Courtney Carson: The Aiken Chronicles, Part I

Courtney Carson is an eventer from Area IV who has made the long trek from Southern Illinois to Aiken for the past three years. This year, she agreed to send us a few blog posts on her trip to Aiken. Do you want to share your winter trek adventures? Tip me at [email protected] Thank you Courtney for writing, and thank you for reading!

You have to get creative when you're trying to load on four inches of ice! You have to get creative when you're trying to load on four inches of ice!

From Courtney:

Aiken: the one word almost every event rider in the midwest dreams of hearing during the terrible months of December through March.  While we sit around and read the posts from everyone on the East Coast packing up their entire barns and heading south to (theoretically) nicer weather, we continue to trudge through the mud, ice, snow and downed tree limbs in order to feed and ride our wonderful horses every day. Some of us learn that our horses possess acrobatic skills that they had kept secret during the summer months filled with turnout and outdoor hacking; others turn into human marshmallows who can hardly move enough to tack up, let alone get on and ride. I have been fortunate enough to make the trip south for the last three years with my horses, and this year right as I thought everything was going to be a wash, it fell into place again!

The trip south has come at the perfect time during the terrible winter here in southern Illinois. We missed the ice that crippled all of Georgia and South Carolina; the ice that hit here melted just enough to allow us to load horses and get trailers unstuck. In the past, we have only had a couple of horses that have gone south, but this year we have six horses and eight people making the trip. A couple of the riders are on their maiden voyage south for training, some came for moral support and we all headed down to learn. I am lucky enough to be a part of the wonderful O’Donoghue eventing family and, thanks to Meghan, we are able to stay with her in a barn with Lynn Symansky’s crew as well. I am personally excited to take a mini vacation and only have one horse to be riding so I can watch as many lessons as possible and learn that way as well.

Meghan O'Donoghue gives her sister, Kelty, a few tips. Photo by Courtney Carson.

Meghan O’Donoghue gives her sister, Kelty, a few tips. Photo by Courtney Carson.

While a lot of the competitors who migrate south seem to be heading down to get a jump start on competition for the year, that is not the case with our group. Don’t get me wrong, we have shown before in Georgia and South Carolina and would love to do the same this year, but because the winter has been so difficult, we are looking to just gear our horses back up before competition begins a little further north. I am looking forward to continuing my young horse’s education, letting him see a couple of new places and hopefully making a penciled-in plan for his spring and summer schedule. The great thing about heading south to work with Meghan is that I also ride with her mom, Jill, at home in Illinois, so we can all work together to get the best results for myself and my horse.

The horses all made the haul in great shape and have settled into the routine here in Aiken well. The barn is nice and fairly laid back, which makes it a little easier to adjust for our horses. We are lucky enough to have paddocks where the horses can be out for part of the day, and they are loving the sunshine and warm weather. There is a great path to hack on outside and three rings to ride in, which gives us a few options of where to ride. We got everyone out upon arrival for a long hack and some stretching work to loosen up their bodies after the trip, and the next day we had flat lessons with Meghan. For myself, it was a wonderful kick in the rear, as my last lesson was in September, and I have been in a winter funk for the last couple of weeks. It was a great jump start to the trip, and everyone already has some new exercises to bring home, some motivation after the long winter and possibly a slight sunburn! We are expecting some not-so-favorable weather this week, so it isn’t totally paradise, but, after the winter we have had, a little rain won’t scare our horses away.

It was so nice to ride outside in the sunshine for a change!

It was so nice to ride outside in the sunshine for a change!

If nothing else happens on this trip, I have already learned some new tricks for helping my tense Thoroughbred on the flat and am ready to get going for the season. Thankfully we will be here a while longer and receive a few more lessons, a cross-country school or two, and plenty of opportunity to watch each other’s lessons and take everything in. One thing I love about being in Aiken is it gets me back into the great routine of doing all of the little things I don’t get to do every day when I’m at home.  Of course, the added bonus is being all horses, all day, every day and not having to worry about the things outside of the barn at home, like going to work.

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