It’s Fair Hill Week! Time to unpack the Wellies, the Ultra-Wellies, and the Super-Ultra Wellies…
That is, for all those who are headed there. We had such a blast last year… (Sinead was favorited to win the three-star on Tate, then they had an untimely parting late on the cross-country which resulted in a mere broken leg; we spent our Saturday night in a motel eating Vicodins and mac-n-cheese from KFC/Taco Bell.)
This year however, I will be leaving Sinead to her own devices. “Devices,” meaning our new resident rider Jordan Litter is headed to Elkton, Md., in my place. Sinead and Beth Davidson’s Forrest Nymph, also known as Farrah, also known as the Super Pony, are attempting the mare’s first CCI** in one of the most massive fields I have seen in awhile. It should be a great weekend—super competitive—and there’s just something fun and relaxing about a two-star that you just don’t get to experience at three- and four-stars.
And while, as I read over the competitors list to see who is going to be there, I get a little twinge of sadness thinking about missing what is sure to be a fun weekend (mud or no mud), the luxury of spending another weekend in my own bed is quite comforting.
My professional grooming career started at Fair Hill several years ago. I was working for Doug Payne, and he was taking a wiry, cantankerous bastard of an Irish horse—whom I deeply loved—around his first two-star. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, as it was the first time I had ever been behind the scenes of an FEI competition. Thank God for Ashley Adams, who was there to hold my hand, sometimes quite literally, throughout that weekend.
Lucky for Doug, I am real smart. And I hate being wrong/out of the loop/out of control, so I learned real quick. Fake it until you become it, right?
Running Order had a top-10 finish that weekend. He may actually have finished second. It’s kind of funny, I remember quite vividly Tate finishing fifth in the three-star. I didn’t really know Sinead very well then, and I couldn’t believe that such an unimpressive Ethiopian stamp of a redhead did so well. (Joke’s on me!)
It was an unforgettable weekend. It’s funny now to see how far I’ve come and how much I’ve changed, and how green I really was without even knowing it. Those were the days I was still starstruck when Boydo walked by and still had great competitive dreams of my own. I didn’t know anyone, but I wanted to be friends with everyone. It was the weekend I fell in love. I was in love with it all—the horses, the people, the sport, my new opportunity.
Fast forward half a decade, and I’m now a bitter old groom at the dawn of retirement, writing this reflective blog over an oversized cup of black coffee.
Life is changing for me. Change is good. (Actually I wish I had some more change… literal metal coins.)
This year I knew my groom clock was running out. The groom lifestyle is one that is amazing, inspiring, unique and tough. But you have to know when it’s your time to do something else. If you push too far past that moment, you risk ruining all the amazing memories and experiences you’ve dedicated every last waking moment to. You destroy a legacy. But if you jump too soon, which I almost did several times, you risk missing out on some magic.
The World Games were poised to be my four-star grooming pinnacle achievement. I’m glad to have had that opportunity, but let’s not kid ourselves here—WEG 2014 was most certainly not that. (Right now it is a toss-up between Rocking Horse I, II, III, and Burghley). But it did help catapult me into committing to my decision to lay some roots.
I came home from the WEG so very much over bread and cheese, and ready to start moving in another direction—my primary objective being to sleep in one bed for more than four nights in a row.
So instead of packing up into the trailer like the old days and heading due south with copious amounts of overflowing black coffee and bags of Guru unapproved junk food, I’m at my house getting ready to go to the gym and having dinner in front of Microsoft Excel as I plan SHE’s move to Florida. Say hello to Meg Kep, Business Manager at Sinead Halpin Enterprises. (I’m just trying out the name… bouncing some ideas around, you know?)
Sitting down to write about Fair Hill, I surprised myself at how quickly the memories came back. I’ve been to hundreds of events since then, and half I couldn’t even tell you if I was or wasn’t there, or which horses were or were not competing. But I will never forget my first Fair Hill. It was the first yellow brick on this long, bumpy, windy road that I am following toward someplace I’ve stopped trying to imagine. Instead I’ve learned to just enjoy the ride!
So enjoy Fair Hill week, everyone. Especially those of you who are experiencing it for the first time. May you all find a little magic amidst the mud!
“Meg Kep” as she’s best known in the U.S. eventing community, resides in Chester, N.J., and works as business manager at Sinead Halpin Equestrian. Meg, 29, is also committed to sustainable avenues promoting good horsemanship and the sport of eventing, and her recent dedication to fitness has inspired her to share her story and help others toward “the path of awesomeness” at MyBodyTutor.com. You can read all of Meg’s columns here.