Adventures in Aiken

Schooling at Sandyhills Farm. Screenshot courtesy of Kate Vosbury. Schooling at Sandyhills Farm. Screenshot courtesy of Kate Vosbury.

Last week, I had the opportunity to travel down to Aiken to visit my new mare Seoul Sister (Firefly), who is currently in training at Schramm Equestrian with Dom and Jimmie Schramm. I’d never sent a horse away for training before, much less halfway across the country; I’d always either worked with my young horses myself, or utilized one of Woodloch Stables awesome trainers.

This was a completely new experience for me, so I booked my tickets and packed my bags with excitement and just a little apprehension. I had no idea what to expect!

Let me tell you, I got out of Minnesota just in the nick of time. Snow and subzero temperatures hit the Twin Cities right as I was flying out to South Carolina. It made the forecast of sixties and drizzle seem downright tropical! I could see why so many eventers migrated south for the winter.

On my first day out at the farm, I was welcomed by the Schramms and their amazing staff, Stephanie Simpson and Becca McClellan… not to mention the gang of resident farm dogs, Willow, Veggie, River, and Roo.

Everyone was hard at work (well, except for the dogs), and it was easy to see that Dom and Jimmie have an efficient, tight-knit team that keeps the farm running like a well-oiled machine. A well-oiled machine that can be used for fun, like a slick off-roading truck or an amusement park ride.

Veggie and Roo, hard at work (sniffing each other's butts). Photo by Lindsey Kahn.

Veggie and Roo, hard at work (sniffing each other’s butts). Photo by Lindsey Kahn.

I loved seeing Firefly looking fit and fabulous at their farm. She’s a sturdy little Connemara cross (the Thoroughbreds and warmbloods towered over her), but she still had the sassy “lemme at ’em” attitude that I fell in love with when I bought her last fall.

Wintering in Aiken seemed to suit her; the Minnesota winter was making both of us go stir-crazy, but she seemed quite pleased with having a job in a relatively warmer climate.

Ready to ride! Photo by Lindsey Kahn.

Ready to ride! Photo by Lindsey Kahn.

My first lesson with Dom was positive, albeit a little nervewracking for me at first. Not to say that he’s a particularly terrifying instructor (spoiler alert: he’s not), but after several months of putting riding on the back burner while I focused on other things (namely, avoiding freezing my butt off outside), I was feeling quite stiff and discombobulated in the saddle.

Dom had me ride a circular exercise over cavaletti and small verticals first at the trot, then the canter. He cheekily called it the “Wheel of Death,” and at first I had fleeting notions that he might be right.

As it turned out, the Wheel of Death wasn’t so much deadly as it was a technical exercise in rideability. Firefly and I both have a habit of rushing, so it was extra important for me to habitually ride her to the base of a jump. By the end of the lesson, I was feeling much more comfortable and confident.

The next day, we enjoyed absolutely perfect weather and a very fun jump school that incorporated the so-called Wheel of Death with serpentine and figure 8 exercises over verticals and oxers. It was great riding with a group containing a variety of different horses presenting various challenges for their riders.

By the end of the ride, I was exhausted but feeling great after more practice riding tactfully and patiently, and I felt that Firefly and I were back on the same page together. After satisfying my touristy tendencies by exploring Aiken that afternoon, I met up with two of Dom’s students, Kate Vosbury and Steph Lee, at an adorable Mexican restaurant to do what eventers do best when not riding: talk horses and drink margaritas!

On my last day in Aiken, Kate, Steph and I had the opportunity to accompany Dom and Jimmie to the stunning Stable View Farm to watch and help out during their jumping lesson with Boyd Martin. It was an education in itself to watch them ride similar exercises to the ones we had done the previous day, only on a much higher level.

I tried to limit my stalkerazzi tendencies to the gorgeous views at Stable View. Photo by Lindsey Kahn

I tried to limit my stalkerazzi tendencies to the gorgeous views at Stable View. Photo by Lindsey Kahn

Later that day, Kate generously offered to haul Steph’s horse Henry and Firefly to the nearby Sandyhills Farm for cross-country schooling. We weren’t about to pass up an opportunity like that!

Dom directed Steph and I around the welcoming course as we practiced everything from baby logs to water crossings and a particularly intimidating (to me, anyway) bank.

Firefly was alert and happy; all of the hurried bossiness that she tended to adopt during stadium exercises settled into a calm confidence that told me that she is truly a cross-country lover at heart. Needless to say, our lesson was a blast and I just may have walked on air all the way back to Minnesota the next morning.

White on right, red on left, Firefly in the middle. Screenshot courtesy of Kate Vosbury.

White on right, red on left, Firefly in the middle. Screenshot courtesy of Kate Vosbury.

Despite the initial growing pains of re-learning to ride Firefly, the leaps and bounds we took as a team (literally) in just a few short days under the Schramms’ tutelage had me feeling on top of the world. I can’t express just how grateful I am for the expert education Dom and Jimmie are giving my horse and I, and for the top-notch care Firefly receives under the watchful eyes of the Schramms, Steph, and Becca.

I met some amazing people, enjoyed gorgeous weather, and experienced some of the most rewarding rides on my Seoul Sister. While I can’t wait to have my little spitfire of a mare back in Minnesota with me, I’m so thrilled that she’s getting a quality education with this savvy team and I’m excited for my next Aiken adventure!