Saturday, September 10, 2016

Four Days in the Mountains: AECs and Asheville

Monday and Tuesday came and went. They seemingly took forever though. First thing Wednesday my husband and I jumped in the car and headed out of town, far away from the ocean. We stopped by the barn long enough for me to leave my board check. Razz was on the opposite side of his night paddock. I could see he was content so I never let him know I was there. It would have been another half hour if I'd called him over, and we were ready to hit the road.

Wednesday was basically a travel day. We spent the first night at my parents' house. I hadn't been up to see them since Thanksgiving and it felt good to be home. The state incorporated a new bypass on our route which knocked a whole thirty minutes off the drive. After a bite to eat we rode with my dad even farther into the mountains to his bee supply store. I would love to become a bee keeper, or apiarist, but it's really hard to keep your bees healthy anymore. Even the lifelong bee keepers are at a loss, the bees have so many adversaries and the struggle truly is real. I'm not sure if I want to get started in something that depressing. There are molds that proliferate the hive, beetles and moths that take over, and the stupid Japanese hornets that show up and annihilate the entire hive in minutes. Japanese hornets are also my one phobia. Some days my dad hangs out next to his hives with a badminton racquet killing the hornets when they come around.

Thursday morning hubby and I were up early yet again. Today was the day. I'd been excited about this for a few months now. We were headed to Tryon for the AECs!! It was a two hour drive since my parents live close to the NC/VA border and the showgrounds are closer to the SC border. This place is just as everyone else has described: big and fancy. 

We arrived mid morning and got to watch a good portion of the intermediate dressage in ring four. There was an elevated, covered observer's breezeway with tables and bar stools, and everyone was pulling the stools over creating ringside seating. Lucky enough to be in the front row, we could feel the pounding hoofbeats of huge horses as they came by for warm up. Damn there were some nice horses here. 

I didn't get too many pics of dressage. I spent a lot of time whispering to husband what to look for (with my limited knowledge), and the purpose of each movement, and watch how the rider asks for the movements. Dressage is akin to watching paint dry for my husband. Thats understandable considering he doesn't ride, and the dressage shows he's attended in the past were all beginner levels. This time around the test asked for enough variety that he could discern the various movements as being more than just w/t/c. By the time we finished he knew shoulder in, haunches in, lengthening, counter canter, and some rider aids. Good job hubby :)

One thing I couldn't figure out is why everyone was consistently making their final halt at different points in the ring. Some halted at x, some rode all the way up to the judge's booth, and some made the final turn down center and immediately halted. Why? weren't they all performing the same test? These were all intermediate competitors. I'm surprised that many riders at this level were confused on where to halt. Or am I the one confused? One rider totally forgot where to rein back and the judge actually stopped her and informed her she was on the wrong side. The rider thanked the judge and continued her test as if nothing happened. I'm assuming she received a technical though, I don't recall seeing them anymore after dressage. What a bummer for such a fixable mistake.

After dressage we walked around the grounds a bit to get a feel for the place. Most of cross country was set up in a huge field in front of a large grandstand. A lot of construction was still going on, and a fine layer of red dirt was in the air and turning everything orange. Flat land is few and far between in this area. There's no telling just how much grading and land prep went into this place already. Land Rover had their vehicles everywhere and were offering test drives on an off-road course behind the main xc field. You didn't even need a license, kids were welcome to drive too.

majority of xc is in this pic

Once familiarized with the grounds, we went to the Italian restaurant. My understanding is this restaurant was rushed to be finished for AECs. We were dining at an off hour, on a not so busy day, and there were only a few other people inside. But the pizza we got was perfect, just the right size for two, covered in veg and only $10 or something like that. If you go to Tryon and want pizza, totally skip on the outdoor vending cart pie, instead go enjoy some a/c and a booth.

Our pizza was knocked out pretty quickly, and it was off to the shopping tent. I wanted a new helmet. Mine is labelled 2012 and the time has come for a new one. I had the Charles Owen lady fit me professionally. That was a first for me. I told her my old helmet was a size 7 ovation and it was too round for my forehead but otherwise I loved it. She put me in a 6 7/8 that is more oval than round and it fit like a glove. I was all set to get a leather covered double piped version for $520, because I've never had anything that nice & was totally gonna treat myself. The rep was on the phone with someone having a difficult time confirming my color options (lime piping was the culprit), and during this 5 or so minute call, I continued to entertain myself by trying on every helmet in sight. And I put a suede navy jr8 on my head and fell in love. So after all the trouble of trying to find my lime piping, I settled on a standard option that was $300 cheaper.

Which meant I now had money for more stuff. And so I hit the clearance bins and got a pair of $40 kerrits, a noble outfitters tank for $11, and a full set of classic equine open fronts for $35 that may or may not work out. I also grabbed a nice set of woof brushing boots (not on clearance) and they will be my go to's. 

By now it was close to five, the skies had opened up and poured for 20 minutes or better, and when it stopped I was ready to get the hell out of the sales tent and explore other options. Our 15th anniversary is later this month and we both adore the mountains, so part of our trip would be spent doing couples stuff and not horse show. 

pretend the power lines aren't there

Chimney Rock village is where we ended up for dinner. we sat outside on a porch flanked in huge ferns looking up toward the best view in town. I had roasted red pepper bisque with tomatoes and fresh mozzarella on the side and it was to die for. When we got back in the car I proceeded to map our hotel but I had no signal. Well, I'm in the bottom of a gorge, that's not surprising. I know the way back to the interstate so I take off and pull over on the curb of the entrance ramp to get my directions. Still no signal. Well, shit. After sitting there for a minute trying to figure out wtf, I decide that people used to get around before cell phones just fine, and there's no reason to surrender all my common sense to google. I drove until I saw the exit for the town our hotel is in. All the blue info signs for gas and food pointed left. There was a sign for lodging but it was blank. I went left since everything else was that direction. And drove. And drove. 35 mph. 25 mph. We def got the downtown tour. No hotel. I pulled over in a movie rental store parking lot (yes I was shocked they were still in business). Tried to call the hotel. Can't even make a call. My network was completely down. Fortunately the chick working the rental store knew exactly where we were headed and wrote down perfect directions. Big thanks to her!!

We got checked in and settled in, and day one was complete.

Friday morning we woke up and turned the weather on tv. This was the day Hermine was making her way across the southeast, and she brought some of her outer bands as far inland as Charlotte. The sky was grey and overcast. The temps had dropped from 90s the day before to highs in the 70s. I packed one pair of jeans just in case, but I never anticipated this. Hubby and I decided today would be the best day to do non horse show stuff so we went to Asheville for the day. We drove past the eq center exit and I commented that there'd probably be some extra fancy moves in the dressage rings with the temperature change. Advanced was dressaging today and I was a little bummed not to watch but I knew before we left home that my time would be divided, and that's ok.

Asheville was cool, it's pretty much the same downtown Asheville vibe it's always been. We had the best meal of or trip at a neat little Indian restaurant. We perused all the art stores and street vendors, then went down the Blue Ridge Parkway to the southern highlands crafters' guild. We didn't know exact directions to the guild at first, and my phone was STILL DOWN. And I got the bright idea to reboot it. That fixed everything, duh!! A flood of notifications came in, I browsed them super quick to see if anything concerned emergencies back home, saw nothing and mapped out the guild. That place was loaded with all sorts of wonderful things, and I fought really hard with myself over buying a wicked awesome stoneware blue jay that looked to be made with a raku glaze. I'm not exactly sure of the process, but I left it on the store shelf, deciding I could get three riding lessons out of the price of that blue jay. We finished the evening in the small towns of Montreat and Black Mountain. Dinner followed by a blues band at a small club we stumbled upon with tons of character.

grove arcade, asheville

Saturday was horse day all day. We arrived at the grounds shortly after 9. An early stadium class was handing out final placements for their division and a lipizzaner mare came in first. Go grey pony!! Every competitor was turned out nicely, all the fancy tack, braids, tall boots. And they all had a huge smile on their faces, regardless of rank. Even the horses appeared to enjoy the victory laps. The prizes awarded to the top placers were nothing to sneeze at either.

handing out first place

I felt much more comfortable walking around on Saturday. This place is pretty big, it was nice knowing the layout before advanced xc day when many more spectators were showing up.  Walking paths were covered with copious amounts of mulch to spare everyone from the red dirt. Tryon didn't want anyone walking on the grass that was struggling to grow in the heat and humidity. XC began in a dirt arena and carried over into the large grass field, then downhill to the back edge of the developed property and up the other side, ending again in the large grass field. I would have personally preferred a longer, more winding course. Most of the jumps were common xc fixtures that we're all familiar with. There was a rifle jump with some clay targets in the large field, and this one below in the form of bee hives on the downhill gallop: 

i texted this one home to dad
Hubby and I decided we would begin watching xc at the lower water complex. This area was on the second half of the course between the bottom of the hill and the grass field. There were bleachers directly in front of the water that would seat one hundred people, and a covered patio viewing area just up the hill. A large projector screen was turned on for advanced. We sat in the very top row and took advantage of the breeze blowing over our backs. The breeze began to wain not long after advanced got started. I had put on three layers of sunblock at this point but it didn't matter. My skin was cooking. After a handful of riders came thru we gave up our good seats and went to the covered observation deck just above for a beer and a water. We downed our beers under the tent, then walked to the bottom of the hill with our waters.

This area is set up with another covered observation deck like the one we just left. The beehive jump pictured earlier is barely out of view at the top of the hill preceding this complex. The faster times were cutting through the weeds and tall growth down here to shave those extra seconds. Once they headed back up hill it was a small gallop to the water complex I began watching at. 

Below is cross country warm up. The warm ups are just as fun to watch as the actual course imo. Everyone approaches it in a slightly different manner and amateurs could learn a little bit spending time here observing the pros.

After advanced xc, we watched intermediate stadium. Sitting in the shade was quite refreshing after a full day of brutal sun. Some of the horses were pretty tired by now, and I found myself trying to help the struggling ponies over the jumps by going through the motions of adding some extra leg one stride out. Britt from House on a Hill was cool enough to join me for the second half of the class. I really had fun meeting another blogger!! Britt, I hope I didn't drive you insane since I was chatting about 90 miles an hour. Smitty pony sounds super fun and I'm crossing fingers that he works out for her in every way, as well as continued happy retirement for Foster. 

intermediate stadium

stadium warm up

After dinner at a local Mexican place, we hit the showers and the sack. About fifteen minutes of tv and we were both out. 

Sunday morning we took our time checking out of the hotel. The final stadium class I wanted to see started shortly after 11, we arrived early enough to watch the 14 and under class finish up. The horses were pony sized to warmblood, solid coats to leopard app. A small paint pony won, and all the riders were offering pats and "good boy"s or otherwise during their rounds, and each one left the ring with the biggest smiles on their faces. It was just a good round of jumping with a great group of kids from all over the country.

As soon as the last junior rider left the ring, the tractors came in to water and drag, and the jumps were placed and raised for advanced stadium. Buck Davidson had the coolest quarter marks on his horses. Ryan Wood finished first and second. He had four horses total in this division, others had two, three or four as well. Those riders definitely got their workouts for the weekend. Some of the names I recognized, some were new to me. Getting to watch so many great riders in one place for several days is a real treat.

i don't recall which horse & rider this was,
but they were lovely

buck davidson & park trader

just outside GM arena, waiting for ribbon ceremony
I ended up talking to the Stubben dealer for a good twenty minutes on my way out. Their saddles are beyond words. I have only ridden in the old close contact stubbens that are older than me. Sitting in the new ones will make you want to ride in one. And I'm sure riding in one will only make you want to buy one. 

I have a single regret with this whole trip. I'd reached out to Sara at The Roaming Rider once I read on her blog that she, too, would be here. She tried to email me about saying hello on Friday morning. I can only figure in all my phone stupidity that this email got overlooked and I missed it until Saturday morning, at which point was too late. I sincerely apologize Sara. Even though I didn't go to Tryon on Friday, I drove right past here and it would have been no big deal at all to stop. I find a lot in common with her posts on beginning dressage as an adult after a lifetime in the saddle. I think we would have viewed the AECs through a similar lens as well. I hope to meet Sara in the future :)

AECs were such an awesome experience. If they come anywhere close to an area nearby you in the future I recommend making the drive over just to witness all the nice horses and great riding first hand. And you might pick up a cool pair of riding pants for $40 too :)

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Pretty cool experience. Gonna need to see some pics of the new helmet :)