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

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!

One year on – a tribute to Freddy.

Today marks one year since I lost my darling Freddy. I know that we all love each and every one of our horses dearly, but I truly believe that sometimes one comes along who really captures your heart like no other – and Freddy was that kind of horse.

I loved everything about Freddy, even though we had plenty of ups and downs. There were times when he misbehaved and let me down, just as there were times when I misjudged situations and let him down. We made a lot of mistakes, but slowly began to learn from them. I’m sure many people wondered why I persevered with a horse who could be so unpredictable, just as others wondered why I hadn’t managed to achieve more with such a talented horse. He just made me so happy, and I enjoyed every minute I spent with him – from the adrenaline rush of galloping cross country, to quietly enjoying the scenery on a fabulous ride out, or just hanging out with him and finding his favourite scratchy spots.

I think my most cherished memory of our time together was winning the NSW Equitation Championships in 2012. While eventing will always be my number one passion, to be rewarded that day for my riding, presentation and our partnership is something I’ll always be proud of. He tried his little heart out for me that day, and when the judge told me she wanted to buy him for her daughter, there could never have been a price that would have made me want to part with him.

My darling boy and our treasured trophy rug – looking exhausted from all that good behaviour.

It has been a long year of ups and down while I’ve tried to come to terms with losing him so unexpectedly. There seems to be some misinformation about what actually happened that day. I guess this might be a good opportunity to clear that up, because it’s not really the most pleasant topic to have to try to explain all the time.

Fred was heading to my coach’s farm while I went interstate for Christmas. On that morning, we spent a couple of lovely hours just hanging out, waiting for him to be picked up… He had a bath, extra breakfast, and then I sat in the paddock with him while he grazed next to me. I had no idea it would be the last chance I had to spend time with him – but it was such a beautiful morning.

The last photo I ever had the chance to take – one of my favourite moments with Fred.

On the way to the farm, a tyre blew out, causing the float to fishtail and tip up onto two wheels. Fred hit his head on the wall, and went down. Initially, he seemed to be fairly unscathed aside from a relatively minor head wound, so we thought he was going to be ok. However, he was cast against the wall of the float, and even with a number of us trying to get him up, we just couldn’t get the leverage to help him onto his feet. The vet had been called immediately, but unfortunately shock set in before he arrived, and Freddy passed away.
It was just one of those truly freak accidents – the road and weather conditions were perfect, and the float was being driven well within the speed limit. Even in hindsight, I don’t know that there could have been anything done to prevent this from happening, aside from avoiding putting him on a float ever again… obviously not a logical option for a horse who regularly travelled for competitions, training and socialising.
All credit must go to my amazing instructor, who managed to avoid what could have been a far more serious accident, and I’m so grateful that she wasn’t injured as well. Absolutely everyone involved had only his best interests at heart – sometimes it seems that terrible things are just inevitable.

This will be the last time that I write about Freddy. While I will never stop missing him, I’m learning that holding onto grief does absolutely no good – it won’t bring him back, and it certainly doesn’t make it hurt any less. So rather than dwelling on what I have lost, I just want to focus on the happy memories we created over the years.
Losing him was certainly the most traumatic experience of my life, but I am grateful that indirectly it has allowed me to travel and experience different parts of the world, and I will certainly never forget everything he taught me.

Rest easy my darling Freddy – thank you for lighting up my life.


Am I the only one who enjoys pulling manes?

I’ve pulled about 20 manes over the past couple of days, and everyone else in the barn seems to feel sorry for me. Truth be told, mane pulling is probably one of my favourite grooming jobs – I love the satisfaction you get from the instant improvement in the appearance of their necks. Plus, once you get into a rhythm, you can just zone out and ponder all those important things like the meaning of life, or which flavour Ben and Jerry’s to try next. Of course, it’s not quite as relaxing when the horse is trying to throw you into a wall or bite your arm off, but thankfully most of the horses here are pretty civilised.

One of the babies starting to look much more like a performance horse than a paddock pony.

Clipping, on the other hand, is a complete ass of a job. It requires far more concentration, not to mention the personal physical discomfort.. especially when you’re unprepared and not dressed appropriately. I washed my clothes twice and took two showers, yet I was still itchy when I got dressed again the next morning.

Another job which isn’t so fun is picking out feet each time you bring a horse in from the paddock. When I arrived, I wondered why there was a hammer stored with the hoof picks, which were all bent out of shape. Now that I have become well acquainted with the awful icy lumps that pack themselves into hooves and involve a military operation to remove, I understand why hoof picks need to be hammered back into order. Definitely one of the more dangerous and frustrating aspects of a snowy winter!

One nasty, icy hoof

One bent hoof pick – and handsome Casarino checking it out.

Three cheers for Dover!

With the risk of a broken ankle increasing every time I stepped foot outside the barn in my riding boots, I was getting a bit desperate for some real winter work boots. I’ve developed some serious pain in my Achilles’ tendons, assumedly from trudging through the snow in unsuitable footwear all week. Ironically, I’m sitting in my room icing my ankles right now… I may as well just go outside and stick my feet in the snow!

The benefits of working in a barn… There’s always a spare ice boot lying around!

Luckily for me, the girls from the barn decided it was time for a shopping trip. We headed down to Delaware last night to check out a couple of tack stores. After all those years of online shopping, being in an actual Dover store was pretty exciting. Got myself some Ariat Brossard boots, lots of winter gloves and socks, winter breeches, fleece tops, vests and a really nice Joules 3-in-1 jacket. The girls even talked me into buying hairnets so I can really fit in with the Americans and wear my hair up under my helmet. I did manage to pull off the hair-over-the-ears thing when I rode today… And I have to admit, it actually serves a purpose in keeping your ears warm! They might make a hunter princess out of me yet.

All the strenuous shopping left us pretty hungry, so we headed to a cute little restaurant we’d passed earlier to get some dinner. Unfortunately it was quite a bit nicer than we had anticipated, and our breeches, boots and barn jackets earnt us some pretty dirty looks. The poor hostess very carefully avoided offering to take our coats for us, haha. Even though we were probably sending off an interesting aroma around the restaurant, the food and the service was fantastic. Definitely a place to go back to… Though a shower and a change of clothes will be on the cards for next time.

All is going well at the barn, I’m settling in well to the pattern of riding and working. We’re still stuck indoors because of all the snow and ice, with even more snow predicted tomorrow. True Prospect Farm has become incredibly popular over the last few days, with dozens of people either riding over from neighbouring properties or trailering in to use the indoor arena. It can get a bit wild with so many horses in the arena at once – especially when you’re on young horses! It’s certainly a good learning experience for them though.

Trailering in to use the indoor… Not a bad view from our living area!

The view from my room… Visitors getting in some late afternoon riding

It’s hard to believe I’ve been here for a week… Part of me feels like I only arrived a day or two ago, but then I’m also feeling pretty well at home, as though I’ve been here for much longer. I’m missing my friends and family back home, but I am certainly in a happy place here right now 🙂

Snow day!!

So I knew that snow was forecast for this weekend – but today certainly surpassed expectations! It began to snow at about 10:30 this morning, and it’s still falling now. While I’ve been to ski fields, and seen the occasional snow flurry at home on rare occasions, I haven’t seen snow fall this like before – everything looks like something off a postcard. I’ve been wandering around in awe all day, while everyone else is groaning… I’m sure I’ll be sick of having to work in the snow soon enough, but for now I’m just going to enjoy it!

We had a mad dash to bring in the morning turnout horses, and most of them were barn-bound for the rest of the day. I was surprised that we still turned out a few horses overnight – I guess they breed them a lot tougher over here! Everyone went out in a couple of extra rugs… argh, blankets, I’ll get it right one day… and they all seemed pretty happy to be out, with a couple dropping and rolling as soon as we let them go.

Amongst all the excitement, I had three horses to ride today. Definitely no jogging on the outside track in this weather, so we stuck to just trot schooling in the indoor. My favourite of the day was a gorgeous WB gelding named Bones – not only is he a big smoochy teddy bear, but seriously nice to ride. I’m currently plotting how to sneak him back home without anyone noticing.

Bones says nope… definitely not going out there!

I’ve actually noticed that in just two days of riding in front of mirrors, my position has already improved. It’s amazing what you can pick up on when you’re able to constantly monitor and adjust what you’re doing. A set of arena mirrors is definitely on the shopping list for when I get home!!

I met Phillip today, after he’d returned from the USEA convention. He is lovely and polite, and I’m so excited to be learning from him. He saw me ride, and didn’t drag me off the horse and send me back to the airport, so that’s positive.

We had planned on going out for dinner and drinks tonight, but even though the roads had been ploughed, we didn’t really have a suitable car available for getting off the farm and driving into town. There’s always another night – and secretly I didn’t mind just heading inside to warm up and let my poor muscles relax a bit. They’re not quite used to this kind of workload anymore! I’ll definitely need to get myself to a tack store to buy some more suitable winter work boots.. I ended up on my butt after slipping down a snowy ramp today. But a few good old-fashioned shopping trips have been planned ever since the day I decided to head over here 😉

I’m starting to get to know the barn routine a bit better now, it certainly helps that the place is so well organised. While most things are pretty similar to back home, there are always the subtle differences that are required in any barn. It’ll take a while to learn the preferred ways of doing things – but hey, learning is what I’m here for! Tomorrow is my day off for this week, and I’m looking forward to having the chance to just sit and watch some of the horses being ridden… Hopefully some of those good riding skills will rub off on me 🙂

Dressage Skillz

I nearly forgot, I absolutely can’t go any further without posting this video… I think this is going to become the theme song of my trip over here. Everyone back home is sharing it on Facebook, and everyone here is talking about it – it was played a number of times in the barn aisle today. It’s lighthearted, hilarious, and something that most of us can relate to. A very fun song to have stuck in your head while mucking out 😉

Dom and Jimmie Schramm, the masterminds behind EventionTV, are only a short drive up the road from here, so I’m hoping I’ll get to meet them while I’m here.

If you haven’t come across them before, you absolutely need to check them out on facebook and youtube. They’ve got some fantastic, informative videos, as well as lots of fun ones like this.

True Prospect Farm – I’ve arrived!

Yesterday was my last morning in New York, and I had planned to get up early and go out for one final run around Central Park. The weather didn’t agree with my plans though, and I woke up to find that it was freezing cold and raining outside. Good excuse to sleep in for an extra hour 😉

My next move was to head down to Pennsylvania to begin my stint as a working student at True Prospect Farm with Phillip Dutton. Battling public transport with three big bags in the rain wasn’t a fun experience, but I eventually made it onto my bus to Delaware. Phillip’s wife, Evie, met me at the bus station at Wilmington. She is absolutely lovely – I’d been pretty nervous about flying across the world to work with people I’d never met before, but I needn’t have worried, everyone I’ve met so far has been so nice.

The farm is located in some really beautiful countryside – even though it’s wintry and muddy at the moment, it’s still really picturesque. I’m staying in the annexe, and my room overlooks the gorgeous big indoor arena… Such an awesome view! I had the afternoon off to get unpacked and settle in, and explored the barn area a little. The highlight so far was definitely meeting Cave – better known as Mr Medicott.

 

The beautiful indoor! Complete with mirrors.. Let’s see if I can fix my bad-habit-hands.

One of the other riders, who also lives in the annexe, took me out for dinner at Applebee’s… another piece of American pop culture I can tick off the list. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get used to how sweet and sugary all the food is here! They seem to add some kind of sugary sauce to everything. Next stop was Walmart… Unfortunately I didn’t witness any People-of-Walmart classics, but I’m sure that’s just a matter of time 😉

Up early this morning for my first day of working. Mornings start with feeding, mucking out, turning out certain horses and sweeping up, before getting started on the riding. I rode two lovely young horses this morning – one very cute little mare and a big gelding who I’ve totally fallen in love with – any volunteers to help fund my import bill to bring him home? He’s totally my type – tall, dark and handsome, and very forward with a lovely trot. I’m on the roster to ride three different horses tomorrow. I’m really pleased to be getting the chance to ride so many different horses… After becoming so used to Freddy over the past 5 years, I’ve become pretty set in my ways, so it’s great to be learning new things from new horses.

The rest of the day was spent grooming and cleaning tack – this is where I’m totally in my element. It’s interesting that grooming is such a big deal here, as in specifically getting horses out of their boxes (sorry, stalls… got to keep up with the local lingo) purely for the purpose of grooming. Quite different to the quick dust-off prior to riding that many horses seem to get back home.

Another big difference is the rugging.. nope, sorry, blanketing! It’s basically freezing here, and most horses are turned out with just one winter rug on. Quite a far cry from the layers upon layers that are piled on Australian horses in much milder conditions.

The view of the arena from our living area

I really like the set-up here, it’s well organised, professional and no fuss. There’s a place for everything, and everything is in it’s place – just the way I like to operate. I know it’s early days and I’m all starry-eyed, but I really feel like I’ve found the right place to be. I’m really enjoying just being in an environment where the care of horses is paramount – working with horses is certainly good for the soul.

I’d better wrap this up now because I’m rambling on, and it’s getting late… Need to get my beauty sleep to look good for the horses tomorrow – haha. Apparently snow is forecast for tomorrow. I’m excited to see it, but I’m sure the novelty will wear off very quickly once my extremities start to freeze and fall off!