The Icepocalypse continued

We ended up surviving another 4 days without power. Although farms closer to town got theirs back within a couple of days, we’re quite a way out and so we were one of the last places to get reconnected. Us girls actually became quite proficient at existing in the dark… Even though we’ve had electricity back for a few days now, I’ve found myself still wandering around the apartment and using the bathroom with no lighting on more than one occasion.

On a wider scale, Paradise Horse Trials was delayed by a day, and the USEA Aiken Eventing Gala at Stable View Farm was postponed – I was quite grateful for this, I couldn’t imagine us trying to get ourselves looking presentable without decent lighting and our hairdryers!

As if the ice storm wasn’t enough, Aiken even experienced an earthquake one evening. I have to admit I was keeping an eye out for the Horsemen of the Apocalypse – it’s hard to ignore so many warning signs for the end of the world!

Our farm became pretty popular with neighbouring farms because we were one of the few places with running water, thanks to our big propane generator. Lots of people dropped by to fill up water containers to cart back to their barns, or to borrow the wash bay to prepare for Paradise.

I must say a huge thanks to everyone who kindly offered up their couches, floors, beds and showers so that we could retain some sense of civilisation throughout the week. All in all we were very lucky to escape relatively unscathed – aside from the inconvenience of no electricity and the big clean up job ahead of us, there was no major damage to the property and all of the horses remained happy, safe and sound.

Riding in the aftermath of the storm – there is a hell of a clean up job ahead of us!

Aiken Icepocalypse – Day 1

Now that life has returned to some kind of normality following a wild winter week in Aiken, I can finally get caught up on my posting. This is likely to be a long one because so much has happened lately, so bear with me!

As many of you would have heard, Aiken was hit by a huge ice storm last week, which wreaked havoc in the lives of locals and eventing snowbirds alike. We lost power early on Wednesday morning, and had to live without it for 6 days.

I’ve never encountered an ice storm like that before and was amazed at how much damage was inflicted. The sheer weight of the ice brought down branches and whole trees all over town, which in turn brought down many power lines, which was the reason for the prolonged power outage.

On the first day when the ice was falling, we kept all the horses in the barn and didn’t ride any of them, although some of our neighbours did still work some of theirs. We just decided that the risk of injury outweighed the benefits – the ice was incredibly slippery under foot, not to mention the fact that falling ice is pretty blinding and unpleasant for horse and rider alike!

Barn work was a challenge, as we had all the windows and doors shut up to try and retain some heat, leaving no natural lighting inside. Mucking stalls by the light of my cell phone became tedious pretty quickly! We did have a generator that we were able to use to run water to the barn, so we were at least able to keep the horses hydrated.

Once the necessities were done that morning, Phillip generously let us head into town to try and get a hot breakfast. This was a long and slow journey though due to the thick coating of ice on the roads – even our big 4WD truck wasn’t immune to slipping and sliding. Nearly everything in town was shut down, even the gas stations. Luckily for us, Waffle House was still open and we ordered nearly everything on the menu and sat down to a huge feast.

That first night was pretty unpleasant – we were trapped on the farm because the roads had become so dangerous by that stage, so there were a number of us piled into our little apartment above the barn with no power or water. We soon became painfully aware of how unprepared we were for this kind of situation… We had one single scented candle to try and share between us all, and dinner existed of Oreos and cereal. Even with multiple layers of clothing and as many blankets as we could find, we were still bitterly cold and miserable. We realised the next morning that we should have set up camp down in the barn itself – all that trapped horsey body heat actually kept the place very warm and toasty. And of course, we had to suffer one of those terrible 21st century tragedies – no wifi or phone chargers!

We had spent that whole night hoping that the power would be back on any minute… Little did we know that we were in for nearly a whole week of living in the dark ages!

Another day in paradise

I just have to share this beautiful sunrise photo from yesterday morning when I was heading out to the barn.

I’m living and working in such a gorgeous area with some really amazing people, doing something that I love every day… Life doesn’t get much better than that.

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/

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

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.