It’s easy to feel envious toward riders able to winter in Aiken or Florida. Kate Samuels reminds us that it’s not as glamorous as it seems.
Top photo: This photo may or may not mislead you to think that every day is this beautiful.
At this point in the season, I’m sure you’ve all heard just about as much as you can handle about Aiken this, Ocala that, I’m wearing t-shirts and you aren’t. Yes, it is nice that a few days of the week I get to lord the good weather over everyone’s heads. When it snows up north, it only rains down here, which is technically a better choice. However, I wanted to expose the real truth here: it’s not all sunshine and daisies and free margaritas down here in the south. Almost every year I come down here, the last week or so, I’m positively itching to get back home, despite the promise of colder weather. Here’s what we trade for a few days of sunshine.
- It’s not actually that much warmer a lot of the time. On Saturday, I rode dressage in the pouring rain and it was about 35 degrees, plus wind. Sound like warm winter fun? I think not. Yes, we probably have about 10-20 degrees warmer temperature down here, but the wind chill is pretty rough, and this year especially, it has been raining non-stop, which is almost as bad. I think I’d trade a few degrees colder as long as I don’t have to be soaking wet.
- There is sand. EVERYWHERE. There is sand imbedded in the hinges of my trailer doors, all over the floor of my truck, inside each and every one of my shoes, and I’m pretty sure it’s become part of the fabric of all of my clothing. It’s itchy, scratchy, dirty, and obnoxious. You can’t avoid it, and you can’t get it out of your life for weeks after returning home to regular land. As an aside, people in SC don’t believe in driveways, they just drive on the same piece of sand until it resembles a road, and therefore the roads are the craziest ghetto bumpy roller coaster rides you’ve ever driven on. Horses love it when they are jostled like that in the trailer.
- We’re all going broke paying 2-3 times as much for feed/hay down here. Hay prices are ridiculous, there’s no doubting that. Also, there isn’t any grass, because nothing grows in sand (see above), so you have to feed twice as much hay to keep weight on your horses. The hay quality is sketchy at best, and rarely can you find a decent bale of something as simple as timothy for less than $12. Hence, while you stay up north and pay reasonable prices for the upkeep of you horses, I’m down here waiting to come home and officially be broke.
- Going south tempts us into overworking our horses throughout the year. This is a funny one, because I don’t want it misconstrued as an accusation. After all, I’m down here! I think that the old days of giving horses a few months off during the winter is something that we sorely miss in the modern world of equestrianism as a whole. If you’re going to be competing in January, then you better be preparing in December, and when the last event is in November, then you have about two whole weeks when you don’t “have” to ride. Too much of our culture is now based on getting a head start, a leg up, and preparing better and harder than your fellow riders, and I fear that it will negatively affect the longevity of our horses’ careers. There is a smart way to start early in the season, and there’s a “too much” way. At least horrible weather forces you to give your horse some much needed R&R.
- Even if you’re doing the best riding you’ve ever done, and your horse is going amazingly, you’re still going to be competing against the Olympic team in your Novice division. You come south, you work hard, you get so much training in so early in the year, you go into your first competition and you think you’re ready. Little did you know, Boyd/Ryan/Phillip/Kelli will have 2-3 horses in your division and they will all score below 23 in the dressage and jump double clear. When a 30 in dressage and no points added puts you in 15th place……it makes you sad.