It’s an intricate part of Aiken’s rich history and vibrant culture. The 97th annual Aiken Horse Show in the Woods begins today in Hitchcock Woods, and features three days of classes starting each morning at 9 a.m.

The event itself embodies the spirit of Louise Eustis Hitchcock, who founded the show. The annual experience places an emphasis on the children, who will be the future stewards of the woods, said Doug Rabold, Hitchcock Woods executive director.

“Every year, we work at making the Aiken Horse Show in the Woods more special,” Rabold said. “We also strive to keep it more historic and family oriented. The Woods staff does an excellent job painting the woods, and the foundation works on elevating our stewardship practices and our management techniques and resources. It shows the progress we’re making in restoring the woods.”

The idyllic setting of the show has made it a popular fixture on Aiken’s annual calendar.

“It (the setting) makes the show special,” said Gail King, Aiken Horse Show in the Woods show director. “It’s old fashioned and has a nice feel.”

The show also has increased its exhibitor participation, and this year, Matt Collins has been brought in as the competition director, Rabold said.

Friday’s highlights include the $750 Aiken Hounds Welcome Stakes, open hunter classes and adult amateur hunter over fences divisions; Saturday’s classes will focus on the children: the walk, trot, canter, leadline, family, costume and junior horse/pony classes will be among the featured divisions. The sidesaddle classes will also be a part of Saturday’s program. Sunday’s spotlight will be on the foxhunters and will include the Foxhunter Handy Working class, the $1,500 Security Federal Bank Foxhunter Stakes and $500 Aiken Horse Show Junior Foxhunter Stakes.

The Aiken Horse Show in the Woods is only one of two times during the year that people are permitted to drive their cars into the woods.