Heading South

We're packed and ready! We're packed and ready!

I’m always a little ambivalent about heading South to Aiken for the winter, although this year’s weather has made me less so. As I’ve been crunching through the frozen puddles in the morning and twisting my ankle while stumbling across frozen mud divots in the paddocks to get to the feed buckets, the idea of sand in my shoes and Takosushi in my belly has become more appealing.

I’ve begun the process of organizing trunks for the big move down and making list upon list of things not to forget and items to be ordered beforehand. As head groom, moving 10 horses and all the accoutrements that accompany them is a daunting task. It’s not like I even have to do it alone — I have two riders, a barn manager and two other grooms to help out — but still, I feel very responsible for making sure everything is done, and I tend to get progressively more nervous until we leave.

This is the time of year when I start to freak out if people do things like remove double-ended snaps from my pile of travel buckets instead of from the drawer with extra snaps or stuff show pads in the same drawer as the schooling pads. January seems to me, like a reoccurring pile of Monday mornings, where I always worry if I can get everything done for the day and if this, that or the other is clean, able to be located or in working order.

I weirdly enjoy packing and making sure everything is accounted for and in its place, but the time before I can actually start packing is like purgatory. I start to hoard things and hide things so they don’t get used or lost — freaky, I know. I guess it all stems from my absolutely irrational fear of being unprepared and disorganized. I’m rather calm and collected in emergency situations, and I don’t become histrionic over many things, but if I get somewhere and something that I have put in the trailer is missing, I have to take a deep breath and keep my internal temper tantrums to myself.

I do things like label certain items “show” and certain items “home” in order to INCREASE efficiency and ease of use for everyone. Being labeled “show” would indicate that said item lives in the trailer obviously, but do you know how many times I find the “show” fly spray in the aisle right next to the “home” fly spray? Appalling. These are the things that I find stressful. I sometimes find myself shouting things like “WHY??!!! is the SHOW poultice in the FEED room?!!” and the bustling barn full of grooms and riders suddenly becomes empty as I see people slide into stalls and the tack room to avoid my glare.

I know, in the grand scheme of things, poultice can easily be procured at any show, but it’s just so much easier to put things back where they belong in the first place. So as I storm around the aisles mumbling to myself about why there are Vetwrap wrappers strewn about in the cross ties and why anyone would think it’s ok to put a saddle on a horse with clumps of mud still attached to its hocks, I realize that I’m being monstrous and I cannot expect people to read my mind or take the time to get every piece of dirt off of every single horse.

With that said, I get a little “micromanage-y” about packing for Aiken, but I realize that I’m the one making myself crazy and that my personal expectations of myself and others are sometimes unattainable. I find peace at the end of the day with inspirational quotes  and pictures of baby animals on Pinterest. It’s like the best free therapy ever.


See? Now we feel better. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Two years ago, I nicknamed Aiken the “Pine Tree Gutter.” Please Aikenites, don’t be too insulted; my love affair with my home in Virginia is hard to convey in mere words. I LOVE it, so my opinion of new places is jaded and far from objective. It’s just so “horsey” there. Although I do appreciate no one giving me strange looks when I parallel park a dually in downtown, sometimes at the end of the day I just need to feel like a girly human that’s not covered in horse hair and perpetually wearing boots.

I am also not super fond of communal living. Call me bratty, but I really like having my own space to recharge, and I don’t like sharing bathrooms and I wake up VERY easily, so I’m just better off alone. Everyone else chit chats about Aiken being an “adventure” and being like horse camp, and it will be so fun with the game nights and the karaoke nights and the early mornings. Meanwhile, I’m concerned about the thread count on the sheets in our living quarters and that if I hear a whinny in the middle of the night I won’t be able to sleep because I’ll think someone is colicking, or cast or out of hay, etc.

Please don’t get me wrong; I feel VERY lucky to have the opportunity to do what I love and get to travel and be in the epicenter of the eventing community (and at the same barn as the Training Sessions!), but Aiken just overwhelms me a bit. I feel VERY strongly about taking care of the horses that I groom, and our time in Aiken, albeit exciting, is risky for them.

They compete a lot, they are in a new place, they run around in tiny paddocks and freak me out, they roll in sand and sometimes eat it, they get weird skin issues in a new environment, their hay is different, they get blanket rubs, their feet get weird/different from the sandy dry ground, they are in stalls more, they travel a lot, their feeding schedule is disrupted, they get rubs from cross-country boots, they might stud themselves, there might be a tornado … the list goes on.

These are the things I think about all day every day in Aiken while trying to maintain some sense of routine for them and myself. I’m like a baby Thoroughbred — I like routine at the barn; it’s comfortable and feels safe. I feel prepared.

So I’ve decided that this year it will be different. I’m excited to go to Aiken! It’s warm, and I have managed to whine my way into having my very own living quarters (a super cool vintage Airstream trailer no less!). I am training myself to be OK with knowing that all I can do is my best for the horses. I cannot control their every move, I cannot prevent anything bad from ever happening to them and I cannot schedule myself into a frenzy.

I’m using this year as a learning year and a character-building year. I’m going to be reasonable, and I’m not going to micromanage. I’m going to be flexible, and I’m going to continue to always do what’s best for the horses without having tiny internal panic attacks (unless you remove snaps from my travel buckets — that’s NEVER OK). I’m going to be efficient, yet relaxed.

By March 1, I will be be calling Aiken “Pine Tree Paradise.” I will be OK if the show poultice is in the feed room. If you see me at TakoSushi, drinking alone and inhaling tempura asparagus, please remind me of this post. I’m depending on you EN; help me be normal in Aiken.

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