Surviving England And First Impressions

Sep 13, 2017 - 2:02 PM

The Americans are here! Everyone has settled in nicely at Blenheim, passed the first horse inspection, and both Liz and Lauren have put in nice tests in the CCI***.  As for team Payne Equestrian, all parties are here and accounted for and ready to kick things into high gear.

After finally getting a solid night’s rest (if that really happens while traveling abroad) we decided to get into some sort of a routine. Doug got Quinn ridden fairly early on our three layover days and then we decided to head out and find some tourist-y things to do with our free time. Since we left the other 20 horses in Aiken, we figured that we should take advantage of our time outside of the barns—Quinn had most definitely seen enough of me, I think he was happy to see me leave!

We arrived! Photo by Courtney Carson

We traveled to the Roman Baths on the first day, explored Oxford on the second day (exploiting my own claustrophobia), and then found ourselves in Castle Combes and along the coast of the British Channel during our final adventure. My inner nerd loved Oxford, home of a castle that served as a functioning prison until 1996 and Christ Church, where several parts of Harry Potter were filmed. Although when I got stuck in a staircase with 10 or so people coming up and no way to pass them I did begin to freak out, so I jumped into a windowsill and hid until the coast was clear.

Castle Combes was an adorable little town, very English-style. Doug and I found an amazing little coffee shop with some of the best scones I’ll probably ever have in my lifetime. Since this is The Chronicle of the Horse, everyone will enjoy that the beginning of the movie War Horse was filmed within this village and just on the outskirts. It was a really neat place to see, and shout out to Sara Kozumplik Murphy for the recommendation!

The town of Castle Combes. Photo by Doug Payne

Thankfully Doug did all the driving, as all of my instincts would have most definitely gotten us killed. Even from the passenger seat I kept flinching to the right whenever we would meet a car head-on, which happens a lot on these itty-bitty roads. It was very nerve-wracking when I saw a double decker bus and a box truck sideswipe one another while on the way to pick up Hannah Sue’s horses. I am thoroughly convinced I would not have made it driving myself in this country.

Anyway, back to Quinn to whom I owe this entire trip! He worked really well through the weekend and had himself a lovely little canter before we shipped over on Monday. I got to see the famous Maizey Manor when we stopped to pick up RF Demeter and Harbour Pilot along with Hannah Sue Burnett’s groom, Janelle. The hour drive into Blenheim was quite easy, although Quinn was very frustrated and irritable on the lorry.

We got checked in with no problems, and then I jumped right back into my struggling ways. While wheeling our big, heavy as hell trunk toward the stable the handle decided to crack. I’m telling ya—rolling luggage and I are not getting along well on this journey. I don’t know if I should be relieved or afraid that I only have one bag with wheels left undamaged.

Finally moved in!

After a bit of finesse I managed to get everything to the stalls and set up. We took a quick stroll around and then tucked in for the night. I feel like I have entered a fairy-tale for three-day eventing.

The grounds are beautiful, and everything is set to where you cannot see a single road. While there isn’t a ton of hacking room, you don’t feel like you’re in a huge equestrian facility, like how the Kentucky Horse Park feels. It is almost as if we are in another world, and because I am staying on grounds it takes it entirely to a new level. I am only about 100 yards from the stable, but in typical “the life of Courtney Carson” style, that is about all the fun there is to be had!

Our toilet in the caravan does not work. Well, remember how I said I couldn’t work the porta-loo—that is what I thought at first was happening. I tried flushing this silly thing six or seven times. I walked away from it and then came back, asked it nicely, snapped at it.

Nothing worked, which isn’t a huge deal until it is 2 a.m., raining, and you have to pee. I’m beginning to see a theme of this trip—bladder control and broken luggage! Oh, and our heat doesn’t work either. Now I don’t know about most of you, but to me England is cold. I live in Aiken and in shorts, remember? So the first night I crank on the heater. I don’t know if it ever got any warmer, but it did make this lovely clicking sound that reminded me of shock waving a horse. Cue dreams, well I guess more like nightmares, about me sitting for hours with horses while we treated them with the shockwave machine. I got a lot of sleep…

Tuesday brought about a good flat school and then a lot of downtime. Jessica, who caught the last flight out of Atlanta before Irma hit, joined us at the barn and took over supervision duties (I was really quick to pass that torch. I’m just going to go over here and play with my brushes now, thanks).

Vandiver before the first horse inspection. Photo by Courtney Carson

Doug took Quinn on a lovely hack around the grounds in the afternoon with Kim Severson and Cooley Cross Border before the English weather set in. I’m now sharing the caravan with Andi, Kim’s groom, and we both were pretty sure our caravan was going to take flight at some point during the night.

The Event Riders Masters tent did—it jumped the fence by the stabling office and ended up in the trees by our barn. We are pretty cool, though—I’d want to hang out with us as well. Andi appears to be in a similar boat to me, as she had to roll a giant log of hay from the lorry to the back of our barn! She got up this morning just thankful that her hay was still there, as was the sheet she had covering it! I’ve decided if we all make it out alive after this week that will be a win in itself.

The Americans all looked super at the jogs this morning, sailing through with flying colors! We have seven American horses in the CCI*** this weekend and a handful across the two CIC*** divisions. Because of the number of horses the CCI dressage began today, with Liz Halliday-Sharp and Lauren Keiffer both putting in solid tests for the Stars and Stripes. Doug and Quinn went for a school following the jogs, and arena familiarization is this evening. Doug, Jessica, and his parents all went out and are getting a first impression of the cross-country now.

Marilyn and Richard Payne testing out the chairs on the CCI*** cross country. Photo by Doug Payne

It’s a big field and lots of quality horses, but we feel prepped and ready to bring our A game this weekend. When I report back again I’ll have all the American CCI*** scoop and hopefully some cross-country wisdom to impart on everyone.

Until then—think fancy circle thoughts for us here!


Courtney Carson grew up eventing and took her off-the-track Thoroughbred up the ranks to the intermediate level and after graduating from college decided to try grooming as a career. She worked for a grand prix show jumper for a bit before finding her way to Doug and Jessica Payne’s farm in North Carolina, where she oversees the show jumpers and event horses in the barn. Read more about Courtney in the COTH Groom Spotlight about her.  And read all of Courtney’s COTH blogs.

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