huddleston has honed her ability “to support both horses and humans in their growth and development,” as she described the path that led to her to Michael’s Foundation as co-Founder & Program Director/Lead Facilitator of Equine Programing. In 2019 Huddleston and Titus on a “Gentleman’s Handshake” agreement together began to imagine how to create Michael’s Foundation. Titus credits her friend and co-founder “Cath was the inspiration in creating the Horses Empowering Heroes program, she developed the overall equine program, lesson plans, program scheduling and logistics, while I handled the the administration of obtaining the 501c3 non-profit, fundraising, business planning and building a support team. Together we made magic”. On October 9, 2019 Michael’s Foundation held the first session of Horses Empowering Heroes for veterans helping them to thrive just not survive.

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Where to Stay

America’s Best Value Inn

2577 Whiskey Rd.
Aiken SC, 29803

Carriage House Inn

139 Laurens St., NW
Aiken SC, 29801

Clarion Inn

155 Colony Pkwy.
Aiken SC, 29801
(803) 648-0999

Days Inn Downtown

1204 Richland Ave., W
Aiken SC, 29801
(803) 649-5524

Econo Lodge

3560 Richland Ave.
Aiken SC, 29801

Fairfield Inn & Suites

185 Colony Pkwy.
Aiken SC, 29803
(803) 648-7808

Hampton Inn

100 Tamil Dr. at Whiskey Rd.
Aiken SC, 29803
(803) 648-2525

Hilton Garden Inn

350 E Gate Dr
Aiken SC, 29803
(803) 641-4220

Holiday Inn Express and Suites

2897 Whiskey Road
Aiken SC, 29803
(803) 508-7700

Hotel Aiken

235 Richland Ave., W
Aiken SC, 29801
(803) 648-4265

Howard Johnson

1936 Whiskey Rd.
Aiken SC, 29803
(803) 649-5000

Inn at Houndslake

897 Houndslake Dr.
Aiken SC, 29803
(803) 648-9535

Knights Inn

1850 Richland Ave.
Aiken SC, 29801

Quality Inn & Suites

3608 Richland Ave.
Aiken SC, 29801

Sleep Inn

1002 Monterey Dr.
Aiken SC, 29803

TownePlace Suites

1008 Monterey Drive
Aiken SC, 29803
(803) 641-7373

The Willcox

100 Colleton Ave SW
Aiken SC, 29801
(803) 648-1898