Sunday, August 9, 2015

Show Season: Being the mother of a young eventer part 2...

Having recently returned from a two day show at Fitch's Corner in Millbrook, New York, I am in a perfect frame of mind to give you a view into the glamour that is the life of an eventing mom.

For this show we decided we needed to leave the barn around noon on Friday so that meant being at the barn by 8am. We had not done any real preparation ahead of time so this was actually quite luxurious. We went down to get our trailer, threw 3 bales of hay in from the hay shed, drove up by Elizabeth's stall and unhooked. I left Elizabeth at the barn to pack and headed out to the feed store to buy some shavings and fill up with gas.

If you are stabling, it takes two bags to fill the stall and we bring an extra for filler during the show. For this show I bought 5 bags since we were taking our trainer's horse with us as well. The trailer was already full of shavings so that was great.

By the time I got back to the barn, Elizabeth and her trainer had done a good amount of packing. I helped with some of the loading since it was a bit of an organizational challenge to fit everything for two horses and 3 people but our trailer has a really nice tack room so it works out. Elizabeth and Erika took their horses out for a hack while I lunged my horse. When they got back they gave the horses baths and shortly thereafter we loaded them up and hit the road.

We had about a 4 hour drive ahead of us including a quick stop for ice cream and some traffic on the Mass Pike. Unfortunately, none of us had read the directions on the Omnibus and the nav system in my car took us down some unnecessarily long and windy roads. Eventually, we arrived but this wasn't the first time I was reminded that we should always consult someone who had been to the venue before about the best route before setting out!

When you arrive at a multi-day event far away from everything, most people stable on the property. In most places this means a tent village of temporary stalls. Fitch's had 11 rows of 20 temporary stalls. Someone generally meets you at the gate and directs you to your stabling. Some shows do a better job of this than others. Fitch's was awesome. A man in a golf cart led us to our stalls and showed us where to park while we unloaded.

This is when the real work begins. It is all hands on deck. The first task is to throw shavings into the stalls and unload the horses into the stalls. Next we dig out the water buckets, fill them and put them in the stalls. Sometimes this is easy and other times it is a serious pain. Fitch's had huge water tankers positioned every few rows in stabling but still, you have to walk a ways to fill the buckets and carrying full water buckets all the way back is no joke. The purchase of a large wheel barrow is in my future! Next we fed the horses their hay cubes and grain while continuing to unload. Each horse has a trunk, two saddles, saddle racks, bridle hooks, bridles, buckets for numerous purposes, water jugs, and more. We bring chairs, muck buckets, a shovel, pitchfork, broom, etc. While the riders set up the stabling area I park the trailer. Once things are organized, it's time to walk the horses.

Next we track down the secretary's booth. Sometimes this is a serious challenge but again, Fitch's is a really great venue. The booth was close at hand and in no time at all we had our packets, XC course maps and schedule for the next day.

Erika and Elizabeth walking the BN Course.
Figuring out when to walk Cross Country can be complicated. Elizabeth had ample time but she needed time to walk it with her trainer and her trainer had her own course to walk. Friday night while Elizabeth's trainer walked her course with her own trainer, Elizabeth cleaned tack for another woman from Course Brook who brought two horses. Bottom line, there is always more work to be done and never an idle moment!

At this point I ran out for food so that we wouldn't all starve. It was already 7:00pm and we were in a pretty remote location. In the future, I am bringing way more food with me to horse shows. I've been relying on concessions but even a good concession can't really feed us well for almost three days.

By the time we had walked the horses again, fed them and tidied up to leave it was 9:00pm. We were staying about 40 minutes away in Poughkeepsie. We stopped along the way to the hotel to grab some more food and were finally asleep by 11:30pm. When at all possible, stay close to the venue. It makes an enormous difference in your level of comfort over the weekend.

The rest of a show weekend proceeds pretty consistently. We get up each morning at 5:50am so that we will be at the show grounds by 7:00am to feed and water the horses and take them for a walk. If we travel with a big group we can take turns being the last one to check the horses at night or the first to check them in the morning but this time we were all stabled too far apart to make that practical. I will admit that my job as a show mom has been less intense lately since my daughter is now able to do her own braiding, mucking, water carrying, etc. But I do jump in and help where I can to speed things up so I often run to get water while Elizabeth feeds and mucks, I help walk the horses or go buy food while everyone is braiding.

Before you know it, the time has come to head to dressage. At Fitch's Elizabeth and her trainer went to walk the stadium course while I polished tall boots and tacked up my daughter's horse. When they got back Elizabeth jumped on Quizz and I followed, camera in hand.

You will notice that many people have some mode of transportation with them at these shows. The distance between stabling and various events can be significant. At Fitch's I would say we walked at least 1/2 mile to dressage and XC. Then 1/2 mile back. FitBit fans will love showing!! Others will value a bicycle or scooter of some type. I'm still trying to convince my husband that I need a pink Vespa. I have the rack for the back of the trailer all picked out!

Once you find dressage, the next challenge is identifying your ring (Fitch's has 5!) and checking in with the steward. As the mom I usually hold the show coats until they are needed. I carry a towel in case a boot gets dusty or the horse slobbers in some unattractive way. I DO NOT SAY ANYTHING!!!!!  This is pretty key for a show mom. You have to know when to be quiet. I don't tell her to smile. I don't tell her to put her heels down. Her trainer will tell her the one or two things that might help. If I'm feeling bold I will tell her to have fun and give her a big smile!

And on it goes, untacking, tacking, changing of wardrobe, following friends, trainers and others around to their various events.

Let's talk about temperature. Horse show weekends seem to mostly be freezing cold or wretchedly hot and humid. I've gone both ways - overpacking and under packing - and highly recommend being prepared for anything if you have the space. At GMHA in June it rained and we were all wearing every piece of clothing we owned. At Fitch's in July we were wilting. The air was so thick with water it felt as though we were swimming. And the riders were out there in the blazing sun with heavy show jackets on for stadium!

Another useful tip - the new synthetic jackets are a great innovation. There are even some very thin mesh jackets out there. The mesh doesn't have enough stability to look crisp and polished so I didn't let my daughter go with that jacket but when she stops growing I will add one to her wardrobe for the days that it is simply inhuman to put her in anything else.

As the days wear on and the troops get tired and cranky, it is up to the show mom to forage for food, drinks and anything that will keep the competitors smiling with their head in the game. I find ice cream to be the handiest tool. Stay out of the way but notice when there is a need and fill it. Be mindful of the schedule but never act like you know something the rider doesn't know, especially if your rider is a teenager!

Eventually, you get to your last event. For us it was Elizabeth's cross country at Fitch's. It was SOOOO hot!!! Fitch's, again a phenomenal venue, provided ice machines filled with free ice. Before heading out for XC we filled a bucket with water, made sure the sponge and scraper were on hand. Some people brought their buckets to the finish line, we left ours at the stabling. Regardless, it was a day that made it necessary at any level to cool down the horses sufficiently after their runs. Also before heading to the last event we had all started removing shavings from our stalls and packing items into the truck and trailer - anything to make our exit a bit quicker! Some venues have pony club kids mucking stalls to raise money but we were on our own with this one!

Used with permission from Joanne Davis, FlatlandsFoto.
We made the trek out to XC. Elizabeth and Quizz had a blast and were happy and hot upon their return. We got back to stabling, iced down our water with the complimentary ice, and got to work sponging and scraping, sponging and scraping, sponging and scraping. Then we took turns grazing, mucking and undoing all the work we had done to set up our little home away from home.

Eventually we pull the trailer around, load up, and get on our way. Here, again, the show mother is in charge of morale, food and beverage! Unfortunately, I'm not the greatest show mom these days. The heat gets to me and I was feeling pretty rubbish by the time we were done mucking. Thankfully, we have the best trainer in the world and she took over willingly. She even ended up driving us home through an absolutely insane rain storm.

After unloading the horses, I glanced into the tack room of the trailer and nearly had a heart attack. But, this was not a pony club outing and honestly, the mess could wait a day. We headed home for much needed food, showers and rest. The day after the show the horses get a day off to enjoy their paddocks and we get a day to clean up the mess.

At the end of an eventing weekend, we all agree it was a great time but we are not sure we would do it again. But, like child birth, we soon forget all the pain involved and look fondly at the ribbons and photos. We get excited about the next time at a favorite venue or perhaps somewhere we haven't been before. We gather up our friends and make plans to eat together on Saturday night somewhere special. And so it begins again...