I took you all through the insanity of the past few months in my last blog. Now join me on the past few weeks: our trip to our winter location outside Wellington, Florida.
This is, I believe, my 10th consecutive winter in Welly-World, so I’m not a rookie. But this year is different on a few fronts. While we’ve taken more horses every year, this is the first year where we’ve had so many going—and so few left behind—that we decided to close my Virginia operation down. This required a lot of shuffling, to get our handful of non-Florida-bound horses to their winter gigs, and a little creativity with my staff and where they were going.
This year is also different because it is the first at a new facility for us: Perfect Cadence, bought this spring by amazing longtime clients and friends. It’ll be amazing; they’re committed to turning the farm into a world-class facility with a covered arena, substantial turnout, a hacking path around the whole facility and more. The problem? Between all the challenges of getting plans approved by Palm Beach County and an HOA under normal circumstances, plus the joys of building during a global health crisis, we are pretty much nowhere. We have the existing farm, which is perfectly lovely, but we’ve never been there before, so everything will be a first-time experience.
But we have a plan. First, the great exit, in stages.
Working students Paige and Skylar left on Friday, Dec. 10, each bearing one of my dogs for company. I left the next morning, driving my truck and trailer (full of everyone’s tack and equipment, plus as much hay as I could fit), and drove to Southern Pines, North Carolina, where I tried a horse for a client. In a fit of extraordinary convenience, an hour from Southern Pines is the city of Cary, where I spent the night with my fiancé and his kiddos and attended a surprise party for his mom. I got to meet a bunch of his extended family that I’d not yet met. (Side note: their main observation about me is that I have the best posture of anyone they’ve ever met. I’ll take it.)
Sunday, I drove the rest of the way to Loxahatchee, Florida, about 10 hours. I arrive in daylight, which is good, because it’s much easier to move all your gear in while the sun’s up. First hurdle: While the house for my staff is all set up and ready for humans, my own housing is still under construction. Supply-chain issues and delays mean that I have no furniture to put clothes in, no kitchen countertops, no sink in the kitchen.
No worries, we’ll make it work. Sunday is spent moving myself in. Monday, the three of us tackle the barn. It … needs some work. It takes us about three hours to get the place broom-clean, and then another few hours to schlep everything in from the trailer. At that point it’s 86 degrees and our northern-climate bodies aren’t used to it, so we pile in the car for an air-conditioned driving tour of Wellington, culminating in our first trip to the feed store (one pallet of bedding) and to Target curbside pickup (command hooks, hangers, trash cans, cups).
Back to the barn to continue set up. Meanwhile in Virginia, the horses get on a commercial transport and head to Florida, and Sam, the last member of our southbound barn crew, puts her horse in her trailer and hits the road, making it to Florence, South Carolina, a little more than a third of the way, to spend the night. In Florida, we bed stalls, set up water buckets, and retire, exhausted but very successful.
Tuesday morning heralds the arrival of the ponies. We walk paddock fence lines to make sure there are no leftover surprises from the fence installation process, and then I head out for the next run into town (scissors, sunscreen, another wheelbarrow, rat traps), before heading to the airport to retrieve barn manager extraordinaire Rachel, who will be with us for a week to help set up, thank God. And a few hours later, Sam arrives with her horse. Team complete!
And that means taking on the big stuff. All the stalls are fully matted, but there are some inexplicable extras floating around, so we corral them into one place and put them on Facebook marketplace. They’re gone in six hours. We need a freezer. We need to install crossties, a hose boom, replace light bulbs. We set up the feed room, find a way to contain the dogs, put out the dressage court and the shade and chairs so I don’t roast in the sun while teaching. Hoses. Buckets. Double-ended snaps galore.
And then there’s the workflow. How do we want to set up the barn for maximized efficiency? Where should we put the grooming tools? How best to organize the clients’ boots and saddle pads? Where should the medical kit go? We make some decisions. On Wednesday, when we start riding, we get to live with those decisions … and then make better ones.
Things start coming together. The girls come up with a brilliant system of white boards, one for each day, to make sure things get done. After a few days of having no place to dump manure except in a pile on the driveway, a dumpster arrives. We treat ourselves to a new leaf blower. The fly spray system gets switched on. The barn starts working well.
There are the inevitable kinks in the system. There’s no hot water in the master bath, but scalding water in the client bathroom. The fabulous new washer-dryer for the barn is getting installed at the first available appointment, which sadly is not until mid-January. Supply-chain adventures are plaguing everyone, and they just require an element of patience and flexibility, plus the added fun of trying not to have COVID-19 exposures in a state where there are NO rules. The delivery of grain our supplier desperately needed arrives after their delivery truck leaves for the day, so I have to run over myself to pick it up. I finally get countertops and a sink; they arrive just in time for the Christmas holidays to interrupt the availability of people qualified to install them. And of course I let my team members have some down time for the holidays, which means a skeleton crew to run the barn, but we make it work.
It wouldn’t have gotten done without my super staff, nor without owners who are patient and understanding. And we definitely couldn’t have gotten it done without about four million trips to Target. But we’re getting it done. Bring on the season!
Lauren Sprieser is a USDF gold, silver and bronze medalist making horses and riders to FEI from her farm in Marshall, Virginia. She’s currently developing The Elvis Syndicate’s Guernsey Elvis and her own string of young horses with hopes of one day representing the United States in team competition. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.