Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Final Thoughts

I’ve been back from Aiken for a couple days now, and have been mulling over my time there.  First, I made the drive back with no issues, thank goodness!  My 14 year old truck made the over one thousand mile roundtrip like a trooper.  One of my biggest concerns when planning this trip was the drive down and back, so I was quite happy that went ok.   
Highlights from Aiken:
-           A fantastic jumping lesson with Olympian Boyd Martin
-          Educational and exciting cross-country school on both Catty and Ianto at a remarkable venue
-          Successful and fun first event of the year on Catty, Sporting Days photos
-          Ianto gaining confidence, and being much bolder about jumping
-          Chatting in the evenings with International riders and top-level grooms, very cool
-          Getting to ride different horses, which was educational, and allowed me to really work on my position
-          Hacking out when the weather was warm and sunny, it was lovely riding out in the quiet countryside surrounded by pine trees
-          The footing, seriously, this was a major highlight after dealing with so much mud in Virginia this winter, the nice sandy soil was a huge benefit
Surprises from Aiken:
-          I learned that the fulltime horse life is definitely not for me, while it’s wonderful as a hobby, I don’t ever want it to be my job
-          The slower pace of the south, being from the DC area I kind of live on fast forward, and it sure took some adjustment getting used to everything moving at an unhurried pace
-          The temperatures really aren’t that warm, while the afternoons could warm-up nicely, I was quite shocked how cold the mornings were
-          Hay prices, yikes, I realized how lucky I am to get alfalfa for $5.50 a bale here, the cost of hay there is truly shocking
-          Cell phone signal, I could not believe how poor the cellphone service was there, it was very aggravating constantly having no signal
-          What passes for driveways, basically sand paths with horrid gullies, I was shocked my trailer didn’t bottom out on some of them 
Overall, my time in Aiken was certainly an adventure and really got me prepped for the spring season.  I sure hope I can keep the momentum going, and look forward to tackling the Prelim course at Morven Park at the end of this month.  I will miss the lovely, serene farm where I was lucky enough to keep my horses, and the camaraderie of being surrounded by eventers every day.  It was definitely a trip I won’t forget anytime soon.   
My horses’ home while in Aiken

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Sporting Days Horse Trials

I'm a day behind updating this as things got crazy getting ready for the Sporting Days horse trials.  On Friday I worked on flat work with both horses, did tons of barn chores, including mucking paddocks and prepared everything for the event.  I also went over and checked out the stadium and XC courses on Friday afternoon.  What is cool about this venue is that it is literally only a 1/2 mile from the farm where my horses are staying.  This was the Training level XC.

Saturday was an early start as I had dressage at 8:12am.  I was not too pleased that the temps were in the low 30's as I was getting ready, but if I kept moving it wasn't too bad.  I actually tacked Catty up before heading to the event, and after the long 1/2 mile journey, I unloaded and got on.  She warmed up well for dressage, staying fairly relaxed.  She put in what I thought was a nice, workmanlike, accurate test, with just a bit of tension.  However, the judge felt we had lots to work on, oh well.  An hour after dressage I was scheduled for Show Jumping, so I did a quick tack change and headed over.

Catty had been quiet and relaxed up until this point, but once we got to the jumping area she really perked up.  She warmed up well, though was quite strong and was showing her usual tendency to be trailer bound.  Going in the direction of the trailer parking she tries to takeover, and going away from them she is nice and rideable.  In the ring she jumped well, especially at one jump where I completely rode to a terrible distance.  I was thrilled to finish with a clear round and headed to XC.

The course had a couple questions on it, but everything looked very doable.  I had a great time out on course, and Catty was incredibly bold. She was very forward, especially in the direction of the trailers, but was ratable when I needed her to be.  She jumped through the water and coffin especially well.  We came home well under the time, and I think we both had big smiles on our faces.  The jumping phases felt easy for her, and hopefully our next outing will be at Prelim.  Overall it was a great day, and I really didn't feel like we had rust to knock off even though our last event was almost 4 months ago.  I'm happy to bring home a brown ribbon to remember my first time competing in Aiken.

Since I was done competing before 10am I managed to get in a nice jump school on Ianto.  He was jumping out of his skin, and being very bold.  I'm really looking forward to continuing working with him back in Virginia.  After riding him, I went back to the event in the afternoon to help my trainer with his two horses.  It was exciting to be in the warm-up and seeing so many International event riders, this is definitely an eventing mecca.

My time in Aiken is now coming to a close, and my fingers are crossed that the long journey home goes smoothly.  I will miss this eventing haven, but I'm ready to get back to my normal routine.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Day 5 - XC School

I had a terrific horsey time yesterday.  I rode a fun mare in the morning, and practiced my dressage test for the event on her.  It was great to work on my riding, and also to work on how best to ride the test.  Hopefully this flat work pays off on Saturday!  The highlight though was making the trek to the Gibbes Farm for an XC school with Catty and Ianto.  At first I was wondering why we were driving an hour when there are so many places to school right in Aiken.  After riding at the Gibbes I completely understand why it's worth the drive.

The venue is literally an eventers playground, with nearly every type of jump you can imagine, and it seems to go on forever.  I was shocked to see just how big the place was, and how many different obstacles there were.  I had a terrific outing with both Catty and Ianto, though they were again way too worried about where the other one was.  I was able to work on many trickier combinations with Catty.  These included bounce banks, one stride sunken road one stride to a jump, a jump on a big bump, one stride to a drop into the water, ditch and walls, 3 strides down a hill to a chevron, corner to a skinny duck, etc.  I was really thrilled with how she handled the bounce bank in both directions, the first time for both of us jumping that.  It left me quite excited for this season.

Ianto was also terrific, and I still can't believe how much bolder he is.  While he is still spooky, he is really trying and often takes me to the jumps now.  He was great through the water, even going over a small jump on an island.  He also handled the bank well, especially the down banks, and was great about the ditches.  We jumped a couple of training level fences, and he was wonderful.  I was quite proud of him, and had a lot of fun taking him around.

Today will be all about flatwork, and then first thing tomorrow in the cold temps Catty and I will start our season.  I think it should go well, knock on wood.

Gibbes Farm

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Day 4 - Horses Horses Horses

Yesterday was a beautiful day here in Aiken, it was sunny and got to 60 degrees.  It was a long, tiring day, but oh so fun and horse filled.  I got to ride my two and two other horses.  It has been so good for me to get on other horses and work on my riding.  The two in addition to mine, could not be any different, one is a big, lumbering horse and the other is small and on the hotter side.  Definitely very enlightening on how best to ride various types of horses.

Catty just went on a hack yesterday after jumping two days in a row, and Ianto got to do a jump school.  Ianto is going so well, and now I'm having to relearn how to ride him a bit, as he is being bolder to the jumps.  I certainly hope this translates when we get back home.

Other than riding there are the usual barn chores, feeding, mucking, grooming, bathing, blanketing, etc.  All the usual horse things that for some reason is a vacation in my mind.  It is wonderful to have dinner in the evenings with a group and everyone is talking about horses.  I'm still not used to the fact that almost all conversations here revolve around horses.  

Today should be fun with more nice weather and an XC school for Catty and Ianto.  Hopefully they both are at their best.  

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Day 3 - Rain and Boyd

Yesterday started off pretty miserable with a cold rain.  Again leaving me thinking I came down for this weather?  So it was a slow start to the day, which included another healthy meal, this time at IHOP.  It is truly funny to me that almost all conversation here revolves around horse, definitely a bit different from my everyday back home.  It's also cool that almost everywhere you drive you see rigs of big name eventers.  It truly is an eventing mecca here.

So luckily the afternoon yesterday dawned sunny and 60 degrees, it was truly lovely.  I worked Ianto on the flat, where he was ok, but kept neighing to Catty.  Maybe by the end of the week they will get over that, but I'm not so sure.  Then I loaded up Catty to take her for a lesson with Olympian Boyd Martin.  I was worried she would be a bit crazy, as she hasn't really settled in well since we've been here, she hates changes in her routine.  However, she came off the trailer calm and relaxed, thank goodness.

She was absolutely wonderful in the lesson.  We got some great things to work on, including getting deeper to the fences, and holding my upper-body over the fences.   He complimented us, saying Catty is a tidy jumper, and after we put in a decent round of fences he said it looked like I had done a lot of jumping in my time.  After jumping in the ring we worked a bit in his water-jump, and Boyd had me canter around to a rather large table in the water.  I was a bit nervous cantering around to it as we haven't jumped xc since last fall, and I was thinking do not screw this up in-front of Boyd.  However, Catty jumped it well, which led to the highlight of the day when Boyd said I have a cool horse!  It was wonderful to feel like Catty and I are on the right track.  Today she will have an easier day as we plan to XC school tomorrow.  Fingers crossed we are ready for our first event of the year this Saturday!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Day 2 - Settling In

Yesterday was a great day, though the weather certainly wasn't ideal, only getting to 50 degrees and rain off and on.  However, I had a terrific time riding my two horses and two others, it has been such an educational experience already.  Catty is still being way too attached to Ianto, and quite barn sour, but we still managed a good jump school.  She jumped quite well, especially when I was able to get her to focus.  Ianto went on another hack and schooled a couple more XC fences, and he was wonderful.  He seems to be getting braver and much bolder to the fences.  He really enjoys when we gallop a bit across the fields.

I got to jump another horse, which was a wonderful opportunity for me to work on my riding.  I also got to gallop a lovely mare that was terrific fun.  The day also included a trip to the feed store, where I got to see the exhorbitant costs of hay, yikes.  One of the highlights of the day?  Breakfast for lunch at Waffle House, not the healthiest, but oh so good.  I have noticed while the locals are certainly friendly here, they defintely move at a much slower pace than people in the DC area.

Off to start another day.  It should be a big day as I have a lesson scheduled with Boyd Martin.  I'm praying that Catty is on her best behavior.

Dressage/jumping area at the barn.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Day 1 or How to Change a Flat Tire

My first full day in Aiken was certainly interesting.  To start with my two horses are being very high maintenance as they are completely attached to each other.  Catty especially is not being on her best behavior.  We went on a lovely hack, and even after going way out she was still calling back for Ianto back at the barn, not that he could hear her, crazy mare.  Ianto, though, once away from the barn was absolutely fabulous.  He was great on the trails and we did a mini XC school over the jumps along the way and he was terrific.  I could tell he was so proud of himself for leading the way over the jumps, and he really seemed to enjoy going up and down the small bank.  Besides riding the two horses there were the usual barn chores, and soaking up the beautiful sunny 70 degree weather.

The excitement for the day was when I went with my trainer to take two of his horses to a local farm.  Sounds pretty usual, right?  Well we are getting one of the horses ready, chatting with the farm owner and hear a loud bang, then what sounds like air brakes.  We all look at each other, like what in the world?  Turns out one of the trailer tires blew while we were sitting there, and it went flat in record time.  So after the two horses were worked my trainer got the tire changed, which required us finding random pieces of wood to get the trailer up high enough to get the tire off. Luckily all ended well, but it defintely added some excitement to the day.

Well time to get another day going.  I have been terrible about taking pictures as I seem to constantly be on the move, but I will try to get some today.  

Sunday, February 24, 2013

We Have Arrived!

Catty, Ianto and I made it safely to Aiken yesterday afternoon, thank goodness.  It rained nearly the entire trip down, which is really terrific considering my truck's windshield wipers squeak with every swipe, quite irritating after a while.  The truck also provided a couple scary moments with some random rather loud rattling sounds, but luckily they were short in duration.  Another scary moment was being passed by semi's on each side of me simultaneously going 65 mph in the pouring rain, causing my knuckles to turn white as I clung to the steering wheel.  Overall though the trip wasn't as bad as I was anticipating.  However, I did get quite bored at times, and my butt fell asleep just an hour into the trip, but if those are my only complaints life isn't bad.  

The horses seem to have settled in well.  At first I put them in their stalls and Catty looked so depressed.  I think she thought she was going to be stuck in a stall the whole time like the last time she was away.  As soon as I put her and Ianto out in the paddock her demeanor completely changed, and you could almost see a smile on her face.  I did get to go on a hack on one of my trainer's horses yesterday, and there is so much space to ride out it's terrific.  I can't wait to take Catty and Ianto out.  Today is supposed to be sunny and 70, which I'm beyond excited for.  Yesterday when I arrived it was foggy and in the 40's.  All I could think was I drove 9 hours for this?  

Friday, February 22, 2013

Preparations – Part 2

Did I really think this was going to be a vacation, ackk. So far it has been pretty stressful getting everything ready, plus work has been hectic as I prepare to be out of the office for a week. However, things have been coming together, just not as fast as I would like. I think I have washed just about anything that can be washed; I trimmed the horses up, and pulled their manes. I was hoping to give them a bath this evening, but not sure the weather forecast is going to be conducive to that.
I’ve looked at the forecast in Aiken, and it says flooding for my arrival day, terrific. However, my first full day there is supposed to be sunny and 70, yippee. Tonight will be an absolute whirlwind as I finish packing everything into the truck and trailer. I hope I’m not packing too much, but I have a feeling I’m going to end up bringing every piece of tack I own, along with every article of clothing in my closest. If you need to know just how many bags of shavings can fit in the back of a Suburban ask me.
The horses seem to be doing well, though the weather and lack of daylight hasn’t allowed me to ride Ianto this week as much I would have liked. I did get a day of trot sets in on Catty, which is always humorous to me. Trotting in the direction of the barn it’s like we are off in the Kentucky Derby, trotting away from the barn you would think she was dying as she crawls along.  
It still doesn’t seem quite real that I’m going, probably because going to Aiken is something I have wanted to do for so long. My non-horse friends seem to think this whole trip is a crazy idea, and my horsey friends think I will have a blast. I hope my horsey friends are right! 
Until next time, which if all goes as planned will be from Aiken!
My traveling companions.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Preparations – Part 1

So less than a week until I make the trek down to Aiken.  I’m generally a very organized individual, but I feel a bit overwhelmed trying to get everything prepared for myself and the horses, plus getting things in order to be off work for a week.  I’m still trying to figure out how I thought driving 9 hours south with 2 horses to spend the week is going to be a vacation for me.  I guess I had a moment of insanity when deciding to go. 
Despite all my planning there of course have been hiccups, like the vet putting Catty as a gelding on the health certificate even though she has known her since birth.   The big hiccup was of course with the 8 year old trailer and the much older truck.  I planned ahead and took the trailer to the shop for maintenance to make sure it is road ready for the trip.  Upon picking up the trailer the repair shop noticed the truck hitch was rusty.  The rust was so bad you could poke your finger through the hitch.  Is that a big problem?  Good thing we found that before I left, so today the truck went in to have the hitch replaced.   
During one of my long commutes in the car I decided to try and mentally figure out what gas is going to cost me for this trip.  So about 530 miles one way, the truck gets about 7 miles to the gallon when hauling, at an average of $3.60 a gallon that would be?  OMG, never mind, ignorance is bliss think about something else, yikes.  I make a mental note to ask the techs at work if there is a magical potion to double MPG, there has to be, right?  
The horses seem to be coming along well, despite the arctic temps, whistling winds and deplorable ground conditions, however thankfully there hasn’t been a snowmageddon this year.  I had a dressage lesson Friday evening, where thanks to a cold front coming through the wind was howling.  This made for a nice lesson on how to ride Catty when she is going like a freight train.  On Saturday I participated in a jumping clinic, where I got told Catty is a big-time horse, so I need to step up my game to match her talent.   What did I selectively choose to hear?  My mare is awesome!  Yesterday I had a jumping lesson with Ianto, where once he discovered the fire pit for the spectators wasn’t going to eat him he was wonderful.   I got a very nice compliment from the farm owner where my lesson was.  She said all of my homebreds are so pretty, and whenever she needs to get her next horse she will come see me.  That definitely put a smile on my face.

Now with it being crunch time I have to get tons of laundry done for me and the horses, clean and clip them so they don’t look like ragamuffins, make sure I have everything packed that I need, and try not to freak out too much!