Day 1: Saturday, Feb. 15
Hitting the road with five horses, Aiken, S.C., bound. It was supposed to be six, but I sold one the day before. Oops! I’m looking forward to getting out of the indoor and getting this motley crew some mileage.
I’ve got everything on this trip, from 30-days broke to developing grand prix horse. Here we go, my first season as a professional.
I secretly imagine I’ll be suave and well-organized while my horses will be impressive and well-mannered. I’ve prepared for this; I’ve pored over the details and accounted for every eventuality. It’ll be great!
Later that day
We arrived at the boarding facility late Saturday night. One of the horses immediately got colicky but Banamine came to the rescue. The facility owner notified me that she kept several attack dogs that would tear my dogs to shreds (her words). I stifled my mouth when I felt the urge to say “You can’t be serious!?” because I’m so suave. I guess attack dogs don’t bear mentioning during the exhaustive process of arranging a boarder agreement? Not six hours into the trip, I needed to plan an escape.
Day 2: Sunday, Feb. 16
Sunday morning I drove over to the horse show grounds to negotiate staying with them, where there are no attack dogs. Happily, we easily came to an agreement. I left the horses in their stalls while I drove the trailer over to unload the equipment and set up the new stalls. While I was away for this short period, my grand prix horse got cast in his stall and cut his leg. Not 24 hours into the trip, I found myself googling “Aiken equine vets.” (He was OK.)
Day 6: Friday, Feb. 20
Anyone who says “at least you’re not at home,” when trying to comfort me about the extreme cold this week deserves a punch in the face. At home I’d be in a heated indoor with heated buckets and underground plumbing. I filled 10 buckets of water and took them into the RV camper so the horses would have water when all the pipes froze. I haven’t had running water in the RV for three days. I haven’t smelt this “natural” since college.
The cold and the new environment have made all the horses bonkers. I ride them down every day and then do it again the next day. Like Voldemort or Republicans, they just keep coming back stronger and more dangerous than before.
Friday afternoon, my phone randomly died. The perky Verizon sales person immediately became grave when he saw the scrambled screen.
“Did you drop this in water or hit it with a hammer?” he asked me.
I wanted to say, “That’s exactly what I did! One of the buttons was sticking so I lubricated with water and then loosened it with a hammer.” But I didn’t because I’m supposed to be suave. Instead I just sighed a whimper “No, the screen just started doing that randomly.” He almost laughed; “Well you’ve got bad luck! You need a new phone.”
No running water; wild and out of control horses daily, and now no way to contact the outside world. I think Aiken may be trying to kill me.
Day 8: Sunday, Feb. 22
I’m having an identity crisis. I think I may be a human lunge line.
Day 9: Monday, Feb. 23
My knee is definitely hurting. It has to be a stress injury from my sudden career shift into bronco riding. The locusts should be arriving any moment now. My new phone was delivered, and turned away by the show office.
Day 10: Tuesday, Feb. 24
Happy birthday to me! Twenty-six years old; strange to think my 20s are over half over. I’ve got running water now but the RV toilet is not working. The plumber concluded it was still frozen. What good is running water if you can’t poop in it? I jump-schooled several horses in the freezing rain; ready or not, the horse show is starting this week. I cannot recall a time when I was colder than I was today. By the sheer and awesome power of human incompetence, my phone was turned away again.
Day 11: Wednesday, Feb. 25
The rain is here to stay. I now have a scenic river running underneath the RV. The toilet is still frozen; when it’s dark out I pee outside in the rain so I don’t have to walk the sizable distance to the porta-potty. The horse show life is a glamorous one. Other barns are arriving for the show so the grounds are quite busy today. All the green horses are awestruck by the new activity and are consequently being wild (again).
I caved and went to the ER to get my knee checked out. I generally like to power through pain, but I think 26 is a little young for a knee replacement, so I elected to be safe. After a three-hour wait, I got my turn with a nurse practitioner.
I rattled off my practiced explanation: “Possible stress soft tissue injury to my left knee. I have been treating with approximately 600 m.g. of naproxen, Game Ready cold/compression therapy, and topical Diclofenac sodium cream daily. I would like a conclusive test to determine any diagnosable soft tissue damage. I’m an athlete and I’m here for the next two weeks for work and I can’t stop unless there’s a definite injury. Please do not just tell me to stop using it and wait and see.”
The nurse practitioner looked at the pointless x-rays they took (for the record, I told them they were pointless ahead of time) and pointlessly told me to stay off it and see. At that point, I lost my suave.
Day 12: Thursday, Feb. 26
After I left the ER, I went to FedEx and got my phone, which had been turned away a record third time. Now armed with a swath of powerful painkillers coerced out of the redundant nurse practitioner, I am ready to start showing. I came out of the ring after my first class of the show (a simple .85-meter jumper class) and a complete stranger complimented me on the ride. “Beautifully ridden,” she said.
It was a trifling thing, a simple gesture, like holding a door open for someone, but after everything that had happened on this trip, it was exactly what I needed to hear. I brimmed with gratitude and I sincerely hoped she could feel it, whoever she was.
Never hesitate to pay kindness when you believe it’s due. It will be appreciated, even if it doesn’t sink in during that moment.
Day 16: Monday, March 2
Ah, the sun, finally! It is amazing what a little good weather can do for morale. The horses’ wildness melted away in the sun. With the help of strong opiates, I could ride with relatively low discomfort. I’ve never been so pleased to be sunburnt before.
Day 18: Thursday, March 5
My 5-year-old jumper Deep Woods won his first class ever, a 1.05-meter jumper class. It was a small victory, sure, but I celebrated nevertheless.
Here’s our jump-off round…
It was a rewarding culmination to feel him put everything together in a single round, and when developing young horses I have learned to enjoy every tiny success. Later in the day, it rained sideways with a ferociousness that sent everyone sprinting back to the barns right before my last class of the day; it wouldn’t be Aiken without angry weather, after all. Unfazed by the steady rain and wind, Roc Canyon (a 9-year-old gelding by Roc USA) and I galloped to second in our warm-up class when the show resumed.
Day 21: Sunday, March 8 (the final day)
Only one class today, a $15,000 1.35-meter mini prix. In the grand scheme of my larger goals, a this class seems like short-stirrup, but classes like this are how I’m making my start. I haven’t had a horse that could jump 1.30+ tracks since I was a teenager, and Roc Canyon hasn’t jumped 1.30+ tracks for about two years. We are both rusty and wondering how this is going to go.
Before the class I have to remind myself I’m a professional who’s supposed to have the skills to do this; it’s tough to develop upper level skills without upper level horses, and it’s hard to have upper level horses without great wealth, but that is another blog entirely. I can’t be successful talking myself into it; I tell myself that while I don’t have the experience I’d like, I have the instincts, the feel, the knowledge, and the fearless luck of Wiley Coyote that keeps me coming back again and again.
We finished fifth after a cheap rail in the jump off. I rode well, my horse jumped great, and we could now get out of Aiken with our heads held high. I’d like to say it was a great trip, that I’d totally do it again next year, or that I had great fun along the way. But sometimes the trip just isn’t great. It was three long weeks of bad weather, hard riding, injury, and unexpected pitfalls and complications. But, ultimately, I accomplished what I had come for; the horses got the mileage and exposure they needed, and I now know that horse show planning is basically just disaster planning with a time schedule thrown in. Perhaps next year though, I’ll go to Florida. It may still be a disaster, but hopefully it’ll be warmer.
Rebecca Young works for Everbold Farm in Kirkland, Ill. She rides, trains, shows and breeds primarily jumpers but does not discriminate against the occasional hunter. When not on horseback, Rebecca takes great joy in hiking, skiing, mountaineering,