The weather has been on constant refresh on my phone. I was living in FL when a tropical storm came through and that was scary enough. Now they are saying Irma will still be a category 1 hurricane when it comes my way Monday afternoon. I thought we would be well out of the path being so far inland, like we were in 2015 when Columbia flooded, but not this time.

We don’t have a barn and I’m not going to take away a stall offered to an evacuee from Florida or the SC coast just because I am nervous. Most of the barns around here, including TIEC and my trainer’s barn, have opened up for evacuees and are full already. It is amazing to see everyone pull together and help one another out. Wouldn’t it be nice if it could be like this always and not just in times of disaster?

But I am nervous. Without a barn to keep the Dynamic Duo warm, dry and snug they will be forced to be out in it. The electric fence we chose has been tested in hurricane force winds. The tape is fairly loose which allows the wind to go through it with minimal turbulence. My area gets high winds with gusts up to 50 mph in late Feb through March (the windy season) and we never saw the tape move at all through all of that. Baring a tree falling on it, I’m pretty confident the fence will be just fine.

The shelter, though. That is my concern. It has held up perfectly since we built it last winter even through the windy season when the tarp roof didn’t flap in the harsh gusts. We also added more reinforcement than the original plans recommended. But this isn’t a few wind gusts here and there. This is a category 1 hurricane with sustained wind and blowing rain. The shelter is their only dry spot out of the wind and rain, so if the tarp goes it will take away their only escape from the weather. Plus it will scare the crap out of them.

Not a whole lot we can do about it now. The tar is as secure as we can make it and has no holes or tears. We are adding more sand to the interior floor and will hope for the best. As for the horses, their halters will be on them and I am going to use nail polish to paint my number on their hooves and livestock paint to put it on their butts as well. If they do get out of the pasture, at least they will have identification on them in multiple spots.

A lot of people will have it way worse than we will. 6″ of rain in 24 hours isn’t so bad compared to what Florida and the coast will be getting. I’m holding off on closing my office down until I know for sure what is coming. Some sources are saying Tuesday and others are saying we will just get high wind and rain, but not at hurricane or tropical storm levels. I won’t close down for rain and wind, but if it is a category 1 hurricane I will. So much is up in the air right now. I can’t even begin to imagine those in Florida awaiting the arrival of Irma in her full glory. Mother nature is a force.

Hopefully all my worry is for naught and we will only get some nice rain to help with the slightly crunchy late summer grass and make for some nice mud puddles for the kiddo to splash in.


Warm Up

While there were a lot of little things I picked up from my days volunteering at AECs, the biggest take home was in watching the warm up. Being stationed at Fence 6ab for Training gave me a front seat to the warm up arena and I made sure to watch what was going on over there in between riders at my fence and wallowing in self pity at being drenched by sideways rain in 60 degree weather for hours on end.

There were two main groups running training:  Professional riders on training level horses and amateur adults/young riders. The two groups used their time in warm up so distinctly differently that even a beginner like myself could see it. I don’t have a good comparison on how the courses went after these different approaches to the warm up since the weather turned ugly right after the professionals rode. Too many factors played into it to be able to make any correlation between the warm up and the course and I only saw the riders over one combination, but it was still interesting enough to make me ponder it all weekend.

So what was so different?

Both groups entered the warm up about an hour prior to me seeing them at my fence, so warm up time seemed about the same for both groups. It was in how they used that warm up time that separated them out. Of note, which I think is important, the vast majority of amateur/young riders had a a trainer at the rail giving the instructions as they warmed up, so how those riders warmed up was being generated by the trainer who is also a professional and yet they were doing it very different than the professional riders were. Something to think about.

The amateur/young rider group warmed up in a manner that seemed the norm from what I have seen and read.  There was a line of jumps in the center of the arena with several stadium type fences and a couple of solid obstacles and this group spent 85% of their warm up time jumping. They went over each one multiple times. A lot of these riders came to the jumps from various angles and approaches, but others just kept jumping the same ones over and over and over again. From my point of view, not knowing anything about the rider or the horse, it seemed like a whole lot of drilling and jumping efforts right before the course. But…I don’t do training level, so I have no clue if it was that much or not. It just appeared that way to me.

The trainers along the rail would yell various things like “don’t use a driving seat” or “hands down and forward” and “sit up until the base of the jump”. It gave the picture of the warm up being all about the rider. It was focused on working on the rider’s position, approaches and confidence. The time spent not jumping was spent milling about on the buckle. I saw a lot of trotting and same canter circles, but mostly it was jump then relax.

With the professionals, though, it was all about the horse. Unlike the prior group, the professionals spent 90% of their warm up time working on adjustability. They used the long sides to gallop and then would randomly bring the horse up at various points to a slower, more rocked back and collected canter. I saw the professionals jump maybe 3-4 times, once over each obstacle and that was that. The rest of the time they cantered, galloped and cantered some more. There was no milling about, on the buckle or trotting. They were either working on adjustability, doing a jump, or left the arena.

There are a lot of things to be thought about here. For starters, these are professional riders so yeah…they likely don’t need much work on themselves at training level when several had just been to Rolex this past spring. I’m sure they weren’t particularly nervous and this sure wasn’t their first rodeo, so working the rider kinks out wasn’t necessary. Unlike the amateur/YR group where many looked like they were about to lose their lunch off the side of their horse. I know if I had been there at the championship ride in those conditions, I would have needed all the confidence boosting a warm up could give me.

The biggest thing that got me thinking though was that trainers, who are professionals by nature of being a paid trainer, were dictating the entire warm up and not one had their student work on the adjustability of the canter before going over a course that had a lot of tight turns and bad footing. Having just watched the pros work solely on that one thing for 45 minutes, I would have thought they would have spent at least some time on the same things. While the riders were not pros, they were jumping the exact same course.

I’ll never know the reasoning behind it, but I do know that when I reach the warm up for my first cross country course that I’ll make sure to work on adjustability for a lot of it and jump just enough to get Gem thinking about jumping solid things.


American Eventing Championships (AEC) Volunteering

When this event headed to TIEC last year, I scrambled at the last minute to volunteer and ended up having a really good time. So much in fact that I stalked sign ups to grab exactly the job I wanted and took my first actual personal day of the year for it and closed my office on Thursday.

Thursday saw me getting up at 5:30 am to make the hour drive to TIEC and sign in by 7 am. I was Cross Country jump judging all day and when I got there I was informed that Preliminary and Training would be running. I’m probably in the minority here as most people prefer the higher divisions, but I was a little bummed it wouldn’t be beginner novice. At my level, it’s nice to see the next level up and learn from it.

They gave each volunteer a chair to use. I was so thankful for that canopy as it at least allowed part of me to remain dry

I was assigned jump 22, a yellow roll top along the back side of the berm and one I knew right away wouldn’t pose any issues for the day. The approach was basically a turf race course lane with a skinny brush on the corner leading up to it and then the last fence of the course around the corner and out of sight.

Fence 22 – a preliminary size table. It rode really well all day. What was odd was that Fence 4, cabin corners, was above it on the berm. 
Looking out at fence 21, a skinny brush on the corner

While my fence was clean the entire morning, there was some pretty decent carnage at fence 9 which claimed quite a few victims with falls and refusals.

What was really interesting was seeing the horses at the end of the course. Most looked tired but still had the ability to go on, quite a few were dragging and a rare couple looked like they had been out warming up only.

The preliminary riders were pretty lucky. The weather was cool and would intermittently spit some rain, but nothing major and the footing held up really well. That wouldn’t be the case later.

Fence 4 up on the berm. There were a few times when both 22 and 4 were being jumped at the same time.

Once Preliminary ended, I booked it all the way to the other side of the course in the sand arena for Training jumps 6a and b which were two brush corners set at three strides on a tight turn. In order to set up correctly, the riders had to make a wide approach nearly hugging the arena fence.

Fence 6ab from my vantage point with the warm up arena behind it
Fence 6ab looking through the line. You can see the foot prints in the footing in front of 6a to show where the riders planned to approach a to make it to b which is the far left second fence. 

Training wasn’t so lucky. I had one fall and a few refusals at the b element, but that wasn’t so bad compared to the rest of the course. Around lunch time the sky opened up and it poured the rest of the day.

Training didn’t end until 6:30pm and I don’t think I have ever been so wet when in regular clothes before. It was cold too and the afternoon was pretty miserable. I felt so bad for about 30 horses who had to run during the worst of it. The footing deteriorated quickly and the radios were lit up with requests for footing assistance. The turf just isn’t mature and there are no roots to the grass. Once it got saturated it just peeled up making for really slick conditions.

Training got beat up pretty badly. For nearly two hours there wasn’t a single clean run and a lot of people were eliminated after four refusals on course. I know you can’t help the weather but that sucked for a lot of people who spent a lot of money to be there.

One of the many barns

What was the coolest thing about my spot though was that I watched warm up right behind my fence. I paid a lot of attention to how the different divisions handled the warm up. It was neat to then get to see those same riders come through my fence.

I’m not sure how many pros were riding as I’m not really into paying attention to that but I did recognize Don Schram, Becky Holder and a local pro Erik Dierks all in the Training Horse division.

Warm up

I thought my shift was never going to end. Finally at 6:30pm the last rider left the start and never made it to my fence before being eliminated. It was awful out there. I squelched my way back to my car hoping my feet would eventually dry out again.

Friday morning was early too but the rain stayed away so that was a blessing. I originally had an important work call at 2 pm, so I only signed up for the morning. The call ended up being rescheduled for October, not sure it constitutes as really important any longer, and I was wishing I had signed up for the entire day.

Friday I was scribing for the jump judge which is my favorite thing to do. It was made even better when I saw that Preliminary and Training were running in the morning so I’d get to see those I judged the day before again. Training had run from 12:15pm to 6:30pm on cross country with a massive list of competitors. Once I saw the order of go I was shocked to see how many were eliminated on course.

Scribing itself is super easy, but the real reason I love it is that I get access to the judge and that is always a learning experience. This time I also got to meet and chat with the course designer and that was my highlight of the entire weekend.

My view from the judges tower. It looked nasty out but the rain stopped early and stayed away until later that evening

After the first 12 riders went, the designer came over and looked at the sheet over my shoulder. He was really happy and I asked him what he wanted to see. His answer was a lot of rails down spread out throughout the course. He doesn’t want a bunch of clear rounds (course too easy), no clear rounds (course too hard) or to see one particular fence always coming down (a badly designed fence). The course was running perfectly to his expectations above. Later he also said he wanted 50% of the top 10 to have at least one rail down.

I noticed that jump 6 had a lot of rails and it seemed odd to me. Fence 5 was a two stride a b combo along the rail with fence 6 being an oxer after it still along the rail. It didn’t look difficult yet a lot of horses had rails down there. He explained that he set it at 5.5 strides and apparently nobody figured that out. To ride it right the rider would have to come out the of combination, which needed to be ridden pretty compact, and gun it to get 5 in there. Not many made it and would bury themselves deep and pull the rail.

It was fascinating to watch the course and talk to him about it.

Sadly, my time ended around 11. But….then I got to meet up with fellow blogger KC!!!! She met me at the judging tower and then we had lunch. She is super nice and great to talk to. Funny too!!! We watched a bit of the cross country course which was running novice and then caught the end of the Training stadium rounds before a long break.

Cross Country derby field
You can see the berm on the far left. We watched as one rider couldn’t get their horse to cross it. The only jump on this course for novice was at the far end of the berm. The rider eventually dismounted and retired from the course although not until the next rider was on top of her 

About that time she mentioned Bette was there competing in BN. Bette is another blogger but she doesn’t write very often. I met her one other time and she is amazing. We wandered over to her barn, found out her dressage wasn’t until nearly 5 pm and chatted for a bit making future horsey plans this fall.

It was a great way to end my AEC time. WEG will be here next year and I am for sure going to try to find a way to volunteer there too. I may just have to take the entire time off work for it and work every day for all the various disciplines if they will have me.

In case I haven’t said this loudly enough: GET OUT AND VOLUNTEER! If you need a selfish reason to do so, you can learn an absolute ton doing it (I have an entire post about what I learned) and meet some great people.