The big freeze – Southern Edition!

The highlight of this week so far has definitely been the “snowpocalypse” that has sent the southern states of the US into a frenzy. While True Prospect Farm has received well over a foot of snow in the last day or two, down here at Red Oak we’re suffering under a WHOLE INCH of snow. That’s right folks… Restaurants and take out stores are closing for days at a time, grocery stores have been stripped bare of all necessities, and the good southern locals are all taking shelter in their homes to avoid this wild winter storm.

How we all feel here at Red Oak Farm today…

Eventers all around Aiken are complaining about the fact that they packed up and moved 12 hours south to get away from the snow, and have ended up right back in the middle of it. Horses who were freshly clipped upon arrival in sunny South Carolina are cursing their grooms and longingly wishing for their nice, thick winter coats back. Working students are slipping on their butts down their apartment stairs because they forgot to spread out salt to avoid the onset of ice.

…ok, maybe that last one was just me.

In all seriousness, it really isn’t that cold at all – it got down to about -10’C overnight, but sat just under freezing during the day today. The real issue is simply that the area isn’t as effectively equipped to deal with snow because it’s just not really a common occurrence. Back north, the roads are ploughed and salted almost immediately following a snowfall, allowing the roads to be far more safely navigated. I haven’t seen one single snow plough down here yet. The barns are also built a lot differently, with more open designs and higher ceilings, less insulation and no water heaters, so we are having to try to manage the colder air temperatures and frozen plumbing as best as we can.

It was business as usual today for us, with most of the horses doing jog and canter sets out on the trails. The sandy ground holds up exceptionally well even under a coating of snow – in fact, it had been getting pretty dusty over the past few days, so the snow has actually been quite positive for the footing.

The horses are all pretty unperturbed by the weather – they’re all dressed in quarter sheets when being ridden, they’ve been getting warm, wet feeds for every meal to ensure they’re keeping up their fluids, and they have plenty of hay and layers of blankets to keep them warm and comfortable. It just seems to be us humans who are getting our panties in a twist over this horrifying blizzard 😉

Check out Eventing Nation’s hilarious write up about the great South Carolina Snowpocalypse here:

http://eventingnation.com/home/crippling-blizzard-brings-aiken-to-its-knees/

Why working students are like hobbits…

We eat.

What about elevenses? Luncheon? Afternoon tea? Dinner? Supper?

And eat. And eat and eat.

With all the riding, mucking, grooming and general running around we do, we work up some pretty huge appetites. We never have time to stop and have real meals during the day though, so we tend to graze and snack constantly on anything we can grab quickly as we run past onto the next job.

Our favourite meal of the day is First Dinner – a ritual of heading straight in from the barn each afternoon to sit around feasting and debriefing about our day. It tides us over until we can get organised enough to head out to a restaurant or the store to buy some dinner – though quite often our Second Dinner consists mostly of Marble Slab ice cream and/or alcohol.

I’m just grateful that we work so hard around here, otherwise we’d all be the the size of houses…

The highs and lows…

Most of my posts so far have been full of exciting and positive news, but anyone who has worked with horses knows that it’s not all roses all the time.

I managed to have my first fall here a few days ago… I’d just finished a jog set with one of the other girls and we were cooling the horses out on the way back to the barn, when something in the bushes freaked them out. The other horse shied and ran into mine, and I must have thrown too much weight into one stirrup because I managed to sprain an ankle in the process. Unbalanced and with a saddle that had slipped to the side, I had no chance of staying on when my horse took off sideways, and off I came. I guess I’m lucky I managed to fall on the sandy soil of Aiken rather than the frozen ground back in West Grove!

Shameless product plug for Equifit Ice Boots… Comfortable and effective for both horses and humans!

I ended up with a fat, blue ankle, a sore back and a very bruised ego. Why do falls always have to happen when you have an audience?! Word travels pretty fast around here and within an hour, the news in all the neighbouring barns was that I’d fallen off and broken my leg. I’m glad to report that that’s not the case, and a few days later I’m now walking and riding ok again. I’d sell my soul for an appointment with my physio though, my poor back is pretty unhappy! I’m very grateful to have access to such an extensive equine first aid kit here… Lots of good drugs and anti-inflammatories, ice boots and laser therapy back pads have helped a little. They can’t heal the embarrassment though – hopefully someone else does something dumb some time soon so people will forget about this 😉

Matching cripples!
Back at work with the help of a very firm polo wrap and lots of Sore No More.

Happy hacking

One of my favourite things about being here at Red Oak Farm is being able to ride outdoors again. While I was so in love with the luxury of the indoor arena at True Prospect, after 6 weeks of riding solely indoors, we were all getting a bit of cabin fever. 40 minute jog sets around and around an arena start to get pretty mindless after your 3rd or 4th horse for the day!

Passing through Boyd Martin’s cross country field on Mighty Nice

Mr Medicott enjoying a beautiful sunny morning

There are miles and miles of purpose made trails around Bridle Creek, which are regularly graded to keep them in top shape for hacking and fitness work.

Fernhill Fugitive obeying the road rules

Most days, my job is to either hack out the upper level horses to cool them down after they’ve done flatwork, or doing jog and canter sets on the horses’ fitness days. I’ve been riding out nearly every day and there are still plenty of trails that I haven’t had the chance to explore yet… And yes, I’ve managed to get myself lost a few times!

Icabad Crane – the sweetest little OTTB ever!

William Penn & Automagically

Good Enough, Yarrow & Vanderbilt

Atlas, shortly after being startled by a family of deer

Fernhill Fugitive

I have to admit to having a serious fangirl moment the first time I got to hack out on Mighty Nice and Mr Medicott… It’s not every day you get to go wandering in out such picturesque surroundings on seriously elite horses 🙂

Mighty Nice – and a mighty cheesy grin!

Bridle Creek & Red Oak Farm

We’re all pretty well settled in now at Red Oak Farm in Bridle Creek. The weather is much more mild than it was back in Pennsylvania which is a nice change!

Bridle Creek is one of many gorgeous equestrian communities here in Aiken. It’s pretty amazing to have so many dedicated horse properties within the one development – I certainly haven’t seen anything like it back home. Not only am I based here with Phillip Dutton, but our closest neighbours include Boyd Martin, Ryan Wood and Dr Kevin Keane. It’s quite surreal to be surrounded by so much knowledge and expertise within a 200m radius!

The entrance to Bridle Creek

The gorgeous scenery within the community

Not only are there a number of very impressive private properties within Bridle Creek, but there are also some great shared facilities. There is a communal dressage arena, showjumping course and cross country field, as well as miles of wooded bridle paths and trails.

The communal cross country field

The barn and other facilities here at Red Oak are just beautiful. We’ve currently got stabling for 23 horses, though we still try to turn the horses in the paddocks as much as possible. It’s much more pleasant and definitely a lot safer for them to be on the nice sandy soil here, compared to the frozen ground back at True Prospect.

Red Oak Farm’s new dressage arena under construction

While the basics are obviously still all the same, there is a whole new routine to learn here to go along with the different climate and facilities. We’re very lucky that Emma Ford, Phillip’s long-time head groom, has returned to the team after a brief hiatus last year. She has us all working very efficiently and understands how to make the place run at it’s full potential. I love working alongside Emma and being able to pick her brain about all the varying details of horsemanship required to maintain horses at an elite – she is another wonderful source of knowledge.

A famous face – Mr Medicott lounging in his stall

I’ve been here for nearly 2 months now and I still have to stop and pinch myself sometimes. I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to be here, learning from some of the absolute best in the industry – I really don’t want to have to go home!!

A smoochy moment with my precious Bones

Sick and tired :(

Unfortunately my first couple of days at Red Oak Farm haven’t been all that pleasant. I wasn’t feeling entirely well on the first day here, but I just put it down to sleep deprivation and the long drive. We were heading out for dinner and drinks for Abigail’s 21st birthday on Saturday night which I hoped would perk me up a little, but I found myself with a splitting headache during dinner, and had to go home early.

I ended up having to take the next day off work because my headache was so bad. I slept for a solid 19 hours, waking up just to have some food in the evening, and went back to sleep for another 10. I was a bit concerned that it was the onset of some exotic American virus! However, lots of rest and bucketloads of ibuprofen seems to have sorted it out, and while I’m still wandering around like a bit of a zombie, I was at least able to go back to work today. I guess the last 6 weeks of hard work, late nights and early mornings have just caught up with me a bit. We take such impeccable care of the horses here, but sometimes we forget to take care of ourselves!

3 coffees, 4 Red Bulls and 5 states…

We’ve finally make it to Aiken! We left Pennsylvania much later than we’d hoped, and after being on the road for around 11 hours we made it to Red Oak Farm just before 2am on Saturday morning.
It was a little disappointing to do most of our travelling in the dark so I couldn’t really see any of the sights along the way, though the locals assure me that there really isn’t that much to see along 95 anyway.

Farewell, True Prospect Farm!

Cruising down 95, reppin’ my hideously ugly Philadelphia Flyers hoodie.

Rolling out of bed on Saturday morning to get to work after just a couple of hours sleep was a challenge, but it was so nice to be out in the warmer weather, working out of such a beautiful barn. The 4 of us girls are living in the newly built apartment right above the stables which is very convenient… And it’s very pleasant to fall asleep to the sounds of the horses quietly munching away at their hay.

I’m super excited to start this new chapter of my trip – stay tuned for lots more news and photos from Bridle Creek, it is such an amazing place!

The first of many beautiful sunrises at Red Oak Farm.