04 October 2010

Dauntsey Park Horse Trials – The last of the season for Bear

So, our eventing season is over. There are a few three days left in the season and just a few more horse trials, but Bear's season has gone mostly to plan and he finished this past weekend at a mucky Dauntsey Park Horse Trials with a win!

As an eventer, we all know that it is not necessarily the end result on the scoreboard that drives us to invest our hearts, souls, and bank accounts in this sport of our affliction; but it is the journey and the relationship that develops between ourselves and our horses that keeps us going. It is that thrilling cross country round, that foot perfect show jumping trip, and the ever elusive submissive and expressive dressage test that keeps us trekking miles upon miles across states and countries near and far. This weekend was the pinnacle of those things and was such a fabulous event in so many ways for Bear and me.

The lorry park mud!
The morning dawned cold and wet (welcome to England in autumn, folks!). There had fallen nearly 4 inches of rain over the preceding 36 hours, and the ground reflected every drop of it. Like the US, there are certain venues here that can take the rain, and others that do not drain nearly as quickly. Dauntsey Park is situated in Wiltshire, south of the Cotswolds (the Cotswolds area, known for their stone walls made of, funnily enough, cotswold stone, drains exceptionally well because all of the rock in the soil creates a percolating effect and the topsoil dries out quickly even after torrential rain) along the River Avon. Consequently, it's essentially flood plain along which the cross country course runs and traverses the River Avon twice.

Another lorry being towed in for the day.

Back to the point, though. We slid into the lorry park, quite literally in a foot of pea soup mud, as the sun rose and the fog thickened. There were parked tractors, but no one to drive them, and no one about; but in time, a cheerful farmer from the neighboring farm arrived, coffee in hand, to start the long day of towing lorries into and out of the lorry park! It's never a good sign when you are being towed in!

Regardless, we quickly walked round the cross country as Emma had an early dressage time with no time between phases to walk courses, and my goodness, it was a proper track! Mud withstanding, this course proved to be up to size in every way, and every bit as technical. As Dauntsey Park is owned by the Sturgises, an old and proper hunting family, its course incorporates many of the old style and huge hunting-type fences and questions that we so rarely see in the US. The first four were relatively straightforward, save the muddy take offs and landings, and then the fun really began as the fifth was a proper coffin with the ditch wide, imposing, and incorporating a decent drop on the front side! Then the sixth, a maximum brush in the fenceline, turning ninety degrees in a field to the seventh a narrow scalloped brush in the fence line with a ninety degree turning to the eigth, another big brush, and another ninety degree turning on 4 strides to a massive ditch and hedge! No rest for the weary as their was a bit of a gallop to the tenth, a large log with a steep landing downhill, sharp turning and up hill to the second element, a hanging log. Finally a let up fence at the eleventh which was a straightforward open oxer shared with the novice, to a big table at the twelfth, and then a sharp turning to a maximum up bank, a ninety degree left turning three strides on top to a maximum height down bank and a right turning and 3 strides to a chunky narrow brush. Whew! Onto the latter half where there was a river crossing that was belly deep for the horses (my boot filled with water!), up a hill and 2 ½ strides to a table, then onward to another hedge turning to a maximum table in the hedgeline, and then to the nineteenth, a house 3 strides before the second river crossing, up the hill and a sharp right turning to a hanging log type vertical ridden on a 45 degree angle and galloping onward to the last, a straightforward steeplechase fence! Whew!

Yes, that's a 6" round stud dish that those bad boys are occupying!
After walking the course, I was undecided on whether the going was good enough to take my young, and relatively inexperienced little red head as the track was massive and technical and the footing very deep and slippery on the fence take offs and landings. However, I put in HUGE studs and took it one phase at a time. Similar to the 4 year old championships at Fair Hill last fall, Bear seemed unphased by the muck. In the dressage, he slipped around a bit and was a tad cheeky in his canters, but brought home a very good score of 23.5, his second lowest of the season here (and his best at the BE 100 level). He rolled 2 poles in the show jumping, but was jumping well off the ground in front, throwing a great shape in the air, but just made some green errors in technique resulting in cheap rails down behind. As the day went on, the sun continued to shine, the breeze picked up, and the ground became acceptable in my mind. Since Bear wasn't negatively affected by the going, and I spoke with many riders who had successfully negotiated the course, I pulled on my big girl panties, swallowed the lump in my throat and went for it.

And, my goodness, am I glad I did?! The little red head showed heart and try like I've never felt in him before! The bigger the fences, the harder the lines, the tighter his jump and the sharper his turns. He was a phenom! As we finished, I had tears streaming down my face from the shear excitement that Bear had arrived! He has grown up, stepped up to the plate, and when the going got tough, he dug deep and made it happen! Feeling this happen beneath me fence by fence stirred such emotion, and I know this wasn't a big three day (like the WEGs that are running concurrently), but I think when you've brought one along, been a part of every moment of its life and showed it the ropes trying ever so hard to give them only positive experiences, when they take over and start to give it back to you, especially in adverse conditions, it's the reward that no one can bestow upon you, no matter the level, and no matter the end result. It's the beauty of the horse and their grace to allow us to share in that partnership and in their pureness of spirit.

My savior! He pulled me out of the mud after the prize giving so that I
could race home to see the WEGs cross country live on BBC!

In the end, we added only 2 seconds of time, 0.8 penalties to his combined dressage and show jumping score of 31.5 to finish on a 32.3. I will add proper show pics of the Bear as soon as they are available :), but here's one from Moreton Morrell last weekend for good measure!

For the moment, I will enjoy this finish to our consistent season on this side of the pond and look to some winter dressage and show jumping shows to sharpen our weak phase and continue to progress in the small rectangle.

However, I do promise you a season wrap up of each event, with the gift of hindsight, their ups and downs, and more reflection on eventing on this side of the pond (in light of the British domination of the team three day at the WEGs, William's individual siler, Pippa's individual 5th place finish, etc, I have to admit, I think they are doing a lot right over here!).

Until then, kick on as your fall season is in full swing and starting to crescendo with the fall three days and of course, the ever popular Thanksgiving Pine Top!

26 September 2010

Kim's tips for living in England!

So, halfway through my existence here, I think I just might be a bit qualified to offer tips for anyone intending to have an extended stay here in the UK.

First and foremost, tumble dryers are few and far between! They are energy sucking monsters that have no place in an energy conscious society. Never mind the moist environment in which clothes take many days to dry, even when hung above the radiators (which should probably on for 8 or 9 months of the year!) or on a washing line in the sun! Consequently, clothing shrinkage is not attributed to heated drying, but to the washing process itself! I have to admit, I do miss the ability of the dryer to remove hair from horsey garments, its dryer sheet static removing properties, and the softness and warmth offered by freshly dried clothes (crunchy towels, sheets, and jeans are just not on!); not to mention the last minute ability to wash and dry clothing imperative to ones day.

Secondly, Britons are very keen to keep their cars and gardens quite tidy! There is no place on this island for an unkempt lawn, an untrimmed hedge, or a dirty car! Never mind that I am most obviously American, and Kim-ish, in this regard as my car looks much like it did in the states and only gets the occasional rainwater or ford water rinse! And the lawn?!? Wow, many lawnmowers here are electric. Yes, folks, they plug into the wall, with a cord. Hmm, cords and blades together?! Does that strike anyone as a bit ironic in the land of health and safety?!? Oh, and did I mention that this is an energy conscious society thereby finding outdoor outlets utterly abominable. So, yes, it's a bit of a chore to mow the 6 square meters in the back garden and about the same in the front with an electric mower and no outside plugs!!

Thirdly, when in need of conversation, just chat about the weather! Whether it is beautifully sunshiney or utterly miserable with rain chucking down, Britons love to take notice of the weather. Likewise, if in need of a good laugh, check out the daily weather forecast! It generally reads a bit like “periods of sunshine, with occasional gusts of wind, somewhat breezy, with a chance of showers at tea time.” And in case you are not versed in “the Queen's English,” it's always time for tea (or coffee, which in most instances is instant! Finding a good cup of filtered coffee is next to impossible in my experience!)! Furthermore, dinner is often referred to as “tea” as is lunch as are breaks throughout the day. The forecast and recorded high temperature also usually only occurs for about 20 minutes, in an area sheltered from the wind, but in full sun. I do believe there might only be one such place on the island! In other words, throughout the day, you are likely to experience all versions of weather, so dress appropriately in warm, sheddable layers with a waterproof outer! This is not a place for cotton socks or non-waxed leather boots!

Also, to debunk the myth that is is always raining here, I can attest to as many dry days as wet ones, and when folks refer to rain, it's not the kind of rainstorm that we are used to in the Southern US, it's just misty and miserable, and usually bone chilling as it just doesn't let up and usually comes with an equally annoying wind/breeze. In fact, the windscreen wipers on my car don't go nearly fast enough to be traveling at speed in anything more than a bit of a shower (and since my average speed, according to my sat nav is less than 40 mph, this is not an issue most days!). It might rain cats and dogs once in a blue moon, but it is rare (thank goodness as the country does not have the infrastructure to support water on the roads... more on this later!). I think I have experienced one proper summer storm that included sun, rain, hail, thunder, 2 flashes of lightening, and a subsequent rainbow. It was almost like a taste of home except that the cool that followed it wasn't a welcome relief from the sweltering heat and humidity that often blankets the south before one of these fab summer storms, but a bitter chill that I could've done without!

Furthermore, I am convinced that any thermometer found in this country is part of a greater conspiracy to increase public morale in that the temperature reading ALWAYS reads at least 10 degrees (farenheit) warmer than it actually feels! I am slowly grasping the difference between celsius and farenheit, but it's amazing how units of measure become such an ingrained part of a person. I have no idea how, though, the temperature can FEEL so different! C'est la vie! And, though I may still be bundled at the equivalent of 70 degrees Farenheit, it seems to be compulsory for UK men to disrobe and run around shirtless at any temperature above 70 degrees! Thankfully, I think it managed only to be warm enough for about 5 days in July, and then a further 3 days during the Indian Summer of September! You have never seen skin as pale as that on a UK native on those 8 days a year the skin cells are graced with UV light!

As a result, from the horse's perspective, every day is a fashion day! The articles of clothing owned by each horse in a livery yard is impressive! They must have a summer day sheet with and without a neck, a rain sheet (potentially with a removable neck), a fly sheet, a stable rug, a lightweight turnout rug, a medium turnout rug, and a heavyweight turnout rug with a neck. Depending on who you talk to, rugs are either to be layered extensively or not at all! Most yards, however, layer horses with no fewer than 4 rugs in the winter time! Poor Bear will look a bit like a tick when he wears all of his layers as I have been collecting (off Ebay of course!) since his arrival! He has found it quite ironic that he has to wear clothes at night nearly every night that he has been here, and has been dressed for turn out more days than not! A fly mask is absolutely essential, and sometimes even a fly rug, because while the flies are different here, they are definitely more aggressive and love to just cluster around the eyes and feast upon any moisture there. So many times, white faced horses appear to have black faces for the sheer number of flies attached! Tate's wardrobe has been stripped down, but he will still have his Rambo Duo for the winter and will spend the next month or so being “roughed out” in that he will stay out no matter the weather and will not be groomed, thereby allowing the coat to grow and become oily and thus more protective for the winter months.

Now that we've addressed equine fashions, on to the human ones! Perhaps I should preface this with a recent BBC survey that found Britons to be the worst dressed on holiday. For those curious, the Italians topped the list as best dressed and the Americans were somewhere in between (fairly near the Britons, unfortunately!). Regardless, if you are ever wondering, wellies go with everything! Not just the posh Dubarry style leather ones, even the plain green rubber Hunter ones, or the pink Joules ones, or any patterned version in between! That's right, skirts, tights, jeans, shorts, no matter, feel free to don your wellies! Furthermore, scarves are also always in fashion. Thick fleecy or wooley ones in the winter time, and lightweight silky ones for the rest of the year. Again, layers are the way to go. Even in the summer, one should wear at least 3 shirts because you will need them throughout the day. Skirts go with anything from thick tights to ¾ length spandex-type pants depending on the time of year as we've already addressed that the fact that the weather forecast is not dependable. Tights go with everything as well and come in every weight imaginable. You can take your most favorite summer fashions, throw on a pair of heavy tights/leggings and be right in style year 'round! As a result, I think the recent fashion trend toward jeggings started here with individuals wearing only heavy tights and cropped tops!

On to grocery shopping! Even though a store may be “open” for 24 hours, it's not necessarily staffed with tillers, so while you may browse for 24 hours, you can only purchase items within certain hours! And while the corporate giant Wal-Mart owns a chain called ASDA, it is nowhere near the same “meet all of your needs” mega-store that it is in the States. Furthermore, many grocery stores charge for plastic bags in which to carry your groceries out in, so having your own multi-use eco-friendly grocery bags is a necessity! If they don't charge for bags, the ones provided are often so flimsy that you are lucky to make it to the car park with your purchases still ensconced in their bags! They are often fashioned of biodegradable or very thin plastic to encourage shoppers to recycle and provide their own bags! And finally, stores close at 4 PM on Sundays, if they open at all!

While I'm on the subject of food, and we all know that I'm not the world's greatest in the kitchen, I do know a few things. Refrigerators on the whole here are quite small (as are the kitchens, the houses, the island, the country etc!) so shopping is done little and often. Consequently, fresh vegetables and fruits usually remain so as there is no space in the fridge for them to become misplaced, and they are eaten within a few days of purchase! And, as I'm no Martha Stewart, I very much miss the ease of popping into town for a reliable meal from a favorite restaurant! Chain restaurants are few and far between here, so if you want a good sit-down meal, you'll likely have to visit your “local.” (A brief aside, when someone asks you about your “local,” they are not referring to your place of residence, but to your local pub :) And though there may be several pubs in a town, your “local” often suggest things about your personality since each pub has its own clientele, and thus reputation!) Unfortunately, most don't serve food before 7 or after 9:30 PM, so you must not be seeking an early or late meal in order to have hot food or table service! Also, most tables are booked in advance, so unless you have a reservation, you might not get table service at all, and you might be lucky to even have a meal at the bar! Additionally, Sunday lunch is served at almost every pub, but often there is not a choice as Sunday lunch is traditionally a roast, potatoes, and seasonal vegetables. Also, steak is traditionally served with “chips” (i.e. french fries) and it is a complete faux pas to order steak and “mash” (yep, you got it, mashed potatoes!).

And finally, to the washing up after a meal. Dishwashers, like tumble dryers, are few and far between as the kitchens are not fitted with the appropriate plumbing, and usually aren't big enough to waste the cabinet space on such an energy sapping convenience! However, most taps have hot and cold water separate, and though this is an energy conscious society, there is not an “eco” setting on the hot water heaters as they are usually “instant” and not of the storage type, so once the water starts running hot, you only have seconds before it is running boiling! And, since you often can't mix the cold in with the hot since they come from two different taps, you are either stuck burning or freezing your hands off as you hand wash the dishes!

Oh, and when you severely burn your hands, or walk into a rough “local”, don't call 911 as it won't help you, dial “999” for emergency assistance!


29 May 2010

Hope adds to the blog...

After 2 months of being a “normal” person, sans living with a busy vet ~ aka my best friend ~ and the show horse, my life had gone to a lazy routine of feeding the animals and mowing the farm, with exception to my 40 hour job! When Kim came home after her grandfather’s funeral, the silence came to a screeching halt! A frenzy of telephone calls, text messages and quick visits, quick meals. Kim is home! Soon, the accelerated start of my UK adventure!

Flying on a buddy pass, which always leaves me with a doubt of my actual travel time, Kim, Sherman, Sydney and I bolted out of the house at 10:30 on Wednesday morning to catch an early flight to New York City. Originally, I had planned to leave at 10:45 p.m. which allowed me time to unload a truckload of feed and finish mowing grass, but not now! The volcano has made European travel very sketchy, so when news of the giant beginning to rumble again made the skies an unfriendly host. We rushed to Atlanta to leave Sherman and Sydney with Kim’s parents and then to the airport only to find that we had arrived one minute AFTER the cut-off for checked bags. Thankfully, there was a flight leaving in 2 hours to London Gatwick instead of the originally planned London Heathrow destination.

After settling into our Business Elite seats (SWEET!), we were off. Before the first meal service was complete, Kim was cocooned into her recliner and I was enjoying my first trip in the front of the plane! Champagne? Why do we need Champagne just to sit down? Are we celebrating our seat upgrade? Becoming a formal team of elite travelers? All over a little extra leg space and a serving of warm mixed nuts??? Ok, I’m in!

As I follow our flight on the TV screen, I sadly leave the farm life with excitement of seeing Kim’s new life. Tate – would he be glad to see me? Would Kim’s roomates be OK with me crashing there? I wonder if I will see Mike and Emma? My mind was busy.

Landing in London. Off to the bus. While waiting, Kim’s buys me a cup of Americano. Nasty stuff. I always forget how bad the coffee can be in England…

We arrive in Cirencester and walk to Mike and Emma’s couple of blocks away. A very modern abode right in the middle of town. In England, most cities have very tight housing and a healthy respect for a central park. Families gather for daily walks to the green space, pet(s) in tow. In England, dogs are part of the family. They are always in the pubs, in the parks, everywhere! I absolutely love it… and as a side note, it is quite refreshing to see the heavy use of bicycles and so many people walking around.

Emma is running around like a mad woman, but manages to cook a wonderful dinner for all 6 of us. It was great seeing her and Mike for the first time in a while! After dinner, Kim and I leave for a quick trip to see Tate.

The Clinic and vet work. The clinic is impressive! More like a small vet school set-up. 11 vets work in the clinic which has a barn for stud work, another barn for clinic horses and an office/lab/surgery theater. With lots of turn-out… nice place! Very English with stone walls, fencing and even an arena!

Photos of the clinic and local scenery

Neston Park Farm. Absolutely wonderful… This is an old estate which is a “stud”. In England, the breeding farms are simply called Stud. So, Neston Park also has a wonderful set up as a rural butcher, gift shop, deli and petting zoo on one side of the farm, and in the older parts of the farm has several barns with horses, cows and goats. It is also used as a movie set!

Needless to say, I have missed being Kim’s tech. Being back on the road was a good feeling. I must say, though, that I have not missed her crazy schedule and like most of you, would like to see a frequently updated blog and receive a few e-mails from the English abyss. BUT, Kim is slammed. Imagine having to service a ton of the horses in the South Cotswolds, which her clinic does, with very few others vets in action. Every barn, every rider for multiple disciplines… it was crazy. The nights that Kim was on-call, she was taking a 1:00 AM trip, then a 3:00 AM trip, then an early morning visit to go along with the “normal” day of scheduled appointments. Kim was understanding of my vacation time though and dropped me off of her schedule to be a tourist. So, from her house, I walked into town and I spent one morning in Tetbury for a day of shopping. Tetbury’s claim is their platform of being the biggest antique city in the world ~ and it was impressive. Kim dropped me off a second day in Cirencester for a day of adventure with Emma!

The Barn (or Yard). So, On Cirencester day, Kim buzzed me around town for a quick orientation, and then she dropped me off in the central part of town. I went searching for contact saline solution! It is hard to find in the world of a national healthcare system… Then, after another horrible coffee, I met Emma and Mike at their house and we took Lilly to daycare and Amelia to school. Very Harry Potter seeing all of the kids in their school uniforms with blazers. Then, off to the barn! Emma and I went to see Maghony Chief “Mo” at his retirement pasture. He was looking absolutely great. Such a kind little guy. Emma shared that Mo is now best friends with the two people who live in the house adjoining his paddock – hey, everyone needs a buddy! He stands by his gate gazing into their house. Being a retired Rolex horse, I am sure he enjoys having his “people” around!

Afterwards, we went back to the main barn for me to meet Archie, Danny and Eli! These are some really nice young horses that Mike and Emma have started since their re-location to the UK. Definitely top quality!!

The barn is typical for a barn in England (or the US for that matter). Absolutely beautiful vista and a really nice XC set-up. On Tate’s stall, I see a “DANGER” sign. I laugh! But, Emma tells me it was there before Tate, they just left it there. Karma.

Back in town, Emma and I share a Ginger beer and she cooks another divine dinner! It was great! And great seeing the Winter’s happy…

Badminton. For those of you who have been to Rolex, Badminton is nearly the same event, but with a definite English flair in the attendance, trade fair and environment. The place was covered with people… and dogs! Badminton is a TINY town about 10 minutes from Kim’s flat (about 2 hours NW of London). On the days of the 4*, thousands of people descend into the sleepy village and spend their day on the Badminton Estate. The unusual things, to me, are that you can place a bet on the winner, and/or you can fly your airplane or helicopter to the event and park on their runway! Ah, to be rich…

Since Kim was working (and it was pouring rain) we opted to watch the live coverage of XC on TV and went to the event on Monday (a bank holiday) to shop in the trade fair and watch show-jumping following several mare checks and a Bangers and Mash (English Sausage and Mashed Potato) dinner at the local pub.

One final stop on the vet tour bus was the countryside of Wales. What a BEAUTIFUL place. After stopping in a Show Jumping barn - complete with a 300,000 gbp horse lorry (with 4 wheel steering – among other things) and horse swimming pool – we took a break along the Wye River valley, stopping for an evening at the magical Tintern Abby ruins.

London. After the busy start of the week, we make one final trip to the clinic for the carrot and apple offering to the Tate. Afterwards, I take him out for a hand-graze while Kim finishes up a weekend of paperwork. One of her housemates and clinic nurses, Ella, stops by and quips that she can’t believe how good he is. Five minutes after she walks away (and for the first time ever), Tate takes a good bounding leap away from me and strikes out behind. I see a flash of his English footwear. Asshole. Back to the stall he goes… nice…

Kim and I then take off for a mini vacation to Holland to finish my mission to deliver Sherman. On the way, we stopped in London for Hyde Park, the Royal Mews, the Tate Gallery, dinner, and a play at the Globe, the Shakespeare Theater! “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Quite a fun day!

Holland. For those of you who have never traveled with Kim, you will never be able to appreciate the pace. I find it rather funny, in a way, that every minute of it is so “fly by the seat of your pants”. As Kim says, run hard and you can rest in the train (or on the ferry, or on the plane) - you get the idea. So, at 5:00 am, we are running down the sidewalk of London to Liverpool Station. The London Tube. Then the National Express to Harwich. As soon as the train doors open, we run to the ferry. We rested in our bunk for the 8 hour cruise, and then we run to the train. Mind you, Kim thinks she is terribly far ahead of me and she is doing a nice collected canter down the ¼ mile gang-way. About that time, she turns her head to the right to see me pulling a Zenyatta - passing her with a smile. Luggage in tow. I just smile and swish my imaginary crop. She almost fell down laughing :0)

In the train, all you can see is a blanket of tulips, then small towns with the most bicycles in the world! Bikes are everywhere!! Double and even triple stacked in bike parking areas. It was amazing. After spending a day sightseeing at the Van Gogh Museum, the canal tours, the flower gardens, it is back to the hotel for a short night.

Sunday morning, we pick up Mr. Sherman P. Keeton from the Amsterdam airport. As we get off the bus, we see Sherman being walked around the cargo area parking lot. As we walk up to him, he blinks like he can’t believe his eyes! As soon as we get close, he knows it is us. He drops to his back and begins to cry. Although he had a miserable haircut, it was great to see him too! Evidently, KLM airlines didn’t know Sherman was on the plane, so after landing in Amsterdam (and a previous lay-over in Detroit), Sherman and Kim are FINALLY together in Europw!

Notice I said Europe. When we hustled back to catch the ferry, it was a no go. Sherman’s paperwork was out of sync with the clock, so Sherman and I had another night in the beach town of Hoek van Holland. Kim had to get back to work so she went ahead of us. However, our newfound bed and breakfast was delightful. After Kim left, I wandered the 2 streets of the city and found a place to grab something for dinner. And it had to be something that Sherman would also eat. Chinese! Ok, so in this little Holland town, it was me and a Chinese menu written in Dutch. No guesses there! After my best interpretation of a chicken, the Dutch lady at the Chinese restaurant served me a delicious chicken and broccoli dinner with a huge smile. She also offered me a small change purse and a nice set of chop-sticks, in a bag, to take home with me. Very friendly!!

The next morning, a traditional B&B meal of eggs and coffee and from my plate, Sherman was served toast and cheese! After a walk to the beach, my foot’s growing blister was glad to return to the ferry for our 8 hour return trip to England… then London, then Tetbury.

Home. Spent another quick night in Tetbury, spending most of my time packing, then Kim and I went to a good ole American institution for breakfast – McDonalds. The coffee, as usual, was terrible… on the marquee, they are advertising a “great line up” of American hamburgers! The New Orleans burger. The Texan Burger, The New York Burger. They all looked like something out of a horror movie. Nothing like any burger I have ever had!

A few minutes later, my BFF and Sherman were headed into the English countryside for another day of vet work and I was standing at the bus stop, watching 4 ducklings learning to graze. From the bus stop, it was back to Heathrow. Then a 10.5 hour flight home. The volcano was erupting, so the airline chose a path north. From the plane, the ¼” tall mountain spewing a steady stream of smoke looked harmless. The ground below showed another tale. Lava and ash have covered the ground and the lakes/rivers were obviously polluted. At the ocean, the mouth of a river dumped a mound of silt almost looking like aerial photos of our great Mississippi River. Below, you knew of the destruction. But to me, I’m going home and the volcano will not affect me again for a while…

After 2 hours in U.S. customs and baggage claim, I travel via Marta to Sandy Springs to collect Sydney. Back home we go for another adventure! Well, more like the reality of feeding animals and mowing the grass. But at least I will finally have some good coffee!

15 May 2010

For you, Holly (and other facebookers)

I think I have successfully linked my blog to my facebook page, so for you Holly, you can now just post comments on FB and not have to deal with the google log-in page to post :) Comment away! It'll motivate me to keep blogging!
Yes, I am threatening you all to comment... If not... you may end up with a steamy surprise!! *grins*

"The Queen's English"

First and foremost, Americans may speak “English”, but people in the UK speak “The Queen's English”. Following are some of the colloquilisms of the Queen's English that I have recently “learnt”.

**Take note, some of these may only be local colloquialisms and are meant lightheartedly and in good fun!**

A Diary is not equivalent to a journal, it's a schedule or calendar.

There is no such thing as a trash can, it is a rubbish bin.

Cars don't have windshields, they have windscreens. They also don't have trunks, they have boots. AND, they don't have floor boards, they have foot wells :).

One does not leave a car in a parking lot, but in a car park. If said car park has multiple levels, it is not a parking garage, it is a multistory car park.

Englishmen do not put their “ducks in a row,” in fact they look at you like you might have 3 heads if you mention anything about your ducks or them being in line!

Horses do not necessarily receive injections, they are administered “jabs”.

Mares do not foal out, they “foal down”.

In order to truly appreciate a snowy slope, one should utilize a “bumwhizzer.” That's right, a toboggan.

A street performer is known as a “busker”.

Nasal discharges are referred to as “bogeys”. Not to be confused with the American “booger”, though the connotation is identical.

Horses are not “painted”, they are “coloured”. In fact, most horsemen do not really even know what a “paint” horse is unless it is described as coloured or piebald/skewbald/etc. “Cobs” are very common horses who are often big headed (oddly enough since the smaller halter/bridle size in the US is a cob, between pony and horse/full) and frequently coloured and with feathers, quite similar to the expensive imported “Gypsy Vanners” marketed in the States.

The pharmacy at the clinic is a “dispensary”. If you mention a pharmacy, you are directed down the road to the nearest town to an apothecary/pharmacy to see a chemist/pharmacist.

There is no Diet Dr Pepper, but there is a Dr Pepper Zero!

Stainless steel travel mugs are oftern referred to as “American mugs."

Bananas must be the national fruit, or something, because people here seem to eat them like candy!

Wireless internet is not provided by a wireless modem, but by a “dongle” which is a USB device identical to a wireless modem in the US. And Wi-Fi is hard to find and expensive when located. Grr!

One does not ride in an “outdoor arena”, they ride in an “outdoor school”. Horses reside in “boxes” within a “stable” or a “yard” not in stalls in a barn. A boarding stable is a “livery yard” and individuals doing DIY care (very common over here as full livery is very expensive!) of their horses are individual “liveries”. Incidentally, horse wear “rugs”, not blankets, and lots of them. They also wear “headcollars” and not halters. One would use an “adjustable spanner,” not a wrench, to put in studs.

And some more basics, pants are “trousers” and underwear are “pants”. Not a good idea to confuse the two!

A “bap” is a hamburger bun. Shrimp are “prawns”. Zucchini are “courgettes” and squash are “yellow corguettes”.

An argument is a “row”.

“Ta” means thanks.

The “ and the @ are switched on the UK computer keyboards. Very frustrating!

A cell phone is a “mobile” and text messages are often referred to as “SMS messages”. It is not legal to talk on the phone and drive unless it is done hands-free. And, like in Georgia now, texting and driving is certainly illegal!

An ultrasound machine is a “scanner”. (pronounced "scanna")

2000 pounds is not a ton, it's a “tonne”.

A coaster is a “drink mat”.

One doesn't mail an item, but “posts” it to its recipient.

Someone is "stroppy" when they have a difficuly personality and are frustrated.

Horses are not referred to as "hot" if they are excitable, they are "sharp". Incidentally, if one mentions that a horse looks sharp, i.e. well presented, it will be mistaken for it being difficult.

Another expression for a brat is a "twat."

If one receives a strong reprimand, it might be called a "bollucking."

Of course, there are plenty more, and certainly different pronunciations of similar words, but I'll leave you with those and I'm sure I'll come up with more over time. Stay tuned!

10 May 2010

A visitor!!

At last, I have had a taste of home with a quick round trip to the States for a funeral, but on the up side returned with a companion for a week! Hope has come to visit and will post her adventures in this blog as well as I imagine she can cast a new light on my life with Tate in the great UK.

Among her accompanying me on some weekend visits, she has explored the local towns, Tetbury and Cirencester; journeyed to Wales (to give a foal plasma, of course, but then enjoyed the Tintern Abbey and Wye River valley later); had a day in London to visit Hyde Park, the Royal Mews, The Tate Modern, and to see “A Midsummer Night's Dream” at the Globe; and the highlight of the trip, a journey across the country, the English channel, and Holland to Amsterdam for a couple days there for fun, and to collect a naked Sherman (someone got a summer haircut before leaving the states!)! So, I will leave that post to her as she's chronicled her adventures with my new (hot pink?!?!) camera that replaced the (lovely blue) one that drowned in the ford (a forever reminder of fords in the UK). Cheers!

Ford + Ford + Ford = At least 1 FORD too many!! (and thus 1 less in this world!)

So, my initial adventures with the old adage of “Found on Roadside Dead” or the classic “Fixed Or Repaired Daily” in the FORD mondeo simply rendered me helpless in an English town with a malfunctioning clutch. I thought that was trying enough, but apparently I would have been mistaken. That was a classic American stranded tale with immediate rescue by the chap who owns the garage who sold the mondeo with dying clutch to the practice. In hindsight, that wasn't so bad, though it seemed so at the time.

Anyway, back to the point. So, on one of the first lovely spring mornings, I had finished checking mares in the clinic, was*gasps* running early to an appointment (yes, my ability to run 30% late and on veterinary time is still well intact 4000 miles from home!), and cheerfully following British Daniel (my Sat Nav, or GPS for my fellow Americans) to my first call at, you guessed it, Ford Farm. As I traveled through the countryside, I questioned British Daniel's route as it seemed a bit roundabout in that I excited the main road for a country lane (yes, one of those lovely single track roads that is apparently not frequented often by cars as it had a lovely strip of grass growing up the middle!), and then seemed to re-emerge back onto the main road. But, alas, I figured that British Daniel must know more than I, so I blindly followed his route off the B4040 and onto the country lane. Cruising along, the road was narrow and the hedge quite close to the wing mirrors, but it was not unlike so many of the English roads that I traverse on a daily basis. I then came round a bend to find a sign that said “FORD” and another thereafter that read “Test your Brakes”. A ford, I thought, wow, we don't have those in America. For those of you wondering, yes, a ford is a place where a stream crosses the road. There is a roadbed laid within the stream, but there is not a bridge.

So, I slowly drove forward, ensuring that my brakes were in working order, saw a depth meter sign in the water which read less than 1 foot. At that point, I did think twice about turning around, but saw cars on the other side of the ford, the road emerging from the water on the other side, the shallowness noted by the depth meter, and had British Daniel's conviction that I should proceed. So I did, for about 15 feet at which point the car began to gurgle and stalled out. Hmm, I thought, I should maybe reverse out of this stream and go back to the B4040 and carry on through the town. So, I turned the key to restart the engine and was met with an attempt to start, but nothing further. No luck. So, seeing some chaps on the opposite side of the ford with work trucks, I decided that I might get out of the car, trudge over to them, and ask for their assistance in pushing the car out of the water.

I was in for quite a shock in the next moment because as I opened the door, water poured into the car. Oops. I slammed the door, and then decided to escape out the window in order to avoid taking on any more water. So, I shimmied out of the passenger side window to be greeted by waist deep (yes, that's right, the water was up to the bottom of the window) ice cold flowing water. Needless to say, the blokes were not keen to help me push the car out, but with some persuasion, were willing to use their truck and a tie down to attempt to pull the car out of the water. In my estimation, once the car was out, it would start right up and I could carry on with my day. Simple, right?!

Wrong again! Just getting the car hooked up to the truck was an adventure as everything on the front is plastic! The bumper, then the “grill”, and even the undercarriage at the front is plastic. Where was I to put the hook of the tie down??? So, soaking wet already at this point, I went for a bit of a “swim” under the car to find the axle to which I then attached the strap. The truck groaned against the weight of the car in the water, the handbrake, and the fact that it was in first gear (all remedied by another trip into the water, a slither through the window, and another shameful wading ashore) but in turn, the car began to move and was at last on dry ground. I thanked the chap who had pulled me out, and carried on with my plan to restart the car and move on. Soaking wet, maybe, but at least I was out of the ford. Well, once I opened the drivers' door, water poured out of the car. With each door that I opened, water poured out of every orifice imaginable! Even the ashtray and cup holders were pooling ford water. Grr! At that point, I tried to start the car and was met with the same whine of the engine.

So, what to do next? Instinct once again says “call Dad,” but I thought better of it as it was 4:30 AM in the States, and really, what would he do for me? So, I called the practice, mentioned that I had driven through a puddle (ha, ha) and that the engine had sputtered out (pun intended!). They suggested that I call the roadside emergency number on the back of my fuel card. So, I did, and once again, I didn't know where I was to give them the exact location. So, I walked to the house next door, asked the post code, scheduled a rescue and set out to bail out the car.

An hour later, the rescue vehicle had not yet arrived, the car was bailed out, but everything was soaking wet. My kit in the boot (or trunk as we might say in the States) and my scanner (ultrasound machine) managed to stay dry thank goodness, but my bag of personal things including my camera, jacket, Toggi boots, lunch, etc was dripping wet. I pulled it all out, and set everything out in the sun to dry while I waited... and waited... and waited...

Though the day looked sunny and springlike, as is customary in the UK, the temperature stayed chilly. Without cloud cover, especially after a night of rain, the air is very chilly despite abundant sunshine! Darn evaporative cooling effect! It was 5 C and I was soaked through. With each passing quarter hour, I stripped another layer and laid it out to dry on the pedestrian bridge alongside the ford. And, like a daylilly, my clothes and I followed the sun as it advanced in the sky. 3 hours later, a HUGE tow truck appeared, barely able to traverse the steep hill and bend required to get down to the ford, and the car was loaded onto the flatbed (imagine the water that poured out from under the car as it was hoisted at a 45 degree angle onto the truck) for its trip back to Tetbury and the Car care centre utilized by the clinic for its fleet maintenance.

Thankfully, I live about 1/3 mile from the garage, so I had a lovely jog home, squishing along, to change clothes and to be rescued by one of the office staffers in the interns' car that I was to use for the rest of my day's appointments which had been shifted to the afternoon and well into the evening hours.

Finally, I was dry, driving, and off to appointments. What a day!

But, wait, it's not over yet! I managed to see a laminitic pony in a small yard on the southern edge of the practice when I got a call about a colic that would be on my way back to my next call. No problem, things were looking up! So, I did have to call the clinic to find out how to put the interns car into “R”, but no matter, I played the “dumb American hasn't driven many manuals” and all was well... until...

I went to pull into a HUGE roundabout and realized that the car seemed to lack power steering. Hmm, that's strange I thought as the radio was still on, my gauges all read normally. At that point, I realized it had stalled out, so I went to recrank the car and the darn thing wouldn't turn over. Horns blaring, angry Brits giving me the “peace sign” (more on this later), and morons in Land Rovers hopping the curb next to me to get around me and into the round about, I called the practice again for advice. I was met with the classic, “I know this might sound girly, but have you run out of petrol?!?”. Ok guys, I may not be brilliant when it comes to UK driving, but really, the gauges are the same and incidentally I had plenty of diesel. Thank goodness I hadn't filled it with petrol (as it runs on diesel fuel!)!

Once again, I had the pleasure of calling the roadside assistance service. They guaranteed me a visit within less than an hour since I was not in an ideal location. Yea right! Meanwhile, the pony is still colicking and I was 15 minutes away. So, in fine style, the practice called the client and asked if she would mind coming to pick me up in order to ensure her pony was seen within a reasonable time period. Of course, having a colicking horse, she was quite willing to come and retrieve a stranded American vet with enough kit to diagnose and treat the colic. Imagine her surprise as I tried to explain my locale stuck in the entrance to the HUGE roundabout.

Thankfully, though, a nice chap in an RAC van (similar to the HERO units in Atlanta or AAA) appeared, and though he was not my rescue, he kindly hooked up the car and towed me around the roundabout and into a lay-by where I would be able to leave the car, with keys on the tyre, for the rescue chap to find and assess the car whilst I worked on the pony.

In the end, the pony was an accidentally bred as a yearling and was a coming 2 year old who was post foaling and just quite sore. The client then drove me back to the car where the rescue chap had assessed the car as irreparable on the roadside, and loaded it for its return trip to Tetbury. And, you'll never guess... it was the same bloke who had rescued me from the ford that morning, even though I was an hour from there, out of his territory, and nearly 2 hours from his home base. Wow... small world becoming smaller every day!

After another lovely wrecker ride and jog home, dry, but after dark this time, my day of car killing was complete!

(Sorry for the lack of photos, the camera drowned! More to come, though!)

Long time...

So, it has been at least a month since I last updated the blog. March 10th, I believe the last that I chronicled my journeys. I am constantly reminded by a good friend that more than a month, and now nearly 2, between updates is completely unacceptable! I'd be inclined to agree, so I will attempt to be better. The entries that follow will thus be a compilation of “days in the life” :). Happy trails!

11 March 2010

Wednesday, 10 March

So, despite the status of the Mondeo, I did have appointments booked for today, so I loaded up the Micra with a mini stud kit and headed out to pregnancy scan a few mares, to see an add-in lame colt, to run a few personal errands, and then to skip down to the south end of the practice to do open a caslicks on an emergent basis.

You can only imagine how funny I looked to clients. The new girl, with a funny accent, no Willesley coveralls/jacket as yet, with a half-assembled kit in a periwinkle 2-door Micra that drives a bit like a lawn mower. Priceless!

However, I did snap a few photos of my daily jaunts. The theme song that continually runs through my head is “nowhere to run to, baby, nowhere to hide!”. Here's a snapshot of a “normal” lane on which I travel quite often.

And this one of the “single carriageway” A-roads that I much prefer.

Even if they do tend to "disappear" in the villages....


and along the way at various under passes.

And this one of the town in which I will be living, Tetbury.

And this, a “lay-by”. These are often outside of towns and frequently have a food van parked in them. The original drive-thru perhaps? I can't say that I've frequented one yet, but I'm sure as the stud season gets rolling, and I have a dependable vehicle, I just might find myself ordering a “beef burger with cheese on a bap” (cheeseburger on a bun!).

When I arrived back at the clinic this afternoon, I was greeted with yet another vehicle, this one a Gold Mondeo that will serve as my replacement for the Silver Mondeo whose clutch is to be repaired/replaced over the next few weeks. Thankfully, the other car's clutch is still under warranty, so I will cruise about in the gold Mommy-wagon for a bit until it is returned.

And then we'll start all over again.... Happy Trails!!

Tuesday, 9 March.

So, I'd planned for this blog entry to be all about the wonders of practice in the UK with pictures of my well stocked vehicle and perfectly organized “kit” along with the beautiful scenery, lovely clients, and sturdy horses. I should learn right off that one should never assume!

After a week of driving the Micra and riding along with the directors (bosses) of the stud (reproductive) practice, my snazzy station wagon finally arrived! OK, sexy it isn't, but it's certainly practical and functional considering the status of the roads and their car swallowing pot holes! I got my “kit” assembled, raided the random plastic drawers and containers in the storeroom, stocked my portable fridge, and was ready to rumble! I had several appointments booked in the diary (schedule) and I was free!!!

So, I managed to see a laminitc pony, a pregnant mare, a two-year old for his annual “jabs” (vaccinations), and an add-on dental, all before lunch when I met up with one of the directors to take some field radiographs (they prefer not to take field films as they have a perfectly useful clinic with radiology suite and full time radiographer). While following the director to the call, my clutch became “stuck” twice and he played round the roundabout until I managed to catch up with him as I did not know our final destination. All seemed fine, though, and we arrived at the call, took the radiographs, and I headed off to my next appointment with the radiograph machine to see a yearling filly who was sporting a swollen hind ankle.

Note to self, the best laid plans are always foiled! So, I'm cruising along, enjoying my newfound freedom, surfing the radio, and figuring out all of the dashboard controls in the Mondeo when “vrumm vrummm” was the car's response to my downshifting. “Of course”, I thought to myself, “dumb American still can't manage the silly manual transmission”; so, I tried again, “vrumm, vrumm” said the car revving to 5500 rpms and starting to smell funny.

Hmmm, doesn't seem good. So, I'm on a busy lane just outside of a village that, of course, is barely wide enough for two vehicles, much less a third one that won't move. Grr! So, I manage to coast into the lovely drive of a country cottage where the car was most definitely completely dead. I could not make it go into any gear, forward or backwards, and each time that I tried, the clutch had less and less resistance. So, now what?! Not ever having driven a manual transmission, I am not familiar with the “normal” problems that may arise, however I've certainly heard of the clutch going out and that seemed to be the issue as I couldn't get the car into any gear, and the clutch pedal weakly went to the floor without any play.

Now what?!? Should I, the new girl from America, ring the clinic for help? Ring the director I'd just left only 5 minutes prior for advice? Call every girl's favorite mechanic, Dad?

Well, of course, I did all 3!!! The clinic arranged a “rescue” for the car (yep, the Audi station wagon seen in the picture below with the rather dense teenaged looking driver, and a tow rope!! They don't have tow trucks here, apparently they just drag the disabled vehicle to the garage behind said "rescue wagon"!), the Director arranged to give my drugs and me a lift, and my Dad assured me that I couldn't have killed the clutch in less than 24 hours of driving!

So, my newfound freedom was thwarted as the Director and I continued in his overflowing car to the filly who needed radiographs and the colt who needed a microchip and his passport drawing.

Once the day was completed, we returned to the clinic where my drugs, and the rest of my kit from the dead Mondeo, went back into the storeroom for later use and I was reunited with the Micra for my journey to the barn and “home”. The periwinkle Micra and I are becoming fast friends.

Oh, and how about this for a gee whiz moment? The cottage at which I was stuck was named the “Valley View” cottage (for those of you who can't appreciate this so much, I spent my childhood summers at a camp called Valley View) in a town called Sandy Lane (quite similar to Sandy Springs where I grew up!).

The Valley View Cottage

Saturday, 27 February: JAS Finals

So, no personal pictures today, as I forgot the camera again, but I thought I'd share a little bit about Indoor Eventing since it received such poor reviews in the US after the Express Eventing disaster a few years ago when Mary King lost her beloved Call Again Cavalier. The “Jump and Style” aka JAS series, is a winter indoor eventing activity that starts at BE90, a 90 cm level approximately equivalent to the Novice level of eventing in the US, through the Intermediate level. It is usually hosted in an indoor arena with a mixture of show jumps and cross country jumps. The first 8 or so fences are show jumps which are given a “style” mark by a judge, lower being better, with the remaining fences as cross country types.

 Only the cross country portion is timed, but all faults are awarded as for show jumping (i.e. 4 faults for a knockdown, 4 faults for the first disobedience, 8 for the second, and elimination for the third). Jumps for Joy sponsors the series, so many of the cross country jumps are from their collection of polyethylene corners, chevrons, roll tops, and fake brush steeplechase type fences that are readily available in the states. There are multiple combinations, skinnies, and even faux ditches.

I found the finals course walked quite challenging in the indoor arena as it was very forward and twisting and turning. Much like the hunters in the US, the style marks are subjective and I never really got a handle on how they were calculated. However, at the end of each round, a judge's card was returned to the competitors, much like a dressage test, so that the activity is both competitive and educational.

Mike and Emma each competed in the finals and had good trips. Each finished in the top halves of their respective divisions and both horses came away with positive attitudes. Perhaps Tate will get to play at this series next winter!

06 March 2010

Thursday, 25 February

A couple of quiet days have passed. I've enjoyed mornings of barn work, pleasant rides on the Taters, a great couple of canters on the gallop yesterday, and a meeting at Willesley today. I finally have wheels!!!

OK, well, we can all laugh at my current vehicular status! Apparently, one of the ambulatory vets had a crash in her car that resulted in severe damage and extensive repairs. As a result, she is driving the spare car which was to be mine. So, the clinic is in the process of acquiring an additional vehicle that will become my vet mobile soon. In the meantime, at least I have wheels. So, it may be a tiny “hired” (i.e. rental) car provided by the insurance company that just might be periwinkle blue with 2 doors, a manual transmission, right hand drive, and an engine the size of a small lawn mower! Much of this was to be expected, the right hand drive and the manual transmission specifically, however, turning 3500 rpms going only 60 mph and in 5th gear worries me a bit; and without and engine temperature gauge (the dash only has a spedometer, rpm indicator, and fuel gauge), I'm clueless!

C'est la vie. Thank goodness it's a hired car that will take the abuse of my learning how to manage a manual transmission (only ever driven one a handful of times around the farm). I endeavored to only stall it twice on the way to the barn from the clinic and did save face at the clinic by successfully reversing, and getting to first gear without scattering pea gravel!

The roundabouts are great fun with an inexperienced American driver on the wrong side of the road driving a lawn mower with a manual transmission! I'll leave the rest to your imaginations!!!

Monday, 22 February

Dressage in the snow!! More snow, and I think I'm being punished for all of those days back in Georgia when I complained about the 34 degrees and rain, just wishing that it would be 30 and snowing. C'est la vie. We had an educational flat lesson in the driving snow where we addressed some crucial issues at the walk and trot.

Sunday, 21 February

The snow has hung around, and it was a classic English morning. There was dense and cold fog, snow blowing about, but it was all good. I rode Mr Taters in the English countryside with only his blowing to break the intense quiet. We had a lovely hack, only brief moments of confusion as to our whereabouts because I couldn't see anything more than 10 feet away, and some quality time alone.

We did find our way back to the barn where I untacked and rugged Tate for another day with his favorite pony, and headed with the girls to a local unaffiliated jumper show for the afternoon. The weather turned and though cold, the sun peeked about and it was a lovely afternoon with the Wayfarer girls and Emma earning some lovely rosettes for some top placings including 2 wins in 3 classes.

Ah, Saturday, finally, I can breathe!!!

Though chilly, and with 2 inches of snow on the ground, it's a beautiful day! Amelia and Donnie took Tate and me for a 45 minute walk around the neighboring fields. I wasn't entirely sure Amelia knew where we were going, as she is only 8 years old, and we might have had little spurts of some trot and canter to help the boys settle, but all in all, it was a quiet hack. The only fences around are ancient and constructed of Cotswold stone. Most of the fields are plowed for spring planting, but a few cabbages are starting to sprout in some of them, and it's beautiful! We arrived back at the gallop where Tate had a short trot around and then another day out with his new best friend :).

Wednesday, no Thursday, no wait, it's actually Friday!... well, whichever day it is!!!

So, in all this traveling, I seem to have lost track of the days. However, it IS Friday and Tate is finally getting some turn out to stretch his travel weary legs! Apparently, though, he spent most of the morning pacing the fenceline wanting a buddy, so Emma kindly rearranged the turnouts so that Tate could be turned out with Amelia's 12.2 hand white pony named “Don Juan”, more affectionately called Donnie. I wish he could have a big friend, but unfortunately, he plays so rough that I worry about his safety and soundness as well as that of his playmate (and their rugs, their shoes, etc!).

So, while Tate is enjoying the lovely sunshine, yes it can be sunny in England, I am bustling about to sort out my UK license with a trip to London and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. This should be an uneventul trip as I'm armed with a printed map from the RCVS website, a round trip coach (no, it's not a bus when in the UK) ticket from Cirencester to Victoria Station, London, and my original degree and passport.

As usual, nothing in life is quite as easy as it seems. My map of London was woefully incomplete and though I had an hour and a quarter to make the 10 minute walk from the Victoria Coach station to the RCVS, I still arrived only 15 minutes early for my 11 AM appointment. This involved several misguided turns down streets that changed names in less than a block (of course, none of these were on my map), a quick stop in an estate agent's office to ask for directions to the Belgravia House which houses the RCVS, the acquisition of a superb map on the back of an advert for some very posh flats in the center of London, and my ultimate arrival.

As I was unsure of the complete nature of my visit to the RCVS, I dressed professionally. However, it was a group meeting in which I felt VERY old as the only other applicants were recent graduates who were wearing clothes that were merely a step up from their pajamas. In the UK and most of the EU, a veterinary degree is obtained after 5 years of “University”. Consequently, these students “qualify” (they don't graduate necessarily) for membership with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons at 21 or 22 years of age. Thankfully, though, two older gentlemen arrived as well and were also attired professionally in suits with ties.

After my meeting, I met up with an old friend of mine (ok, we haven't seen each other in 15 years an reconnected via Facebook recently) for lunch. We dined at a cute bistro and then had a lovely walk about London all afternoon. We journeyed through several different neighbourhoods to the St James Cathedral, then along the Thames as the sun was shining and it was lovely to stroll along the river at high tide, and then back to the London Underground where I was to catch the tube back to Victoria Station. This is where it gets interesting, again... nothing is ever simple...

So, at this point, it's 3:55 PM, and I have plenty of time to get back to Victoria Station. My return to Cirencester on the coach is booked for 4:30 PM. The coaches depart every 2 hours for Ciren and I know that the 6:30 PM and the 8:30 PM coaches are booked as I was unable to purchase an online ticket for a later coach. My friend and I waited, and waited, and waited for the train to come to the station and it did finally arrive. I left my friend, boarded the train, a mere 5 minutes from Victoria Station at 4:10 PM. Ok, I knew I was cutting it close at this point, but really, I still had an additional 10 minutes upon arrival to the Victoria TRAIN station to hike the 2 ½ blocks to the Victoria COACH station for my 4:30 PM coach departure.

Well, once on board, the train moved about 100 yards into the tunnel and then stopped with the kind computer voice educating the passengers of a slight delay because of a “more important” tubeline crossing the tracks ahead. No worries, I can make it. After what seemed like an eternity, the train did finally move, complete its 4 stops before mine, and arrived Victoria Station at 4:27 PM. Yikes! Well, I couldn't miss my coach, so I started running. For anyone who has ever visited Victoria Station, it's HUGE!! It can be quite difficult in Friday afternoon London people traffic to negotiate one's direction, but to do it at a mad dash?!? Regardless, I managed to make it to the turnstiles where I popped my ticket into the reader and it was promptly returned with a message citing that I should “seek assistance.” Well, seeing as I purchased the ticket just that morning from an actual agent and not a machine, I figured the turnstile must be in error. So, I move to the next one, “seek assistance” greets me again; and I move to the next one, same story. Apparently I'm a slow learner, because I must've gone to at least 3 or 4 different turnstiles to have the same message appear while everyone else seems to have no issue with their tickets. Well, crud, I'm late, I've GOT to get to that coach, no one seems to be around for me to “seek assistance” from, so I just snuggled up to someone who apparently had a functioning ticket and pushed through the turnstile behind them. I'm pretty sure this could be considered a crime, but at that point, I had no choice!

So, back to the sprint. I bolted out of the station at a mad run, read signs on the fly and miraculously after what seemed like an eternity arrived at the Coach station where I asked about the gate from which my bus was to depart. Gate 9, of course, of only 10 on that side. I continued to run to the gate where the sign still displayed my coach number and route and their were numerous people in the cue. However, there was not a coach in the lane. Perfect, it's running late too! I must be living right... or not!

Moments later, the sign flashed the next coach and its number that departed at 1700. After some quick math, I realize that my coach must've already departed. That's right, I'm in the UK where everything runs on time! Grr...

So, of course, I do the next most logical thing knowing that the subsequent coaches are booked... I ran out the Emergency Exit and onto the road to find my coach. It must be there somewhere! Thank goodness for Friday afternoon London traffic! A mere block from the station, I found the coach marked for Cirencester, cheerfully knocked on the drivers' window and requested to board the coach. Stunned, he opened his door, made sure I knew where his coach was going, gave me a lecture about being on time, asked me why I was late (I felt like I was back in school!), made sure I held the appropriate ticket, and let me aboard.

Of course, the coach is full, so I hustle my way to the back where there is one remaining seat. I think every passenger on the coach managed to mumble something about my luck as I passed to nestle myself, flushed from running and red from embarassment, in the seat for the 2 hour journey “home” to Ciren.

Ah! Another day complete! It probably would have been smart to take my handy Sat Nav (no, it's not a GPS here either) for negotiating London, or to have downloaded a complete map of the area, or to wear comfy shoes to avoid the nasty bruises on my right lateral arch, but not so in the life of Kim. Live and learn, die and forget it all....

Friendly Faces!

Yay! We made it safe and sound to New Barn farm where we were greeted cheerfully by Emma and the gang, and SNOWFLAKES!!! Grr...

Tate's stall was freshly bedded, had a fresh new net of haylage, full water buckets and a “Danger” sign pre-intalled! Ok, so the Danger sign has been their for years, by the looks of it, but it's quite fitting and funny. Tate quite likes feeling “Dangerous” in his house!

The humans went on to enjoy a lovely pub lunch while Tate settled in.

Amsterdam, NE to Calais, FR to Dover, UK!

Only in Europe can you travel to 3 countries within 5 hours and involve a lorry and a ferry! Courtesy of Parker's International and Sea France, we uneventfully crossed the sea and arrived in the UK.

Unfortunately, during this journey, I had to ride in the living of the lorry which did not communicate with the drivers, so Tate and I had some serious quality time together. I also finished a second book which left me several hours to contemplate life and its greater meanings :).

Tate became bored also, and started to make music. I captured it on video, but can't manage to post it. I will get it posted soon as it's quite entertaining (or it could've just been funny in the moment as I was terribly bored and lonely!!). We've always known he marches to the beat of his own drummer, but now I have proof!

Once on the ferry, though, the drivers and I left the horses in the cargo hold with all of the other 18 wheelers and cars, and headed upstairs for the short (1 ½ hour) crossing to the UK. I went on a journey about the ship and found 4 different restauarants, several pubs, and about 10 coke machines, all of which were out of Diet Coke! Grr! So, a coke it was, with some peanut M & Ms, and a new book from the on board shop.

Upon arrival in Dover, we disembarked, the horses cleared customs (so, this is a bit of a joke as their paperwork was checked, but the horses, nor the freight (i.e. my equipment) was even looked at by the customs officials) and we proceeded to the Parker's International stabling. Tate settled in nicely with his new buddies (a mare and foal who were picked up in Calais just before boarding the ferry) next door. He greedily ate another warm slurry and enjoyed 5, yes that's 25 gal!, of water over the next 12 hours!!

I spent the night in a Nepalese pub in town where I had a lovely English breakfast. I've always known that Englishmen are hardcore about their coffee and tea, but I had no idea that a Nepalese bartender could be so offended that someone didn't want his coffee with her breakfaast. As a result, I did finish my breakfast with a coffee... when in Rome...

I was then picked up by the driver from Amsterdam in town, whisked to Parker's where Tate had another warm slurry and his ulcergard. We then headed to our final destination, New Barn Farm, in Chedworth, Gloucestershire, UK with a team of Czechloslovakian drivers. Once again, I sat in the living, but thankfully, this one communicated with the drivers, so I had a view of where we were headed.

 After a brief stop at a roadside cafe in the woods (seriously, in order to access this place, the guys parked the lorry on the side of the road, and ambled along a deer trail through the woods to a cute little tradestand. I should've taken a picture, but I'd left my camera in the lorry :(), we were on our way to New Barn Farm with a total trip time of about 4 hours.

24-hour Layover in AMS

So, contrary to popular belief, I did not venture into Amsterdam to partake in the local coffeehouses, much to the chagrin of many friends, but I spend the time catching up on some sleep, finishing a book, and enjoying some time with Tate. He was quite exhausted upon arrival as he'd been traveling since Sunday AM and it was Tuesday evening by the time we arrived at Boznicht for the night. He was bedded to his knees, though, on rubber with mounds of shavings, so had a good nap in short order.

After his nap, we had a walk around the horse hotel which in its day was quite the riding school in the old fashioned European sense. It has multiple rooms for lodging, a spacious lounge, kitchen, and bar overlooking the indoor school. He then had his legs shampooed and dried for the evening because after nearly 3 days in shipping boots, he was trying to develop some dermatitis. Not permissable at this point in the journey because we were only halfway there!

We then both gobbled our respective suppers (his a slurry of his American feed with copious amounts of warm water, beet pulp, succeed, and ulcergard and mine a pizza courtesy of our fab driver) and turned in for the evening to have a good sleep.

The next morning, after eating cold pizza leftover from dinner, Tate had a lovely warm slurry again, and continued to enjoy the deep bedding and fresh hay. I had a brisk walk into town to the ATM to withdraw Euros to cover my accomodation for the evening. It was good to get out and stretch my legs a bit. Sitting still is hard work!

By 1 PM, we were loaded onto a Parker's lorry and heading for the ferry.

Finally... an update!! New York to Amsterdam

So, after loading Tate into the shipping container in New York, he traveled on a flatbed truck to be weighed, with his travelling companion in order to figure the placement of the containers within the plane. From there, he went planeside and waited until the passengers had commenced boarding and was then loaded onto the plane.

 As they are closed up in their container, the horses are unaware of the ups and downs and sliding around that is requisite in order to ensure a balanced load. Once on board, though, their “jockey doors” are opened and the head/rump flaps lifted so that the container becomes much like a straight load trailer for the duration of the flight.

Unfortunately, we were delayed on the ramp in New York for over an hour as the plane was de-iced and then cleared for take off. As an on board “groom”, I was responsible for sitting with Tate and his traveling companion in the container for the take off and landing, and then for offering them water throughout the journey. As predicted, the horses do sit down a bit during the take off, but then settle as the plane leaves the ground and starts climbing toward the cruising altitude. All 8 horses were fine with the process and continued to munch hay throughout.

The KLM animal attendant for the flight was fantastic and took over the inflight duties so that the professional groom who was traveling with the Mersant (another equine travel agent) horses and myself could catch a few winks.

We then assumed our positions in the crates with the horses for landing and landed without incidence. In fact, none of us knew that we had landed until we began to taxi toward the gate. I stayed with Tate until his crate was unloaded.

 At that point, the groom and I continued through customs (Wow, a piece of cake in Holland, especially when compared to the UK and the US!!), and on to baggage claim where we had to wait for my 49.7 lb (yep, 50 lbs is the max allowed!) duffel bag to arrive. In hindsight, I probably should've eaten the $50 that would have been in addition to my other airfreight bill and shipped the bag with the equipment, but in my ultimate frugality, I thought I should utilize my one free checked bag.

From there, we lugged my bag for what seemed like miles to the shuttle bus that took us to the Animal Hotel where Tate and his other travel companions waited patiently in their crate to be cleared through customs (2 ½ hours later, apparently in record time!) and dispersed to their respective shippers and final destinations. Tate was the only one continuing to the UK, but he did have one friend who traveled with him to the Horse Hotel, “Boznicht,” for the night outside of Amsterdam.