So you’re thinking of joining the great migration, and you’re not sure how to start. Do you go to Aiken? Or do you trek to Ocala? How do you go about finding a barn with all the amenities, and an apartment that’s not filled with rats? How long should you stay for? I’m heading to Aiken as we speak, and while I’m no migratory expert, I’ve been able to compile a list for all your curiosities on the fabled trip towards warmer weather and spring competitions.
Aiken or Ocala? The great debate! Both locations have their benefits, and the solution is really a matter of preference. Do you absolutely positively need 70 degrees right now?? Ocala it is. Would you like to have access to the majority of Event riders and trainers, as well as most competitions within ten minutes of your barn? I would choose Aiken. If you’re interested in HITS, head down to Florida, but if you’re looking to save some money on your excursion, Aiken is the place for you. Florida has earlier competitions, from the first weekend in January through March, but Aiken has events on the weekends and on Wednesdays.
How do I find a barn? An apartment? Luckily for you, both of these towns have a plethora of month-to-month rentals in both categories. Here is my advice to you: find somebody you can trust and take their advice on your first foray. Don’t do as I did and rent a house in the middle of nowhere and find out one night that homeless people are breaking in while you sleep and spreading opossum poop throughout the house. Rent a barn with a friend, if possible. It can get lonely and boring, even though you’re down there to exclusively ride, you’ll want some social interactions to keep you from going crazy. Use your first, second, and third trip down there to scope your ideal locations, and then lock it down a year in advance.
Ok, I’ve got my rentals, so now what? As soon as the holidays are even remotely over, you start preparing. Get your truck serviced, your trailer checked and for goodness sakes make sure your tires are good. Ride your horses in the crappy weather that you would usually avoid because you don’t have to compete in this weather! Learn that rain pants are a thing, and embrace the lifestyle of the michelin man as you don more clothing than you ever thought possible. A week out from your departure, don’t buy any more food for your house. Start eating everything in the fridge, even if this means the last few nights you end up eating melted cheese on tortillas. Finish all the wine, because it would be a shame to leave it at home for weeks all alone.
How do I pack for multiple horses over several weeks? You know the anxiety you have when packing for a competition? The worry about forgetting something? Take that and multiply it by ten. Here’s how I pack: I imagine every possible situation that I’ve ever been in with a horse, and I think about the accouterments I needed to handle that situation. Pack all of those things. Your bits? Pack every one you have. All of your bridle pieces will need to go, even the ones you haven’t used in three years. First aid kit? More like a veterinary supply truck. You should probably plan for at least one trunk that is dedicated to just saddle pads. I hope you’re good at stacking and securing hay, because you should know that hay prices are higher down south, and you’re gonna want to pack some of your own.
So, that’s done. What should I bring for myself? Expect every type of weather, and bring all of the clothing. Rain? Yeah. Cold? Yep. Boiling hot and time for sunscreen and tank tops? Yeah, that too. My personal thing is packing random items from my kitchen. Nobody needs to be buying another set of knives just because your apartment doesn’t have any. Bring your baking soda. Bring a few outfits that qualify as “regular people” clothing. Something you could maybe go out in at night and pretend you’re just an average human being. If you’re going to Aiken, bring something you could wear while singing karaoke or perhaps dancing at the drag show.
I can’t go south, and I’m sitting at home freezing my butt off looking at pictures of people enjoying warm weather and cross country. Don’t worry, here are the crappy parts about migrating south! Number one: everything you own will be covered in or filled with sand within a week. You will return home completely exhausted, sunburnt in weird places, and your truck and trailer will vomit belongings for at least a week. You will have eaten all the mexican food that you can possibly handle for at least a year, and then some. You will have spent all your money, and will need until next spring to get a handle on your bank account. At some point, one of your horses will go lame, and he will be sitting in your barn, fully clipped, fit and useless. Unless you have a traveling farrier and veterinary team, you have to use strangers, and hope they do a decent job. Your non-horsey friends (you have some, right?) will think you’re even weirder than they already do. You will end up hankering for your bed and your own barn within two weeks.
Ta da! You’re ready for your very own southern adventure! Those of us who participate in this yearly ritual are a special kind of
crazy committed, and proud of it. While warm weather is always enticing, those of us who end up in Aiken or Ocala are really just itching to jump some cross country jumps, because, really, the rest is just bonus.