Aiken Icepocalypse – Day 2

By the second day, we began to realise that we may be without power for longer than expected, so we were just going to have to try and manage as best as we could. With Paradise Horse Trials coming up on the weekend, the horses couldn’t afford to have another day off. The ice had stopped falling and one of the guys managed to use the tractor to drag a basic track around one of the paddocks, so by midday when it was starting to warm up and thaw out a little, the competition horses were able to be given a basic workout.

The rest of the horses were given some time out in the paddocks, which was pretty exciting for them after being cooped up inside for much longer than they’re used to. It’s always nerve-wracking watching them being a bit wild outside, and even worse when they’re galloping around on ice! Luckily they were all pretty sensible after their initial hijinks and everyone came back in safe and sound.

We were still without power for the second night, but a few places in town had regained theirs and Phillip kindly offered to put us up in a hotel so we wouldn’t have to endure another freezing, showerless night. This however turned into a huge ordeal – we tried a number of times to check in but kept being told our room wasn’t ready, and by nearly 9pm they finally admitted they had overbooked and we didn’t actually have a room. We were cold, smelly and hungry and had been so excited by the idea of a hot shower and a big warm bed, so we were on the verge of a complete emotional breakdown. Fortunately, the power had just come back on at our barn manager’s place and we were able to take showers and crash on her floor and couches – that shower genuinely felt like the greatest moment of my life!

This hilarious post from Eventing Nation perfectly sums up how all us Aiken eventers were beginning to feel…

http://eventingnation.com/home/8-gifs-that-perfectly-articulate-how-aiken-smells/

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/

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

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.

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!

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