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/

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!

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/

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!

Days off and hockey games

With all the long hours and physical work we do here, our day off each week is always well appreciated. I spent the first few lounging around in bed watching movies, but now that I’m well settled in and used to the workload, I’ve begun to venture out and explore a bit on my days off. One of my workmates kindly lets me borrow her car so I can go out and catch up on all the important things like shopping, as well as checking out a few of the local sights.

I had Wednesday off this week, and after a lovely long sleep in I set out for a bit of a girly pamper day. I started off with some shopping and found myself lots of bargains… I really can’t believe the difference in price between things here and back home! After a sneaky ice cream stop I decided to treat myself to a massage… It was definitely a very welcome indulgence for my tired muscles!

When I got home, it was time to head off to the Philadelphia Flyers v Montreal Canadiens ice hockey game with a few friends from the barn. It was my first taste of live American sport and it was soo much fun – the place was packed out and the atmosphere was amazing – definitely one of the highlights of my trip so far! I befriended a few Flyers fans and bought myself a Philadelphia hoodie.. The Flyers ended up winning 3-1 which was pretty exciting. I’m practically a local now!

I don’t think any of us will end up having a day off next week because we’ll be so busy preparing for the big move south, so it was great to have such a fun day off this week. I can’t wait to get settled in in Aiken – I’m sure there are lots of other great places to explore down there!

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

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.