Wisconsin Winter Games: One barn’s tradition

The indoor loses its charm after about a million 20-meter circles. Caitrin O’Shea explains how the facility where she boards keeps itself entertained.

From Caitrin:

OK, I know, this winter has been a breeze so far. I only rode in my new-for-this-winter Carhartts once, and there were only a few days where I thought, “Meh… horses are fine. I’m staying home and watching TV.” But in general, winter is a time of hibernation for those of us not fortunate enough to travel south for the winter. But even in this less-than-ferocious winter, it still takes dedication and a little creativity to keep ourselves and our horses engaged over the long winter. There are only so many 20-meter circles you can do before you’re ready to become a new Marvel comics style Super Villain: The Dressage Queen!

Here at my barn in Southern Wisconsin, we have started an annual “Winter Olympics” as a fun way to break up the winter, give us all something to look forward to, and generally dispel some of the ill-will that comes when nearly 100 eventers, dressage riders, trail riders and natural horse folk are forced to share two arenas for four months, a la Big Brother. (Seriously, are there cameras in here? Is network TV making a profit on these hissy fits??)

Zahra and I in our pre-game huddle

So, our farm has four barns: Dry Barn, Dairy Barn, Main Barn and Long Barn, plus rough board. So these are your five teams! Last year’s title went to the Dry Barn, so we were the defending champions. Of course, this year no one from our barn could make it, so it was me on my awesome 3-year-old, and another eventer girl on her awesome Standardbred. Our team was by far the smallest, but we were determined to be a force to be reckoned with!

First, for the eventers, was the jumping portion of the day. Two classes: Gambler’s Choice and Puissance. The Gambler’s Choice is an arena full of jumps… some are small, and some are tall, and they each have a different point value. You have 90 seconds to successfully jump as many jumps as possible to score your team the most points. So plan your route carefully to maximize those points! While that 3’9″ triple bar might be worth the most points, that don’t amount to a hill of beans if your green horse refuses to jump it!! The Long Barn dominated in this class, taking 1st, 2nd and 4th! My Zahra girl jumped a 3′ vertical, which is a full foot higher than we’ve jumped so far, so she definitely is a team player!

Next, the Puissance. There are two jumps–one is for “warm up”and the other is for points. The jumps start at 2’6” and get taller and taller every time they are successfully jumped. If your horse knocks the rail or refuses, you’re out. Last rider jumping wins. Again, the Long Barn came in first and second here!

Our resident trainer showing us how it's done in the Puissance!

The next few classes were anybody’s guess as to who would win!  These were more mounted games/gymkhana type events. Egg ‘n’ Spoon races, pole bending, and the bucket brigade (filling up a bucket of water, one cup at a time).

Egg 'n' Spoon

In our small indoor, we had a trail class set up: 3 minutes to accomplish as many obstacles as possible while staying mounted (because cowboys never walk!) This year’s trail class had many wild and crazy suggestions, from jumping bonfires and snowmobiles to releasing chickens and goats into the arena. Most of these were tongue-in-cheek suggestions, because this stuff actually happens at our barn! Everyone at shows wonders why my horses are so bombproof. It’s because there’s nothing a show can throw at them that they haven’t already seen at home!! In the end, it was slightly more traditional with events like walking across tarps, climbing on top of a block, opening and closing a gate, and moving a coat from one place to another. Only 2 of the at least 12 riders who attempted were able to complete ALL the obstacles!

There was an equitation elimination that started easily enough, walk-trot-canter each way, but it took adding in flying lead changes to determine the winner! It was, of course, a dressage rider who ultimately took the title– for the second year in a row!

Pole-bending, bareback in a halter!

For the dressage riders, there was a musical freestyle class judged by a real dressage judge, with a REAL great sense of humor! Most teams did a Pas de Deux. The winning pair, from rough board, paired a quarter horse and a half-Friesian for a test. An unlikely combo, but don’t let these two fool you, they LOVE dressage! At the end of the day, the Long Barn had a decisive victory, receiving the perpetual trophy and bragging rights for a year. But the Dry Barn, with only two riders, hung onto 2nd place, and Rough Board came in 3rd. Hopefully all the good cheer will have diffused tensions enough to get us through the rest of this winter, when the outdoor arena and Hunt Field will once again be viable options to ignore each other!!

About the Photographer: We are very blessed to count a professional photographer among our boarders. So if you ever need a photographer for anything with a horse, a dog, or anything at all, you should contact Heather at ShortHorse Studios. Seriously, amazing.

She who organizes the madness


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