Since Charlie Brown and I are newer to the sport of eventing, I figured the best way to start us both off would be to get some top notch instruction. Don’t get me wrong — my regular barn instructors are excellent. But there’s a lot to be said for taking instruction from an Olympic medal winner. So when I saw the announcement for the 2015 Phillip Dutton Eventing Camp several months ago, I signed up immediately.
Once I had committed to the camp, I began to worry that I had bitten off more than I could chew. I signed up for the lowest level, so it wasn’t like I was going to be jumping 4′ fences. But riding in front of someone like Phillip Dutton is a pretty daunting prospect.
In addition to the riding demands, this trip was a series of firsts in a lot of other ways. I had never driven a horse in a trailer. I had never driven Charlie Brown in a trailer. I had never driven the trailer alone. I had never backed the trailer up (more on that later). So with some trepidation, and a level of preparation that nearly reached OCD proportions, I stiffened my upper lip, and set out to make this camp adventure a reality.
This endeavor meant making a lot of things happen, many of them well outside my comfort zone, and doing them all on my own. These things included making a 100 mile trip from DC to West Grove, PA, packing for a horse for a three discipline event camp, packing for myself, and taking full responsibility for my horse. Normally having a professional barn staff to rely on, knowing that responsibility was completely on me was a bit overwhelming.
Having been to True Prospect Farm for Emma Ford and Cat Hill’s grooming clinic a couple of weeks prior, I knew I would have at least a couple of familiar faces. And hopefully, they would be available to help me out if Charlie and I got into a pinch.
I scoured the web for eventing checklists, and from those, created my own 8-page packing list to stock the trailer. Each type of supply was noted by category: bathing, trailering, feed, first aid for the horse, first aid for me, clothing, tack, you name it. Each collection went in a different plastic bin with the category name on it, and a copy of the list on top.
It took weeks to shop for everything. Whenever I thought I was done, I’d get home only to discover that I had forgotten something. Then when I went to get the missing item, a slew of new things would occur to me that hadn’t made the list. So I’d buy those things, and go home to edit the list again. I got the trailer packed up as much as possible the day before, topped off the gas in the truck, and stocked the cooler. The morning of our trip, I went to the barn, waited for Charlie to finish his breakfast, and gathered the things on our last minute packing list, like his nutritional oil, and the tack I had used in my lesson the night before.
I hooked the trailer up to my truck, and pulled it around near the barn. I loaded the hay nets and covered the floor with shavings. Lastly, I went back to Charlie’s stall to put on his shipping boots and the new fleece covered shipping halter. Only Charlie wasn’t feeling the giant horse-eating fleece halter. He started spinning in the stall, staring anxiously at the fuzzy straps.
Not wanting to pick a fight just before a two hour road trip, I hung the beautiful, soft, fluffy, clean shipping halter on the hook outside Charlie’s stall, and picked up his ordinary breakaway halter. Once he had on his “travel clothes,” we walked down the driveway and onto the trailer. Charlie loaded like a champ, tucked himself up into the slant load compartment, and began happily munching hay.
Once the back of the trailer was secure, we set out. I had asked a couple of barn friends, Carol and Andrea, who trailer out regularly, what roads they took to get out of the center of the city, where our barn is. So we had our route mapped out as we hit the road. The GPS, not knowing I was towing a horse trailer, wanted to send me through the Baltimore tunnel. Not wanting to test my nerves that much on our maiden voyage, I wanted to steer clear of the tunnels (even though Carol says they’re pretty easy to navigate). So I knew where I was going to deviate from the technologically recommended path.
When we got to I-95 just south of Baltimore, we took I-695 around the west side of the city to avoid the tunnels. It was hot, so I was glad that traffic was light, and the air flow through the trailer was decent. Just north of the toll plaza at Perryville, we exited I-95 and got on local roads. Another 45 minutes later, we pulled into True Prospect Farm.
We were given a warm greeting by one of the working students, Callie. She gave us a place to unload, showed us to Charlie’s stall, and then escorted our rig to where we could park the trailer. It was along the edge of the cross country course. Since my trailer is a two-horse bumper pull, she showed me a space between one of True Prospect’s large gooseneck trailers and the manure spreader. Then Callie left me to park and walk back to the barn — except I hadn’t ever backed up the trailer before.
After about half a dozen unsuccessful attempts, a nice gentleman who had just been on the tractor in front of me came over and asked, “Would you like some help?” His Australian accent was a clue, but I was so tired and flumoxed that it slipped by me. I said, “Yes, I would! Thank you. My name is Sue.” He said, “My name is Phillip.” Ugh! Not the first impression I wanted to make. But he was kind and non-judgmental about my inability to back up my own trailer. He just took the wheel, and in a couple of cuts, slid the trailer perfectly into place. Then he quietly went back to grooming the cross country course.
Once I had Charlie settled into his stall and all the gear unpacked, I stuck around to make sure my horse had weathered the trip alright, and to meet my fellow riders. Many were like me — adult amateurs with full-time jobs. Others were talented teens and recent college grads. Some were relatively local, so they trailered in each day. But others had traveled from as far away as upstate New York and Georgia.
After this long day of firsts, I finally left the barn, and drove to my hotel. I hadn’t done anything yet, but Charlie and I had already accomplished a lot. I fell into bed, exhausted, but eager for the real work to begin in the morning…