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 ๐Ÿ˜‰

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!

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 ๐Ÿ˜‰

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 ๐Ÿ˜‰

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!

Making plans!

 

 

There are now only 65 days, 23 hours and 38 minutes until I leave on my big USA adventure.. not that I’m counting or anything ๐Ÿ˜‰ For those who don’t yet know, I’m going to be spending my uni holidays in the States with Phillip Dutton. I’ve spent this week booking and paying for boring things like travel insurance, flights and hotels. It’s depressing watching those thousands of dollars disappearing from my bank account when I’d rather be spending it on all the beautiful winter riding clothes I’ll be needing over there.ย It’s also taking a lot of self-restraint to stay on top of my uni work when I’d rather be looking up all the must-sees and must-dos which I’m hoping to squeeze in on my way to Phillip’s!

I’m heading there via New York, and returning home via LA, with about 5 days in each place on the way. So if I have any American followers, or anyone else who has travelled through these areas, I’d love to hear your suggestions!

I’m currently on my mid-semester break and have soo much to try to fit into this week.. it’s Thursday already and I’ve barely ticked off a third of the list! The best news is that my lovely old dog, Willow, went in for surgery yesterday which we were all a bit worried about, but she pulled through fine and is now home and recovering well.

 

Pre-surgery cuddles.. she’s not quite as pretty post-surgery, but I’m very happy to have her home in one piece!

I’m feeling terribly over-committed to so many things in the next couple of months. I made a lot of plans for October and November before I made the decision to head to the US, and nearly every weekend is packed out with events and other commitments between now and December. I’m also trying to fit in as much riding as possible between now and then, so I don’t humiliate myself when I arrive! Soย it will be challenging trying to stay on top of it all and do well in my exams in the weeks before I leave… I don’t think I’ll have a spare moment to relax until I get on that first plane!