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.

Good news day

The last 24 hours have been pretty exciting – I’ve just been accepted into the Masters of Physiotherapy degree that I’ve been aiming for, so I’m absolutely thrilled. 2013 was pretty stressful trying maintain high enough grades to be considered, so this is a huge relief! If nothing else, it makes leaving Team Dutton and heading back home slightly less depressing.

A beautiful sunrise for a beautiful day

I’m also super excited that one of my posts was featured on Eventing Nation’s Best of the Blogs section today! My blog views have gone through the roof, so a big hello to anyone new who is reading this 🙂

Check out the EN post here:

http://eventingnation.com/home/friday-news-notes-from-flair-nasal-strips-49/

We’re still waiting on the shipper to arrive, who is so far a couple of hours later than we expected. We took the opportunity to head out for a celebratory/farewell lunch, and were entertained by yet another Starbucks name blunder…

A slight improvement on the previous “Harvey”… But still not quite Cobie, even after spelling it out letter by letter!

We probably won’t end up leaving here until at least 1:30pm, so we still haven’t decided if we’ll drive through the night and arrive in Aiken early in the morning, or find a motel halfway there and finish the trip on Saturday morning. I guess we’ll just see where the road takes us!

Shipping out to Aiken

The last few days have been a whirlwind of packing up the barn and shipping out multiple loads of horses at all hours of the day and night. I’m currently sitting in my very clean and empty apartment waiting for the last horse to be picked up by the transporter, and then the last couple of us who are left here can finally hit the road ourselves.

The super impressive True Prospect Farm rig

The process of preparing each load of horses was super efficient and well organised – it makes life so much easier when you can roll out of bed at 2am and know that everything is ready to go. Every horse due to leave wore a cooler under their stable blankets, and had their own set of turnout blankets, shipping boots, shipping halter and tail wrap neatly labelled and stacked in front of their stable door – so all that had to be done when the trucks arrived was to take blankets off, put shipping gear on, and away they go.

All set for the first load of horses to ship out at 2am

The barn became progressively quieter and cleaner as each load left, and those of us still here had the job of emptying out, sweeping and liming all the stalls. It’s been quite surreal going from a bustling barn of 40 horses to just half a dozen left this morning! A number of other horses and riders are beginning to move in now though, to take advantage of the vacant facilities once we’ve gone south.

The packing process – before…

And after!

One very empty barn

I’m feeling quite nostalgic and a little sad at the idea of leaving True Prospect – I’ve felt so at home here, I just want to stay! I really hope it won’t be the last time I get to come here though. By this time tomorrow we’ll all be settled in Aiken, and will be flat out getting back into the routine of riding and preparing for all the upcoming competitions. I’m super excited to start heading to events again – my braiding fingers have been getting itchy!

My ride to Aiken – a trophy from the 2013 Red Hills event. Can’t complain about driving 1000km in this!

Stories from the saddle

All rugged up on a cold morning riding William Penn

Good Enough – one of my absolute favourites… He’s a lot more special than his name suggests!

Amongst all the craziness of preparing to move south, we’ve still been getting in plenty of riding. I had my first jump lesson with Phillip last week, on a sweet gelding named Vandy. I was super rusty and a bit nervous riding under scrutiny after not having jumped in over a year!
We worked on some basics and some more challenging grids, and even though I made my fair share of mistakes, I learnt lots of things that I’ll be able to take away and work on. Hopefully I’ll have another lesson soon, and might be able to redeem myself a bit now that I’ve got my starstruck nerves out of the way.

One of the more challenging grids from my lesson

The weather has been much more mild in the past few days, and we’ve actually been able to head outside and use the gallop track to do our hacking and jogging. As much as I love the amazing indoor here, it was so nice to get outside and ride in the fresh air! The indoor has been really busy again with people trying to cram in last minute lessons with Phillip before we all leave, so being able to escape peak hour in the arena has been great.

One of the “quieter” moments in the arena, with only 4 other horses – Fernhill Fugitive checking out the action

The horses certainly enjoy it too, and it’s much easier to get those lazier ones moving actively forward during their trot sets out on the track rather than just going round and round in circles.

Penn checking out the scenery

Hacking out with Vandy and Fernhill Fugitive

One of the great things about being here is the opportunity to just observe so many great riders and great horses working together. I love the chances I get to set poles for jump schooling or lessons, because you can learn so much from watching how each person handles each exercise on different horses, and from the feedback they get from Phillip. There is definitely just as much knowledge to be gained from the ground as from the saddle.

Fernhill Flag during a lesson – too speedy for my poor little phone camera!

Days off and hockey games

With all the long hours and physical work we do here, our day off each week is always well appreciated. I spent the first few lounging around in bed watching movies, but now that I’m well settled in and used to the workload, I’ve begun to venture out and explore a bit on my days off. One of my workmates kindly lets me borrow her car so I can go out and catch up on all the important things like shopping, as well as checking out a few of the local sights.

I had Wednesday off this week, and after a lovely long sleep in I set out for a bit of a girly pamper day. I started off with some shopping and found myself lots of bargains… I really can’t believe the difference in price between things here and back home! After a sneaky ice cream stop I decided to treat myself to a massage… It was definitely a very welcome indulgence for my tired muscles!

When I got home, it was time to head off to the Philadelphia Flyers v Montreal Canadiens ice hockey game with a few friends from the barn. It was my first taste of live American sport and it was soo much fun – the place was packed out and the atmosphere was amazing – definitely one of the highlights of my trip so far! I befriended a few Flyers fans and bought myself a Philadelphia hoodie.. The Flyers ended up winning 3-1 which was pretty exciting. I’m practically a local now!

I don’t think any of us will end up having a day off next week because we’ll be so busy preparing for the big move south, so it was great to have such a fun day off this week. I can’t wait to get settled in in Aiken – I’m sure there are lots of other great places to explore down there!

The Big Freeze

As many of you would know, the US has been experiencing some pretty extreme winter weather lately. Here in Pennsylvania, there has been unseasonably early and heavy snowfalls, coupled with seriously low temperatures. On Tuesday we experienced a 20 year low, with the temperature dropping to near 0F, or -16C, but the wind chill brought that down to -34C. Very hard to convince yourself to get out of bed at dawn when you know you have to head out and work in that!

Freezing!!!

Obviously all the horses stayed indoors on those super freezing days… While we do try to get them turned out as much as possible for their mental and physical wellbeing, it’s just far too unpleasant to have them out in that kind of weather. The cold literally knocks the breath out of you when you walk out of a warm building – definitely not good for performance horse lungs!

The workload was adjusted as well, as even the indoor arena was well below freezing. All horses were worked in quarter sheets, and generally just jogged or flatted, avoiding doing anything too strenuous. One of my rides that day was 40 minutes of just walking on a horse who had tied up badly in the previous couple of days… By the end of that ride my legs and feet were so frozen solid, they felt like they were going to shatter when I jumped off at the end. Really not the most pleasant ride I’ve had here so far!

Tacking up for a ride in sub-freezing temps

While the main barn is well insulated and remains quite warm, the back barn is older and doesn’t retain heat particularly well. All the automatic waterers completely froze over, so we spent a lot of time over those days lugging buckets of warm water from the main barn in order to keep them well hydrated. All feeds were also dampened with warm water in order to get more fluids into their systems. Most horses were in at least a few layers of heavy blankets, depending on the state of their coats. It’s hard to imagine how Australian horses would manage in this kind of weather!!

So coooold….

Knee deep in snow.. Great workout for the thighs

While the super cold temperatures have passed, it still hasn’t really made it above freezing since, though thankfully the waterers in the back barn started working again today. We’ve been able to turn the horses out during the last couple of days, though not for long because the paddock troughs are all frozen solid, even with water heaters. The next few days are forecast to be rainy, but slightly warmer, so hopefully a lot of the snow and ice will disappear and make life a bit easier… We’re all definitely very excited to go South next week!

Comic, Dare, Kipper, Hokey and Tango enjoying the chance to get out of the barn

Paddock trough – frozen solid

New Years update

Firstly I have to apologise for the complete lack of posts lately. The days have been so busy, and on the nights where we haven’t been out dining and drinking, all I’ve wanted to do is crawl into bed and fall asleep watching movies.

Christmas and New Years came and went in a haze of parties. These nights were followed by some very subdued days in the barn while we all tried to deal with our hangovers. You do not know the true meaning of hell until you have to muck a barn whilst severely hungover and listening to horrendous Mexican polka music that the grooms insist on playing so loudly.

After all my dreams of a white Christmas, we didn’t actually get any snow in the days leading up to it, so that was a little disappointing. It did snow on Boxing Day though – better late than never I suppose! All the horses had the day off for Christmas, so all we had to do was the basic daily care and take it easy for the rest of the day which was nice. Right back into it the next day though – this industry certainly isn’t one that slows down for the holiday season! I couldn’t think of anything nicer than spending the day in a warm barn sharing carrots with so many lovely horses though.

A little Christmas spirit at the barn

Boxing Day snowfall

Christmas morning cuddles with Fernhill Ultimate

I’ve been doing a lot of riding lately, up to 6 a day, which has been great. I’m feeling stronger and more balanced, and starting to redevelop that sense of feel that only comes from hours in the saddle. Riding so many different horses all the time is such a great experience – you really have to be constantly thinking and adapting to each horse’s individual quirks and characteristics. Trying to remember what each horse likes and dislikes can be challenging though – you definitely don’t want to mix up the horse who has to be chased with spurs and a whip for every stride of his canter sets with the one who will buck if you use just a fraction too much leg!

William Penn & Fernhill Fugitive on a rainy Sunday morning

Our preparations are well underway for our upcoming move to Aiken, South Carolina. The first couple of truckloads of infrastructure have already headed down – things like tractors, portable roundyards, cross country jumps etc. We’ve been very busy in the barn getting the horses fit and tidying them up into show condition. Over the next week we’ll begin the epic job of packing up all the tack, rugs, feed, grooming equipment and all the other barn supplies we’ll need to spend a few months in the south.

The first truckload being packed for the trip to Aiken

As always, there’s plenty of tack to be cleaned. I got the job of cleaning all the show halters that have been sitting in the loft getting mouldy since the end of the competition season… They were in need of some pretty serious TLC!

The obligatory before shot..

And after!

There’s a real sense of excitement about the move – I think we are all pretty keen to escape the freezing weather we’ve been having lately… And I’m pretty excited to experience the Aiken party scene that I’ve been hearing so much about lately!

Higher Standards Leather Care – a product review

I discovered Higher Standards Leather Care online a while ago, after reading rave reviews on the Chronicle of the Horse forums. I bought myself some of the soap, but as I wasn’t riding much, never really got a chance to use it. However, now that I’m over here, and with so much gear to clean, I figured it was a good opportunity to buy some more and really test it out.

First item – and I’m almost ashamed to post this because of how bad the “before” picture is – my riding boots. They were used as my work boots for the first week or so that I was here, so they had to endure mucking stalls, riding multiple horses, and trudging through mud and snow all day. As you can see, they were in pretty bad shape.

An amazing before-and-after shot… I’ll never let my poor boots get into such bad condition again!!

I started with the Sweet Cinnamint saddle soap, and even the caked on sweat and dirt came off relatively easily. The soap smells delicious, and really cuts through all the grime more effectively than most leather cleaners I’ve tried before.
The really brilliant part though is the leather balm. These boots are the waxed, waterproof Ariat Bromonts, so they never really had a great shine to begin with, even when I used boot polish on them. The leather balm has totally erased the scuffed toes and spur strap rubs, and has brought out a beautiful shine to the boots.

Next challenge was a pretty grimy old Devoucoux work bridle. The bridles here get used on at least a few horses a day, and while they do get wiped down with saddle soap each afternoon before they’re put away, they’re never really super clean.

Before shot of bridle

Again, the soap cut right through all the dirt and sweat, and the balm softened and conditioned the leather beautifully.

During….

Here is a great comparison with an almost identical bridle that had been cleaned with Leather New on the left, and the Higher Standards bridle on the right.

And the after shot. The difference between the two bridles is pretty incredible!

I also cleaned and conditioned my saddle, but unfortunately I seem to have deleted the before photo off my phone. The soap and balm worked wonders on it though, and really brought the richness of the leather colour back out – it had looked a fairly dry orange colour previously.

So in conclusion – I’m totally converted. This stuff is the whole package – homemade, with natural ingredients, and seriously effective. The scents of the soaps are gorgeous too – I have the Lavender Vanilla at home, and the holiday edition Cinnamint is just so delicious. The balm even makes your hands feel amazing when you’re using it! No more greasy, grotty hands to deal with after cleaning tack.

This stuff is absolutely worth trying out… I doubt I’ll ever go back to regular store-bought leather products again! It’s very easy to purchase through their Etsy store, and the prices to ship to Australia are very reasonable.

http://www.higherstandardsleathercare.com

https://www.facebook.com/HIgherStandardsFarm

https://www.etsy.com/shop/HigherStandardsFarm