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Equestrians Hoof It Up in Southern Pines

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SOUTHERN PINES — Southern Pines is known as a golf mecca, but there are some other Olympic-grade athletes hoofing it up there as well.

"It's definitely known as a real mecca for horses and horse sports," says equestrian Bobby Costello.

It is the terrain that attracts them, Costello says. "Even if it gets very cold, the sand won't freeze, so we can keep training all year long. And in the summer it doesn't get hard like clay or regular dirt would," he says.

Last month, riders competed in the Southern Pines Horse Trials. They accrued points here to qualify for the Olympics. One of the riders was 60-year-old Mike Plumb, an eight-time Olympian.

"I've always ridden. I don't think I'll do anything else, it's habit," he said. "Maybe I'll wake up one day and say, 'You know you're knocking your head against a tree,' but I don't think so, because I'm a little bit like a warmblood, a little bit stupid, and I'm just going to keep doing it."

Olympic hopeful Lauren Hart also competed. Hart has been on the U.S. Equestrian Team twice. She was bound for the Atlanta games in '96 when her horse was injured.

Hart was at the event with her new Irish warmblood, Guinness. He is still a bit green and may not be ready to compete in Sydney, but that does not bother Hart.

"I'm mostly following my own program rather than sort of running after the Olympics," she said. "I would love to do it if it's the right thing to do, but if it's not that's OK."

A new horse park, called The Five Points Horse Park, located 12 miles from Southern Pines in Hoke County, will open in April of 2001.