Courtney Carson, supergroom for U.S. event rider Doug Payne, is headed for the Blenheim CCI*** in England with Payne and Vandiver, and she’s blogging for COTH along the way!
Greetings from the U.K! Vandiver, Doug, and I have all safely made it and are settled in and (fairly) rested. Thankfully Quinn (Vandiver) looks bright-eyed and ready to take on the world; I am pretty sure I resemble something of a raccoon who has been run over by a truck.
Our latest journey took approximately 60 hours, but really we have been on the go for a little over two weeks. Quinn competed at the final week of Tryon’s summer show jumping series followed by a fantastic run at the American Eventing Championships as his final prep before coming across the pond. I made the trip to Tryon with Doug and Jessica before returning the jumpers to Aiken and rejoining for the week of the AEC. Quinn and I then spent a lot of quality time together over the last couple of days.
Thankfully Quinn seemed to be met with less hurdles than myself, although I hope my story thus far will amuse those reading it as much as it did me.
The haul to New Jersey was thankfully uneventful. Nothing could be worse than hitting a snag in your plans from jump-street. I was lucky enough to stay with Doug’s parents, five minutes from the layover farm, on Tuesday night. Then the game of “hurry up and wait” began. If you ever plan on flying with an equine friend I advise you to find a good book, a crossword, Sudoku, or something to keep you entertained. I am also not going to guarantee that there will be access to cell phone chargers, so don’t count on Facebook!
I sat in New Jersey after feeding and waited on our time to haul out—the English weather had fallen upon the Northeast, so I was quite thankful I had packed oodles of rain gear in easily accessible places just in case. I had the heat cranked in the truck when the horse-flight guy got in with me, and I’m pretty sure he thought that he was riding into the airport with the biggest wuss in the state. What can I say though? Aiken is warm! I moved to the southeast for a reason, people!
Really once you get to the airport it is pretty simple. Check the horse in, stand around, check in equipment, stand around, place stickers on equipment, stand around, get told if you lose paperwork that you’re screwed, and then you stand around some more.
I was able to hang out with some lovely women in quarantine who were moving back to Europe with their horses and we were all on the same flight. Quinn acted like an old pro when it came time to loading—he walked right onto the crate and looked at me as if to say “what was the big deal about this again?” Now I got to hurry up again to get through security and get to the gate—this is when things got interesting.
While checking my luggage the lovely woman at the counter reads my ticket, looks at me, and proceeds to ask me if I knew that there was a dress code for grooms on this flight. Oh, and said dress code does not include jeans, if I don’t have something else unfortunately I will not be allowed onto the flight.
Who in their right mind tells a groom that they cannot wear jeans?! I am pretty sure I gave her the strangest look as my mind scrolled through the list of things I had packed. You guessed it; jeans, jeans, and more jeans. I opened my suitcase and said a small prayer that I had black pants or something in there, when I stumbled across a pair of random white jeans that I almost never wear. How they got into my suitcase I have no idea, but who was I to argue. Thankfully these “jeans” were allowed and I was escorted to the restroom so I could change and proceed to my gate.
Once I was finally aboard the flight and settled in near the back the in-flight groom informs me that I can go into the cargo hold with Quinn during take-off and landing if I wish. I was able to watch them load the horse boxes onto the plane and then I followed Gabriel through the little door to the cargo hold, white pants and all.
To stay with the horses in the back you actually get into the horse box with them, then stand with your back against the front ramp of the box. I eagerly climbed in there and leaned back against the front ramp to hold steady during take-off. Since it had been raining the ramp was wet and let’s just say that my white pants aren’t so white at this point!
Take-off was quite an interesting experience. The horses on the flight did get quite a bit nervous—the plane shakes as you gain enough speed to leave the ground and then drops once you level out in the air. It reminded me a lot of riding in the horse section of the trailer—while the truck feels smooth the back is quite bumpy. The rest of the flight was easygoing and our lovely head flight attendant had gifts for myself and the two ladies from quarantine when we landed.
Speaking of landing—I’m back with Quinn in his horse box again. We touch down and are zooming down the runway when the pilot locks the brakes up on the plane. All of a sudden the sliding doors on the box slam shut, and both Quinn and the horse he shipped with kick the back wall and jump. If I have ever thought I was in a horror movie, that was the time. Picture the blonde chick in any generic scary movie when the door slams and she suddenly knows that the killer is going to stab her—yeah, that was me! Fortunately I survived, Quinn survived, and we disembarked the plane in one piece.
I had to walk in order to meet Quinn in the cargo area, which wasn’t a big deal since it was only a mile, until the wheel on my suitcase decided to give out. Of course it was my really heavy suitcase that made weigh by 0.5kg, the one that I place my duffle on top of to get it down the road, and of course it happened about 100 yards into my journey. I am almost positive that everyone who passed me on a bicycle laughed and was thinking “stupid American girl” as they watched me ride the struggle bus. I finally got to the grooms’ room where I waited patiently for Quinn to be released.
By the time we got him and all of the equipment loaded on a lorry and the paperwork (yes, the paperwork I had best not lose!) cleared, I was thoroughly ready for a shower and a good sleep. I jumped into the cab of the truck and prepared for the short ride to the horse hotel…. Or so I thought. Thirty minutes into our “short drive” I turned to the driver and asked him if he would be the one taking me to the U.K. as well.
“We are on our way to the U.K. now,” he replies. I am quite sure my jaw dropped at that moment. Immediately I was sending text messages to Doug and Jessica asking about hotel rooms and informing them of our change in plans. Not quite sure how, but no one knew that I was headed to my final destination immediately—which ended up working out in the end, but at the time it was inconvenient.
It became very inconvenient when three hours into the trip I realized that I had not prepared my bladder for another road trip. I patiently sat there, looking for a truck stop or any sign that I could suggest a slight detour. Once we hit standstill traffic I became a bit desperate and began asking questions, trying to subtly hint that I needed to relieve myself.
We went through a tunnel and he said we would be stopping soon—apparently soon to him meant another 40 minutes down the road. I did my best to not sprint inside, forgetting that in most rest areas one must pay to use the restroom. I begged a nice looking woman if she could pay my toll and made a new friend before rediscovering the good chocolate in Belgium—major score!
We finally completed our journey around 2 a.m. Jesse Campbell is generously allowing us to lay over for a couple of days before we ship into the event. Quinn took a good long drink and had a good roll before I tucked him in for the evening and made my way to the hotel.
Saturday was just a light day for him with a bit of turn-out and a walk around. Doug made it back to the team and we were able to do a bit of sightseeing before we get busy. I had dinner with some fellow Americans and today we will get back to it. We move to the event on Monday and jogs are on Wednesday so I’ll try and get an update then!
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.