Most people, when you tell them you want to head south for the winter, they don’t understand. “What’s so great about Aiken?” they ask. “What difference does it make whether your first event of the season is in February or in April?” Let me tell you something: These people don’t know about you. They don’t understand your life. They don’t care about your hopes and dreams.
And players gonna play. You’re a player. This year, YOU DO YOU.
Just one problem: You’re broke.
Pimpin’ ain’t easy but we have good news for you, friend: You don’t have to be rich to fly with the snowbirds. All you really need is a truck and trailer, resourcefulness, and a high tolerance for PB&J sandwiches and chanky hotels. Here are a few hot tips for spreading your wings without breaking the bank.
1. Get that paper. I’m not gonna lie — you’re gonna need a little green. Thankfully, winter event season coincides with tax refund season. It’s time to take Uncle Sam for all he’s worth so you can blow it on your horse. File that return today, and in three weeks or less you’ll be on the road south.
2. Recruit an entourage. The more fellow eventers you can talk into heading south with you, the cheaper it will be. Split gas, split hotel, split lessons, split pizzas … this can literally cut your expenses in half or sixths if you’re a straight baller like Kanye here.
3. Find a crib. The key point to remember here is that if you have a roof over your head, you’re winning. The cheapest place I’ve found to sleep (besides my horse trailer) is the Days Inn in downtown Aiken, which offers a weekly rate of $265. You can score an even better deal if you stick around longer and find something to sublet — like this posh 3-bedroom double-wide for $495 a month.
4. Find a crib for your horse. This isn’t too hard considering Aiken is pretty much one big horse farm. Many of them cater to the snowbird crowd, offering short-term self-care boarding. A couple of my standbys are Full Gallop Farm and Jumping Branch Farm, both of which have cross-country courses, ample room for hacking and rotational turnout. Be sure to ask about discounts for staying a week or more; at Full Gallop, for example, rates are $25/night, $20/night if staying more than 5 nights, and $350/month (shavings included!).
5. Feed yourself (and your horse) on the cheap. I know it’s tempting to stop by Starbucks on the way to the barn every morning. DON’T DO IT. Suck it up, buttercup, and walk into the barn with a tiny Styrofoam cup of stale motel coffee in your hand and your head held high. Put the $8 you could have spent on a caramel macchiato and croissant toward a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter and some jelly. Eat that for lunch. Every. Day. For dinner, treat yourself to anything on the Taco Bell menu.
As for your horse, bring as much feed/hay down with you as you can stuff in the trailer. The going rate for a bale of orchard grass or timothy from Aiken Saddlery is $14.50, which is pretty spendy (at least compared to where I live in Tennessee).
6. Ride dirty. Nah, I’m just playin’, groom your horse before you ride. But speaking of riding there are so many opportunities in Aiken to get a jump start on your spring season — and some of them are 100 percent free. My favorite: conditioning in Hitchcock Woods, which boasts over 70 miles of beautiful sandy trails with adorable names like Tea Cottage Path, Peek-a-Boo Lane and Cathedral Aisle. There’s a steeplechase track tucked in there that’s fun to canter around and little surprise cross-country jumps here and there.
Looking for some edumacation? Lesson opportunities are endless. Decide who you’d like to ride with and ask to be placed in a group lesson if that’s an option. Not only is it easier on the budget, you can learn a lot from watching other people. If you’re in town for the USEF High Performance Training Sessions (February 11-12 and March 16-17 at Stable View Farm), GO! I audited a weekend last year and came away with a toolkit of exercises to practice on my own horse. Total out-of-pocket cost: zero dollars.
Another Aiken perk: Competitions are aplenty and cheaper than usual as, for the most part, you can just haul in for the day, thus saving $150 or whatever in stabling fees. Knock off the rust at a schooling show or dive headfirst into recognized event — there are things to do practically every weekend. Check out this calendar of local events.