Do you ever stare in awe at the sleek shiny horses, the glistening brass, perfect braids, and dazzling white marks at a CCI trot up? Do you ever wonder how they get that way? (LOTS of hard work is the correct answer!) Each Sunday morning we will bring you a little insider info on how the big-time grooms manage an upper level event horse. Feel free to email or comment with specific grooming questions if you have a topic in mind!
Previous entries: Know Your Rules
We all know competition is a stressful environment. Many things are out of your control– ride times, course design, which side of the stall the horse wakes up on. But there are things you can do to make your life a little easier: being well-prepared and organized can allow you to focus on your horse, your ride, and enjoy the moment.
It all starts with packing. You know that sinking feeling, the pit of fear in your stomach when you realize you forgot something really important, like a girth, or your vest? It’s not a pleasant sensation! Hopefully you can borrow equipment from a generous neighbor, and you will probably never forget that particular item again. Good organizational skills will save you from such panic to begin with.
In general, it all starts with a list. Obviously, you’ll have the basics: saddles, bridles, girths, pads, etc. Write down everything you could POSSIBLY need, and bring it all unless it simply will not fit anywhere in the truck or trailer. It is far, far better to “have and not need” than “need and not have.” Speaking for myself, and professionals I have worked for, it is a huge help to have a set of Show Stuff that lives permanently in the trailer. Not only is it good to have “nice” things that are protected from everyday use; but it’s just less equipment that you have to remember to physically add to the trailer. I keep a show bridle, show halter/shank, buckets, bathing supplies, trunk, water jugs (filled), horse blankets, and muck stuff in the trailer permanently, along with my show apparel (coat, vest, helmet, shirts, stock ties, etc). I also have extra equipment, like girths, just in case. It’s very nice not to worry about these things the night before a 10-hour trip to an event.
When packing your trailer, try to plan ahead: what things do you need immediately on arrival? Pack such items last, so they end up on top of the heap and easy to access. Things like water buckets, stall guards, bedding, “set up” materials you need to make your horse comfortable. Carry on this plan as you go. I like to pack my tack trunk with saddle pads, horse boots, towels, rags, and miscellaneous things. As I’m packing the trunk, I have a very specific layering system: show jumping pad on the bottom, show jumping boots on that; then cross-country pad, with cross-country boots on that; then dressage pad, with any half-pads on that; then schooling pads and boots (if applicable) on top. Packed in this manner, whatever you need is always on top, neatly arranged. If cross-country is the last phase, I pack that stuff beneath the show-jumping stuff. I research such things in the Omnibus beforehand.
I bring PLENTY of extra towels and rags, though I try to use the bare minimum actually at the show. The rest of my tack trunk holds schooling gear (helmet/half chaps), braiding kit, and stall equipment (bridle hooks, snaps, chains, etc). Again, I try to pack in the order of necessity, with important items on top in easy reach. The top tray of my trunk holds some certain easily-to-find-when-you-need-it additions: current rule book (!!), permanent markers, tape, scissors, etc. When I was a full-time groom, working with several other helpers, I labeled the tray very specifically so that every item had an exact proper location to find it very quickly. I actually papered the bottom of the tray, traced the items onto their location on the paper, and labeled that location. Thus, anytime something was removed, you could read exactly where it was to be returned. Obsessively anal? Yes. But effective when many hands are handling objects and not always knowing where to put them away.
I like knowing where each and every item is at all times. “Oh, it’s somewhere in there” [pointing vaguely to an overflowing box] is not a really useful direction when someone else is trying to find something. Have you ever been on your horse, left the barn, and realized you forgot your armband or whip? Ever had some kind, unmounted person help retrieve it for you? Being able to tell that someone, “It’s in the blue box, left hand corner, between the spray bottle and the white towel” will greatly help them assist you. It takes time to be organized, but it pays off in future time saved, and reduced stress.
Trust me, I know things get hectic in the heat of the moment when you’re competing. But it usually takes only a few seconds more to accurately replace an object to it’s proper place, than to just throw it “near” your pile of stuff. In its proper place, the object is less likely to be knocked over, dirtied, spilled, lost, or “borrowed.” And it will take you far less time to find it! Keep your stall area neat and tidy to make your job easier, not to mention safer! A messy, sprawling stall front inhibits horses from passing in a narrow aisle (can you say Tent Stalls?!), and just begs some unwanted neighbor (equine or canine) to chew on your stuff. Maintaining organization is also extremely important when showing out of your trailer, and space is limited and stacked– this importance multiplies exponentially if more than one person is working out of the same dressing room. Save your friendship–stay organized and share!
Speaking of stall areas…ESPECIALLY in tight situations, please be courteous of your neighbors. I know many of us aren’t fortunate enough to afford tack stalls to keep the aisleway clear, so be very aware of how much space you occupy. Condense your equipment into as few boxes/trunks as possible, store bulky items (like hay bales and bedding) around the end of the barn, fold up your saddle rack or use one of those compact over-the-door hanging ones to maximize vertical space. If you have a dog, please do not tie it on a lengthy leash and leave it unattended in a crowded aisle! Trying to lead a big horse down a narrow path, avoiding trunks, boxes, piles of grooming gear, *and* yapping dogs trying to wind their leashes around horses’ legs is not fun. If at all possible, try to get together with your stablemates at entry time and share the cost of a tack stall between your group. Split three or four ways, the cost becomes do-able, and will give you a safe, dry place to store your feed (or dog), among other things.
Unlike random equipment items, feed is something that you likely can’t borrow from neighboring strangers. Be sure you pack enough grain and hay for your horse to survive the weekend– I usually like to bring a little extra, just in case something unexpected happens and we’re laid over somewhere. Unless your horse eats a lot of food (or you have multiple horses), packing an entire bag of grain and buckets of supplements (if applicable) is usually not the most efficient method. In my experience, it’s best to do the Pony Club way: packaging grain into individual feedings, with supps included. This way, you can easily count how many feedings to prepare (plus extra one or two), without worrying about running out. It also makes it easy for a friend to feed your horse if you are otherwise occupied (sleeping in, or walking the course). As far as hay goes…the amount you pack can vary widely, from half a bale to a full bale per horse per day, depending on the horse and the size of your bales. Some horses absolutely hoover it down, as they are bored in stalls with nothing to do but nibble. Others react to the stress, don’t eat as much, and tend to waste half their allotment. It’s always safer to overestimate hay consumption and pack extra, just in case. Also remember to have some hay to fill your haynets on the drive home.
There is one inevitable result of any event you will attend: dirty tack and dirty laundry. In both cases, try to clean the items as soon as possible. Clean your tack between phases, and at least wipe it down after you finish. Forgetting wet, muddy tack or boots weeks later in the trailer is not ideal! Give it a thorough cleaning and conditioning when you get home. Similarly, wash show laundry as soon as possible and then immediately re-pack it in the trailer. You will thank yourself many times over next time you begin packing, and all your things are neat, clean, and ready to go.
Maintaining my packing system, and doing some work AFTER the last event, it takes very little time and effort for me to pack prior to leaving for an event. Basically, I make up feed, throw my tack in, my grooming box, and my trailer is ready to go! Arriving at the event knowing you have everything you need will start you off with confidence, and from there it’s up to you.