Flashback – George Morris at Bridle Creek Farm

I know this is months overdue – but better late than never!

Originally I had planned to spend my final week in the US exploring Los Angeles, but when I heard that George Morris would be teaching a clinic next door at Boyd’s, I knew that was something I didn’t want to miss. I postponed my flight out of South Carolina for a few days so that I could stay and attend, and volunteered to spend the two days picking up poles so I could be right amongst the action. Plenty of people warned me to be quick on my feet and race to any dislodged jumps, but I still managed to take a few photos and record some of his best quotes on my ipad throughout the day.

George is such a stickler for correct and solid basics and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to him emphasising the importance of soft and light riding, and functionally correct position. It’s quite humbling to know that even Olympians can struggle with the basics – Phillip’s heels became a bit of a running joke over the two days! It was really interesting watching George actually get on and ride a few of the horses throughout the clinic… while he may be getting on in years, his riding ability definitely hasn’t diminished!

There was lots of good-hearted humour interspersed with George’s quick and dry wit. George seems to divide people’s opinions quite strongly, with some criticising his teaching style and mannerisms, but I felt that all his comments and instructions were very fair and constructive. I don’t think I’d ever be brave enough to ride in front of him, but I certainly enjoyed my very close-up learning experience!

“Basic principles of horsemanship and riding never change. Fashions and fads change, and that’s what’s damaging our sport.”

“If any of the basics are compromised, there will always be consequences.”

“Position equals function.”

“Contact is straight, steady, definite and supple.”

“I don’t care how much you win, I want soft and light riding.”

“This is a sport of precision – every inch counts.”

Flashback – Aiken Olympic Gala

One of the impacts of the ice storm was the postponement of the Aiken Olympic Gala – an evening of fundraising for the USEF High Performance Eventing Team. Initially it was intended to be held at Stable View Farm, but was rescheduled for the following week at the beautiful Willcox Hotel in town.

The Willcox

It was a great excuse to get a bit dressed up and head out for a night of rubbing shoulders with all the big names in the business. Riders, owners, vets, coaches and team officials were just a few of the people on the guest list. I was quite mortified to realise at the last minute that I couldn’t find a dress in amongst all my breeches and thermals – a cocktail party benefiting the Olympic Team wasn’t quite what I’d imagined when I was packing my bags! I think the biggest challenge of the evening was us 5 girls trying to get ready in one small bathroom after a long day of riding – but somehow we were only just a little fashionably late.

The silent auction table – just a small selection of what was on offer

It was a really fun night and the fundraising was a big success, with plenty of great items up for grabs in the silent auction. Riding lessons with Phillip and grooming lessons with Emma Ford were just a couple of examples, and I found myself thinking I was incredibly fortunate to have access to those opportunities every day!

With the free drinks flowing freely, it wasn’t long before the night got a bit fuzzy, and a few of us kept the party going and headed out into town. There were more than a couple of sore heads the next morning, but it was certainly one of the most memorable evenings of my trip.

No night out is complete without some bathroom photos…

….and selfies!

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.

My first competition – Sporting Days Farm Horse Trials

I had my first experience with American one day eventing over the past weekend – and what an experience it was! While most horse trials back in Australia run over an entire weekend, genuine one day events are far more common over here in the US. I’m very used to having the three disciplines spread out over two days with plenty of time in between, so getting it all over and done with in a matter of hours is a bit of a foreign concept to me!

I was grooming for Waylon, one of Phillip’s riders, who was competing on four Training level horses – Vanderbilt (Vandy), Winter Colony (Teddy), Good Enough (Goody), and my super special favourite, Automagically (Bones).

We were up bright and early on Saturday morning to get the horses all fed before hauling across town to Sporting Days Farm, with our first dressage test at 8am. I had a very busy morning getting the 4 horses through dressage, show jumping (called stadium over here) and cross country in a 3 and a half hour time period. That’s a lot of grooming, tacking, untacking, unbraiding and cooling out to get done, while making sure the next horse was always ready to go!

Being mugged for carrots by Teddy and Bones

I did struggle with the concept of leaving the horses on the trailer all day except for when they were competing – very different to having them all tied to the sides all day like we do at home. It’s apparently quite easy to play Spot the Aussie at competitions over here – they’re the only ones who have all their horses off the trailer and tied up! It felt a bit inefficient having to get each of them on and off multiple times to get them ready, but admittedly it was more pleasant for them to be inside when the rain began midway through the morning.

The trailer, with 5 ponies hiding inside out of sight. It would surely be so much more efficient to have them tied up outside rather than dragging them on and off all day…

It was a very successful day for Team PDE, with Goody finishing 2nd, Bones and Vandy 3rd in their respective divisions, and Teddy ending up 4th, losing his hold on the first place ribbon after a couple of unfortunate rails.

XC warmup

Bones cruising on course

The ribbon haul!

It was quite a novelty being finished and heading out the gate just after lunchtime – going back home and leisurely taking an entire weekend to compete on one horse will be a total breeze!

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/