Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Riding in a Classic Long Format Event Part 2: Being There

I almost don't know where to begin. Waredaca and the long format lived up to all our expectations and then some. We rarely pay for an extra tack stall at events but for a long format, you absolutely must have one. We shared a tack stall with a friend from Course Brook so the first order of business was setting up. It was great that we arrived so early in the day on Wednesday. We were able to get Quizz settled, set up our tack room, do a little volunteering and Elizabeth was able to ride.

Thursday morning began with a briefing. We met the organizers, the veterinarian and the clinician, Eric Smiley, who would be teaching us about the four phases of cross country day.

Eric Smiley discussing  how to jog a horse.
After the briefing, riders who had not yet had an in barn check with the veterinarian got that done.  Chad Davis was the vet for the weekend. At the "in barn" the vet looks over the horse and takes the temperature, pulse and respiration (TPR) so that he has a baseline to work from for the weekend.
At Elizabeth's in barn she talked to Dr. Chad about Quizz's atrial fibrillation. He taught her about the various types of irregular heartbeat and what the concerns could be with Quizz's condition. He also recommended the use of a heart rate monitor since tracking any kind of change in her heartbeat is key. Dr. Chad is awesome. He was great to have around all weekend.

Photo courtesy of  GRCPHOTO.COM all rights reserved.
Next came jogs. Each rider jogs his horse in front of the vet and the ground jury before competition begins and again after cross country, before show jumping. The jog is more complicated than I imagined. The first order of business is to get the horse and the rider cleaned up and turned out beautifully. We had nice, hot weather so were able to get Quizz pretty shiny. Elizabeth chose to wear white and managed to stay white!

When the rider is called, they proceed to the jog strip, greet the vet and ground jury and SMILE! The purpose is to let them see the horse move and make sure it's sound enough to enter the competition. They will also remember each horse so they can compare the first and second jogs to assure soundness. It's important to look confident. They will tell the rider to proceed and the rider jogs the horse to the end of the strip, walks to turn around and jogs back down the strip. It is important to get your horse to move forward nicely and to jog straight. You don't want to give the officials any reason to reject your horse. Elizabeth practiced quite a bit an definitely put her whip to good use as they warmed up.

It was pretty exciting to hear over the loudspeaker, "Quizz D'Organge, accepted!"

Next up, Eric Smiley took each group - Training, then Novice - out in pick up trucks to drive over the cross country roads and tracks sections - phases A and C for endurance day. Roads and tracks cover about 2 - 3 miles each at the Training and Novice levels. A is faster than C. Generally the rider trots A with a bit of canter to get warmed up for steeple chase and a bit of walk depending on terrain. On C you walk a bit to recover from steeple chase then trot and canter to make up time, being mindful of getting to the end of C and the start of the vet box in good condition.

Photo courtesy of  GRCPHOTO.COM all rights reserved.
Friday was more action packed. The day started with dressage, the primary excitement being that there were two judges - one at C and one at E. It's interesting to see the scores from the different vantage points. The judge at E can't see a really crooked horse going down the long side the way the judge at C does. The tests for the 3-day tend to be a little more complex than the tests used in regular horse trials. But otherwise, it was a fairly typical dressage test.

The long format 3-days of today are conducted as a hybrid between a clinic and a recognized horse trials so following dressage, everyone had the opportunity to prepare for endurance day (cross country day) by hacking the two roads and tracks sections to be ridden and attending a brief steeple chase clinic with Eric Smiley.

Up to this point the weather had been HOT. Unseasonably hot. So hot. But as everyone tacked up to head out on phase A - the first section of roads and tracks - the sky began to darken. Everyone had a time slot for their steeplechase practice so they headed out on A so that they would be at steeplechase (phase B) at the right time, allowing about half an hour to walk and trot all of A. As Elizabeth practiced her steeplechase, the sky darkened.
Elizabeth got lucky. In fact, I think only one group had to go in the monsoon that followed. Eric had each rider gallop until they had the correct speed and rhythm and then sent them over the steeplechase fence. Steeplechase is different from regular cross country. It is run at a much higher speed and the horses jump flat and out of stride. The idea is to let the horse figure it out and take the jumps without a bunch of interference from the rider. It's pretty cool to watch.

After steeplechase practice the riders headed out to hack phase C - the second section of roads and tracks. Elizabeth came back soaking wet having cantered through a field with hail pelting her. Her friend was out there for what felt like a really long time and just as I was really beginning to worry, she came in so cold and wet having walked the long section of roads and tracks since the visibility was so bad. Everyone made it in and as luck would have it, the rain stopped and we had a gorgeous afternoon in which to walk phase D - what we all know as cross country.

I got pretty nervous after walking this course with my daughter. She had been competing at Novice events all season and had tackled the toughest events in Area I but nothing came close to this course. She would have 22 jumping efforts including a ditch and wall, a half coffin, a corner and a jump into water as well as an enormous drop and a really tough table combination. It was long at 2500 meters. This would be a real test of both her and her horse.

Friday evening we had a team meeting. We divided up all the jobs for the next day - who would be at steeplechase to make sure our horses had shoes after A and B, who would be in the 10 minute box and who would be at the vet box at the finish. We discussed studs, put studs in all the spare shoes and checked through all the equipment. This was the best part of the 3-day for me. I felt like a real part of the team. We had 4 riders with us and 4 support crew including our trainer, Stephie Baer. Stephie loves the old format and had a blast helping everyone achieve this goal. There is so much to know when you do a 3-day. Having someone along who has done so many is a huge bonus.

And along the way, Elizabeth managed to do her homework. The reality is that she skipped three days of school to do this. She was exhausted but squeezed in some math and history where she could. I'm proud of her for working so hard and doing it all.

Saturday morning was exciting. It had gotten seriously cold overnight. We got up crazy early and got to the farm before 6am. The first order of business was to set up our area in the 10-minute box and the vet box. The ten minute box is between phases C and D - the second roads and tracks and the cross country test. The rider comes into the box, dismounts and the veterinary team immediately takes the horse's TPR (temp, pulse and respiration). From the minute they enter the box, they have ten minutes before heading out on phase D but they can only go out on D after being cleared by the vet team who will take the TPR again about 5 - 6 minutes later. During that time the rider sits, the horse is sponged and walked in intervals and hopefully all the numbers come down sufficiently.
View of both the vet box and, on the other side of the black fencing, the 10-minute box.

The vet box comes at the end of phase D. The rider dismounts, TPR is taken, the horse is sponged and walked and monitored until the vet team deems the horse sufficiently recovered to head back to the barn.

Our buckets and extra equipment.
Extra equipment for 3 riders.

We set up an area of buckets in both boxes and an area of extra equipment in the 10-minute box, making sure all the riders knew where we would be and all the grooms knew where each rider's equipment was stashed.

Soon enough it was time for our first rider to head out on phase A. My job was to be at the
steeplechase (phase B) to make sure that all our riders had 4 shoes both before and after running the steeplechase. We had arranged the night before what people wanted me to do if they had a shoe missing.  Most of them wanted some vet wrap or duct tape put on the hoof but fortunately all our riders had four shoes all the way through so my job was easy. We had spare shoes for all the horses in the 10 minute box where a farrier would be available.

Photo courtesy of  GRCPHOTO.COM all rights reserved.
The best part about being at steeplechase was watching the horses change with every lap. The two horses in our group who had been tough to ride and strong became carefree, happy and in sync with their riders. It was super cool to watch. These partnerships changed that day and are better for it every day since. The riders had a blast and just want to do it again. It looked like so much fun!

Once our last rider cleared phase B I headed over to the 10-minute box to support Elizabeth. I can't begin to tell you how exciting this day was for me as a mother. Seeing her arrive after A was exciting. Watching her finish B with no issues was thrilling. Being there with Quizz's halter when she finished C was amazing. She was in such high spirits and Quizz was barely puffing and recovered perfectly and all of it was just so awesome. They had worked so hard for this for so long and the day was going extremely well. The cool weather was great so we didn't need ice in our water buckets and we were able to get the horse's temps down nicely with sponging and walking. Before you know it she was back in the tack and headed out on phase D and I was crying and ready to burst with nerves, joy, the thrill of being a part of something so big and the pride of seeing my daughter taking on the world. I was jumping out of my skin.

Photo courtesy of  GRCPHOTO.COM all rights reserved.

I was able to see Elizabeth get over a few jumps from the vet box. When she made it up a ridiculous knoll and over the log at the top I started dancing. I knew that question had concerned her. The hill was big and steep and Quizz took it like it was nothing. They made it all the way around. No faults. They did it! They went double clear on endurance day. We had only hoped they would finish and here they were killing it. In fact, all our riders made it around. It was SUCH a great day!!

Kristen with daughters Taylor and Talia.
One of the best parts of that day was sharing it with another horse mom. We usually travel with adult riders who don't have kids. We love them and we are a great team. But I am so grateful to have been standing by my friend Kristen the whole time Elizabeth was out on phase D. She has two daughters who have been eventing for a long time. She knew exactly what I was feeling (her own daughter having finished cross country a couple of hours earlier). We were lucky to not only experience this awesome event but to do it with amazing friends. Sharing this day and this week with all of them was a huge part of the experience.

After everyone had rested and changed and walked the stadium course, we jogged our horses to make sure they had been walked enough and weren't getting too stiff. Exhausted and exuberant we headed back to our hotel, ate, did some homework, went back for night check and then we slept. Sunday morning rolled around very quickly. Again we were up before dawn. It was time for the second jog. Quizz had recovered extremely well. It was like the prior day had never happened. She passed and Elizabeth got ready for show jumping.

As a side note, choosing jog clothing is a big deal. Some are anti-dress. Some make better shoe choices than others. Then there is the weather to consider. Elizabeth, who generally wears any t-shirt and jeans to school, put a great deal of thought into what she wanted to wear and ended up bringing three or four options. If it is hot you want a different option than if the temperature is in the 40's. She went more casual for the second jog as did many of the riders. She looked great and so did Quizz.

Which reminds me, we braided 3 times over the course of the week. We braided for the first jog on Thursday, then removed the braids. We braided for dressage on Friday, then removed the braids. Sunday morning we braided before the second jog and kept those braids for show jumping, taking them out before we packed up to head home.

Photo courtesy of  GRCPHOTO.COM all rights reserved.
Show jumping was awesome. Elizabeth went double clear again. All 4 riders we travelled with finished, Elizabeth and one friend finishing on their dressage scores. In a division of over 40 riders, including some professionals, Elizabeth finished 20th. Among the young riders, she finished 6th. This event restored some confidence she had lost over the course of the season. She and Quizz had had a stop at each of her last 3 events. Elizabeth worked extremely hard to correct her mistakes and all her work paid off at Waredacca.

I'm amazed we were able to get this team photo. Our friend, a professional and fellow Pony Club mom lives in Area II and came by to watch some show jumping. She happened to be there and we miraculously had all 4 horses in one place, tacked up AND all the grooms. So thank you to Adrienne Iorio for taking this awesome photo to commemorate our victory!

Then it was time to pack and go home. Our adrenaline rush carried us for the full ten hour drive. Eventers never stop helping each other and two groups texted us from up the road warning to stay away from the George Washington Bridge. We rerouted to the Tappan Zee and saved hours on our drive.

Some shows leave us exhausted in a way that means we can't imagine doing it again any time soon. This show left us wanting more. We were ready to sign up for next year. It was the coolest experience ever for both of us. Everyone should do a 3-day. I watched my daughter transform over the course of a month as she executed her conditioning plan and invested herself completely in this event. She rode every minute and it paid off.

I also need to add that this venue is amazing. They clearly love what they do. The physical space is phenomenal. The clinicians were fun and happy and full of encouragement. Dr. Chad has so much energy it is infectious. I can't say enough good things about Waredaca. The three day is a bit more expensive than a regular horse trails but in my opinion it was a bargain. We stabled 4 nights, had a tack stall and the TD, vet, and other officials had to be there for three full days. They were actually there for four because they all came for the clinic as well. GRC Photo captured all three days of competition and had superb photos for sale at a reasonable price for every rider. I am so grateful for the photos they took.

The long format is important. It is where the sport of eventing started. It is a different test than a horse trial and different from a CCI. We planned Elizabeth's entire season around this event. She made the right choices for her horse so that they could do this. They didn't go to camp with friends and they didn't move up to Training even though they were ready to do so. It took discipline and maturity to prioritize this goal and make each choice each day based on that goal. I could not be more proud of my daughter and her horse. And I am grateful to all the organizers out there who are keeping the long format alive. We need to support them as riders, volunteers, spectators.

Elizabeth has her eyes set on a different goal for 2017 but I have no doubt we will be back at Waredaca in 2018 to tackle the Training 3-Day and I can't wait.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Riding in a Classic Long Format Event Part 1: The road to the Novice 3 Day at Waredacca

I'm not sure when we got the idea to aim for the 3 day, but by the end of 2015 my daughter had set it as her goal for 2016. What is a 3 day you ask? Allow me to explain briefly.

In the original sport of eventing, competition took place over three days: Dressage Day, Endurance Day and Show Jumping Day. This is the outline of the current format with the major change being that Endurance day, which used to include 4 phases, has been reduced to just one phase, the XC test.

Talia Freundlich aboard her OTTB mare Out Foxed

In a 3 Day, Endurance Day includes Phases A, B, C and D.  Phase A is "roads and tracks" during which horse and rider set out to cover a set distance within a set time, crossing through "gates" as they go. The terrain varies and the ground is generally covered at a trot with a bit of walk and some canter to get ready for Phase B.

Phase B is the "steeple chase" and the speeds vary depending at which level you compete. Generally, steeple chase is a more flat out gallup than the cross country test. It is short but includes the jumping of brush fences which means they are a bit higher than most fences at the level because if a horse hits the top they will just brush through it. Higher levels gallop faster than lower levels and jump more fences.

Phase C is a second, longer section of "roads and tracks" and is a period for the horse to recover a bit from the exertion of steeple chase.

After phase C, riders come into the "ten minute box" where the horse's vital signs are taken immediately upon arrival. A "pit crew" (to borrow a phrase from another sport) jumps into action, sponging the horse and walking it to cool it down while the rider sits, drinks and thinks about the final phase of the day. The veterinarian watches the horse jog to make sure it's sound, checks the vitals to make sure it has recovered sufficiently and if all looks good, sends the horse and rider out on Cross Country.

Phase D is pretty much like the XC test we see out at events in the current version of the sport but the course for a 3 Day will be a championship level course which means it will be long and the jumps will be maxed out in height and spread and there will be challenging questions for the level. After D, horse and rider return to the vet box until they are cleared to head to the barn. Again, we sponge and walk the horse to cool it down and jog to make sure it's sound.

Back to the road to the 3 Day…it began last winter. We bought an old copy of the USCTA Book of Eventing and started reading, taking notes on the equipment lists, conditioning plans and other nuggets of wisdom within this awesome book.

Being in Pony Club was an advantage. Over the winter Elizabeth attended HB Preps held by our region. The HB is an upper level horsemanship certification in Pony Club which has a pretty high bar of knowledge about the care and health of horses. She learned a great deal about nutrition, conditioning and soundness which would inform her choices over the 6 months leading up to the 3 Day. Elizabeth achieved her Pony Club C2 in August and one of the requirements was to write a conditioning schedule focused on a particular event. She chose the 3 Day and followed through on the elaborate plan she had laid out.

Another bonus working in her favor is her amazing trainer who loves the 3 Day format and supported Elizabeth's goal. Everything we did all season was leading up to this event. We determined her competition schedule based on getting to her goal. She did fewer camps so that she could focus on the horse's fitness, soundness and comfort, knowing that at the end of the season she would be asking a great deal of her lovely mare.

So we spent the summer working toward the 3 Day. By September it was time to really start focusing on getting ready. We made our own equipment list (you need quite a bit of equipment in the 10 minute box). We took Quizz to a couple of different places nearby with huge hills for hill workouts.  Her schedule began to resemble that of any athlete in training - some interval days, some hill days, some days focused on weight lifting (Dressage), some days focused on jumping. A week prior to the event, Elizabeth and Quizz did one last XC school, jumping Training level to prepare for what would be a much more difficult Novice course than they had yet to ride over.

Then it was time to pack. We bought two big, plastic bins for all the extra equipment we would need in the 10 minute box as well as tarps and more big buckets and sponges. We packed LOTS of towels and rain gear. And because we anticipated a 10 hour drive, we packed excessive quantities of hay, extra jugs of water and a full bag of hay cubes. It took days to get organized and fully packed.

We even borrowed a bucket holder and zip tied it to the trailer door so Quizz could drink on the long ride to Maryland. I was especially pleased with myself after securing the bucket holder with hand towels and baling twine. In a barn setting, there isn't much you can't fix with baling twine, duct tape and a sharpie at your disposal!

So that was it! We were as ready as we would ever be. And though we had worked hard and done everything we could to prepare, we were trepidatious, setting out on this adventure to attempt something big, something totally new to us.

We decided to hit the road at 2am. We're crazy but I had heard the drive was 10 hours and I was so worried about
getting stuck in commute traffic. There is no way to get around it. The best way to get from Boston to Maryland (the Baltimore area) is straight through NYC, over the George Washington Bridge. So we set out at 2am.

The road belonged to us and the enormous trucks. We hit absolutely no traffic anywhere and arrived WAY too early. The drive takes 8 hours for future reference. The 10 hour drive is what you get during normal, human hours. We listened to a book on CD and enjoyed the drive that would take us to our biggest adventure yet. Even Quizz seemed up for adventure. She is an excellent traveler and couldn't wait to see where we were taking her!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Show Entry Etiquette: The Life and Times of a Schooling Show Secretary...

Last spring I very happily took on the role of secretary for the schooling shows at Course Brook Farm. We have a reasonably busy show schedule, hosting 5 schooling shows per season ranging from spring two phases to our schooling horse trials. Most of the way through my second season in this role, I have some thoughts to share, especially for those who aren't 100% sure of what all the terminology means or the details of show entry etiquette.

I would like to preface the informative section of this post by declaring that we have the very best competitors and volunteers imaginable! People come to our schooling shows to have fun, educate their horses and themselves and to further their commitment to the sport of eventing. I love each and every one of them so the little pet peeves I will share with you are merely inconvenient and not the end of the world. I am sharing only because if no one ever tells you that this isn't the way to do things, how are you to know? Most of this carries over to recognized shows as well so take note and do your best to be thoughtful. You never know when you will need the show secretary in your corner and it is always wise to be on her good side if possible!

Opening Dates: Entries may be sent on or after the opening date. For shows that are especially popular, get your entry in the mail on the opening date, being sure you get it post marked on the day you drop it in the mail. Shows that fill will accept entries by postmark date. If you can enter online, the postmark is not an issue! If you mail an entry prior to the opening date, it is the prerogative of the show secretary to send it back to you. Don't send them early. It will only annoy the secretary and definitely will NOT get you to the front of the line.

Closing Dates, Late Entries and Late Fees: All shows have a closing date - the last date entries will be accepted. The date typically refers to the postmark date. Schooling shows tend to be more flexible and try to give people as much opportunity as possible but if a show has 40 riders the day before the closing date and then 40 people try to enter between the closing date (which is likely less than a week before the show) and the show, it creates numerous complications I will address in another section. So, often there will be a late fee. If a late fee is listed on an entry, pay it if you are mailing your entry late. Pay the late fee if you are hand delivering your entry the day after the closing date. Pay the late fee if you are in any way late. If you don't want to pay a late fee, then don't enter late. Seriously. We charge late fees because late entries increase the stress level. We want you to enter on time. We actually don't want that money. However, if you need to enter late, please do so. Just pay the late fee. And one more note on closing dates: we make our closing date as late as possible to encourage you to enter. However, if you think about it, if you mail your entry 5 days prior to a Saturday show, you are mailing it on Monday. The soonest I will receive it is probably Wednesday. For a Saturday show I will be trying to post times Tuesday or Wednesday. Do you see the problem?

Giant Pet Peeve #1: Don't enter a show late, and I mean very late, like 3 days before the show, via email, and then, in the same email, ask when times will be posted. Times will be posted as soon as people stop entering late and I have 5 minutes to sit and work on making times. If you entered on the opening date, you are allowed to ask when times will be posted.

Write Neatly: We communicate with competitors via email and even, occasionally, via snail mail. If either of your addresses is illegible, you may not receive important communication from us. If your mailing address is illegible, we won't be able to send a refund should we need to do so.

Incomplete Entries: Try very hard to complete your entries right from the start. Every entry form will say right on it what is required. If you keep an electronic copy of your coggins on your computer it will be very easy to access it and send it on in with your entry. Release forms may be a bit more challenging but more than half the competitors manage to figure it out so do try to print and sign one if requested. And payment. I generally don't "accept" or consider an entry real until I have money in hand. Too often I receive emails or phone calls at the last minute, give someone a time slot and then they never arrive on show day. Incomplete entries take up a great deal of a show secretary's time. If you receive an email telling you what is missing, reply right away with an electronic copy of the missing document. This goes back to having that show secretary on your side. You don't want to be the competitor she had to chase down three times for entry issues.

Send your entry to the right place!!!: Many entries are sent directly to a show secretary who frequently doesn't live anywhere near the farm where the show will be held. Be sure to look at the prize list, omnibus, entry or whatever other documentation the venue provides and read it carefully to find the mailing address for entries. If you send your entry to the wrong address, it very well may be lost or take weeks to make its way to the show secretary which is totally not her fault.

Communication: If you have a question or need a change, email the secretary as soon as possible. The more notice you are able to give us, the better able we are to accommodate your needs. We don't mind hearing from you at all. That is what we are here for. If entry status is posted, please check your status! You may find your entry is incomplete or, because we show secretaries are human too, you may find your name entered into the wrong division or we may have you riding the wrong horse. I love it when posting status can catch any issues well ahead of posting times.

Posting Times: For some shows, creating times is extremely complicated. With schooling shows we tend to have enormous Beginner Novice divisions and fairly small other divisions. We run one stadium ring and one XC course for all levels so we can only move everyone through them so quickly. If a show has more than 50 competitors, we try to have at least two dressage judges so we aren't there all night. Believe me, the show organizers and show secretary want to move you through your phases efficiently. We all want to go home for dinner! But some shows are very full and have complications such as needing to finish dressage before running XC. I spend as little as 3 hours and as much as 10 hours working out times. We know you need to plan and we post times as soon as humanly possible but if we put them up too soon, prior to being able to review them, think things through and catch errors, we cause more problems than we solve.

Social Media and Website Updates: Many of your questions leading up to a show can be answered via a website or social media page. I always post updates on our website and on FB so look there before reaching out. If your question hasn't been addressed, then definitely send an email or pick up the phone. I actually love talking to you guys!

Show Day!: Be sure to arrive well in advance of your ride times. Most shows have someone guiding you through where to park. Pick up your packet right away in case there are any issues. At our shows I leave packets for competitors with completed entries out on a table so they don't have to stand in line - just another incentive to get your entries completed prior to show day!

On show day the secretary is there to support you but, especially in the case of a schooling show, she is often wearing many hats. At our most recent show I was the secretary, Dressage scorer, show scorer and volunteer check-in person in addition to handing out awards. My life is chaotic on show day, especially in the morning when competitors are arriving to complete their entries and dressage and show jumping are running simultaneously. Once dressage wraps up and all the competitors are checked in, my life gets a bit easier.

Pinning a Division: Generally, a division will be pinned 30 minutes after scores are posted. Of course a schooling show doesn't need to be so precise but, again, we show secretaries are human and make mistakes. If we post scores and give out a couple of prizes immediately and a few of you go on your merry way, then ten minutes later we discover that a refusal had not been attributed somewhere or we missed something else on the score sheet, we don't usually have enough prizes to award to the rightful winners. I can't stand it when we keep you waiting for hours after competing but I will always mail ribbons to anyone who requests it. I totally understand the need to get on the road. But often the show secretary does not have control. Schooling shows are usually understaffed. If we are still running riders and don't have a volunteer to pick up scores, there isn't much I can do about tabulating and posting them. So please try to be patient with me. I'm not doing it on purpose. I am not out watching the dressage and the jumping. I have no idea what is going on out there. I am in my little office waiting for people to bring me things. I work as quickly as I can but then again, whenever I go super quickly, I make mistakes and then you guys really get frustrated and rightly so!

My Pledge to My Beginner Novice Division!: Next time, I absolutely promise, we will collect XC scores between BN divisions. There are so many of you! Which is awesome but it means it takes almost two hours to jump all of you around our XC course which means hours of waiting for the division to be pinned and that is my fault and not ok so I will do better in the future. I've made that mistake twice now.

What else does a show secretary do?: I suppose the answer to this question varies but in my case, I create flyers and entry forms, post information to our website and Facebook Page. I collect entries, enter rider information into our database, track entry documentation. I manage the budget for the show season, including our recognized show, and am responsible for providing a financial statement at the end of each show. I field emails and phone calls from people with a variety of questions, support our volunteer coordinator by helping to find volunteers. I maintain supplies of ribbons, dressage tests, rider numbers and prizes. I create the show program, print course maps, make up packets and, under the guidance of our show organizers, create ride times. I make up clipboards for our dressage judges, show jumping judge, XC fence judges and our ring stewards. I make sure we have at least 30 fully functioning walkie talkies, fully charged and ready to go on show day. I score tests. I create electronic score sheets which are very helpful and look nice when I post them throughout the day. I keep a supply of useful items on hand and lend support wherever it is needed. I also help set up dressage rings, stadium jumps and anything else that needs to be done because, though I get paid to be show secretary, I am also a volunteer.  I typically put in many many hours to get through a three phase show so I consider my job a hybrid between a paid job and a volunteer job.

While most of the above information holds true for recognized shows, there are a few differences.  Their closing dates are a bit earlier so that they can post times earlier. They have to follow rules about having times up a certain number of days prior to the event. They will be more strict regarding entry completion and closing dates. They require membership in the USEA for Beginner Novice up and in USEF for Preliminary and higher. Their fees are significantly higher because they have to pay for a TD (Technical Delegate), more judges, course design and other officials.

Thank you to all of you who come out to our shows, whether as riders, grooms, spectators or the all important volunteers without whom there would be no show. At the end of the day, we are all doing this for the love of an amazing sport and the thrill of sharing it with our wonderful eventing community!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Keeping Horses at Home

Here I go again, writing on a topic of which I know very little. BUT, I know enough to have made the decision, for now, not to keep horses at home. There are a number of things I had not considered early on in our horse journey which came to light as I explored the possibility of moving to a horse property and keeping horses at home. For me, these details gave me pause, but for others they may be no big deal.

There are many reasons for keeping horses at home - reduced costs, more time with them, control over their care. The whole thing looks very different if money is no object than it does if you are on a tight budget. For our purposes, I'm going to be practical and assume you are not the type with bottomless pockets.

If you have more than one horse, you can't help thinking about the financial savings of keeping horses in your backyard rather than boarding them. Here in the Metro-West area outside Boston, board is extremely expensive ranging from $1,000 - $1,300 a month within a reasonable distance of our house. It's similar to the economics of day care vs. a nanny. The more kids you have, the more cost effective the nanny option looks.

The first thing we thought about when exploring the option of keeping the horses at home was the monthly cost of doing so. If you do all of your own barn chores, the cost to feed a horse in this area is about $350 per month which includes hay and grain. If you will have nice grass turnout that cost may go down a bit in the summer since they can graze and reduce your hay costs. Hay is about $10 a bale and a horse eats about a bale a day, maybe 3/4 of a bale. Your other significant cost is bedding. You will need shavings or some other form of bedding for your stall. If you have a run in stall, your bedding might last longer than if your horses are kept in all night. Regardless, plan for about $100 - $150 a month for bedding. I'm not including supplements in this discussion since their cost is the same whether the horses are at home or boarded somewhere else.

It looks like keeping horses at home could save us about $700 a month per horse (if you are doing everything yourself) which is pretty significant. But there are a few more costs to consider. First of all, there is the cost of living on a horse property. For us, moving to a town that allows horses would increase my husband's commute significantly and would have taken my two non-horsey sons away from a public school system they love so right there we had a deal breaker. But even if those pieces had fallen into place, we had a hard time finding a property we could handle that would give us everything we wanted. We currently enjoy the use of an indoor arena, several outdoor sand rings, jumps and fields. If we were at home, we would have reduced facilities.

Insurance and manure management are two additional significant costs. I am told by my friends who have horses at home that managing two is really not bad but adding a third horse seems to be a breaking point as far as the amount of mucking required and the quantity of manure you need to dispose of on a weekly basis.

Some rural towns will give you a good break on your property taxes if you are using your property as a working farm so look into the rules. The savings here might compensate for some of the costs listed above.

So now you've crunched the numbers, it's time to talk about the more subjective pros and cons of keeping horses at home versus boarding them. On the con side, having horses at home ties you down. My friends with horses at home are frequently looking for people they can hire to come take care of things when they want to go away for a weekend and it costs quite a bit to hire such a person. I believe they pay people about $100 a day for someone to come muck, feed and often stay overnight. Even when you are in town, horses tie you down. 7 days a week someone needs to be up early to feed them and turn them out. If everyone in the household is willing to take turns getting up and doing morning chores, then it might not be so bad. Horses need hay throughout the day unless they are turned out on grass so someone needs to be around to throw hay and fill water buckets in the middle of the day, everyday. And someone has to do night check, break the ice in the water buckets through the winter, change blankets, take care of emergencies, etc. There are some great devices such as automatic waterers and heated water buckets that will reduce your efforts but at the end of the day, horses need a great deal of care.

Horses don't usually like to be alone. If you have one horse you probably will want to provide the horse with a companion. You can run into trouble if you want to take one of the horses to a horse show or clinic for the day. Some of my friends end up dragging horse #2 along frequently so he doesn't get into mischief being home alone. You need to think through your program and consider what is the best number of horses to have at home for your lifestyle.

On the pro side, having your horses at home can be a great joy. I would love to have ponies in my backyard, to walk out the door and be with them any hour of the day. I would love to be at home more. My dog would prefer to have us home more! I could cook dinner while my daughter rode her horse. I think this becomes a bigger pro as the kids get older, have more homework and trips to the barn take up too much time.  We could afford to have two horses if we kept them at home. That's probably the biggest argument in favor of the idea for me. And I assume the bond is much greater when you take care of your own horse each day.

Having a farm is a serious lifestyle choice. If you really want one, then go for it! If you are just trying to find a way to cut costs, make sure you are truly ready for the commitment. If you aren't super knowledgeable, do you have someone you can call if something goes wrong in the night?

And if you're thinking about taking on something bigger, a boarding facility, think again unless you really know what you are doing. I know it sounds completely logical to buy a ten stall barn, rent 8 out to cover your costs and bring in a little bit of money, allowing you to justify having horses. Running a boarding facility is a ton of work and, unless you plan to do every bit of that work yourself, you are unlikely to see a profit. Look into how much you can charge for board. Backyard barns can't charge the same type of board a facility with an indoor and large outdoor rings can charge. Trainers running their own facilities always say they break even or lose money on the board and make it up with teaching or running shows or hay sales or some other horse adjacent business.

The other issue with running a boarding facility is that your home is no longer your own private space. You will have people there all the time and often those people will feel entitled to tell you what to do and to ask you to change your home to please them. I think I'd have a difficult time with this aspect of taking in boarders.

If I haven't talked you out of it yet, then good luck! I'm jealous! And I really hope to follow in your footsteps some day.