The Gap Year

**Photo of my dad with my dog, MayDay. The main barn of Fare Well Farm (FWF) is in the background. 

Between high school and college, I took a “gap year” and worked at an Eventing barn in South Carolina. I had to lobby hard for this, but my parents finally relented. Of course, I had to complete all of my college applications prior to going, get accepted, and then formally request a deferment before they agreed to it. They thought if I didn’t, I might never go, and they were probably right.

(I highly recommend a gap year to any kid who is not quite ready to go to college. More than that, I encourage the parents to consider it first for their child. A year of working in a job can change a kid’s perspective and level of maturity exponentially.).

Fare Well Farm

Let me tell you about this farm. It was amazing. It had everything an Eventer needs and everything that a horse wants. The farm was designed for beauty, efficiency, and utility. It accommodated sixteen horses in a beautiful center-aisle barn, with full length mesh doors on both sides of the stalls, to facilitate good ventilation during the hot summer months. The lush, grass paddocks swept around the barn on three sides and easily held two or three horses each. Fare Well also had every amenity for training as well—an outdoor ring with mirrors, a dressage arena, a covered arena, as well as cross-country courses up to the preliminary level. The owner, Joyce Martin Hill, designed everything to perfection. Not only that, Fare Well was home to their resident trainer, Kathy Faulk. She was a great rider, trainer, and horsewoman, and led us all tirelessly in our equestrian pursuits.

To this day, Fare Well is still one of the best facilities I had the privilege of riding and training from in my entire career.

As if that wasn’t enough to write home about, Fare Well Farm’s secret ingredient was its group of boarders. They were all amateur women riders (and one husband) and rode consistently in Kathy’s program. All of them competed on a regular basis as a group, and everyone owned very good horses appropriate for each of their abilities and level of experience. The icing on the cake was everyone got along really well and supported each other’s riding goals.  If you’ve ridden long enough, and boarded your horse enough times, you know this is not always easy to accomplish. Sometimes it can be difficult to maintain harmony with so many personalities under one roof. I attribute this to the awesome people they all were, but also to the leadership of Kathy and Joyce. They set a precedent that was easy for the rest of us to follow.

Area III is not Area V

Moving to Area III meant that I was not competing in Area V, the only area I had ever Evented. I competed Amos, my heart horse, at a couple novices just so he could be seen by potential buyers. I had brought another horse with me to Farewell Farm in the hopes of making the Young Rider Team. I was already late to that party, but there was still a chance I could participate before aging out.

Back in Texas, one of the two riders we had competing at the intermediate level decided she wanted to sell her horse. She was in vet school and felt like it was a good time to start over with a young horse. Airie was a beautiful, typey, black thoroughbred the girl had produced from the beginning. He wasn’t expensive, partly because he was located in Texas, and also, she really wanted me to have him as she thought we were a good match. In Texas, I ran him four times at training level and won every event.

When I arrived at Fare Well that summer, I entered the horse trials held therein the early fall. The preliminary cross-country course was definitely beefier than any I had seen in Texas.  That should have been my first clue, but ignorance is bliss. I rationalized my trust in my horse as well as my own skill level. Also, I was at the great stage of riding where I could automatically convert nervousness or fear to confidence and aggression. When you first learn to do this as a budding rider, it’s a pretty nifty trick. However, tricks are never a substitute for good training!

I ran Airie down to the big ditch and brush on the course, a jump neither of us had seen before. I added an extra notch of speed to help my case, but it all backfired, as these things usually do. Airie slid to a stop at the last second, jumping down in the ditch, as I famously got slapped against the wall, like a bug on a windshield. By that time, luckily, safety vests were a thing, but it did not prevent the air from getting knocked out of me, or the sore ribs I had for a few days.

(Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore).

Heartbreak Horse

I called Airie’s previous owner. The conversation did not go well. She did eventually agree with my idea to send the horse to Denny Emerson to evaluate the situation. He wasn’t that far, being in Southern Pines, and the previous owner had ridden with him often in Texas, as had I.

I met Denny at a private schooling facility down the road from his farm. Denny got on Airie straight away. He jumped the horse around and then headed for a novice/training open ditch. Airie stopped and spun hard, clocking Denny in the forehead in the process. After that, Airie wouldn’t get within twenty feet of it. Denny didn’t mince his words, and none of it was good.

In tears, I drove Airie back to Fare Well. I called the owner and told her what happened and what Denny said. She was furious. She screamed at me on the phone and accused me of ruining her horse.

She spit the words out, “I will never forgive you for this and I wish I never sold him to you!”

I was crushed. She was a person and a rider I really looked up to. I felt horrible and responsible. Did I really cause it? Looking back, it was probably foolish to move up a level in a brand-new area.  But you don’t know what you don’t know, until you do.

It wasn’t after the fact, on a visit back home, someone told me I bought the horse with a ditch problem. This was someone who had been competing far longer than me and someone whom I trusted. So maybe it was a little of both… At that point, it was water under the bridge, but I learned a lot of valuable lessons with that experience.

E1942752-04DC-4F20-B20B-0143E75E93AC
My heartbreak horse, Airie.

Old Blue

Every day we pulled the tractor and manure-spreader into the barn at Fare Well to muck the stalls. The first time I offered to empty the spreader as a new employee, I took off down the driveway towards cross-country where we turned the spreader on in the fields. It was a bit of a winding road to get there, mostly downhill.  The tractor picked up speed when I hit the first slope. Instead of stepping on the brake, I accidentally hit the clutch with my foot.

And then I panicked.

The tractor picked up speed. It turns out, when the clutch is pushed down, the tractor is actually in neutral, not in a gear. The tractor went faster and faster until I couldn’t make the bend in the road. It came to an abrupt end with the tractor wedged on a tree. First, I had hit the wall part of the ditch and wall on my horse, and now, I had managed to plant myself hard against the steering wheel. I’m just grateful I didn’t go flying over the top of it.

Fun times.

That was a different kind of walk of shame back to the barn….

This wasn’t my only incident with Fare Well’s tractor, affectionately called “Old Blue,” (or with other tractors, unfortunately), but it was the most memorable one (at Fare Well, anyway).

TRACTOR
Most likley I stalled out “Old Blue” here. It took a while for us to be friends.

Saying “No”

Whenever owners were traveling or unable to come to the barn, they might arrange for one of the three Fare Well Farm working students to ride their horse. I had one magical day in the fall where I ended up with eight horses on my dance card. I couldn’t believe my luck. I usually had one or two to ride every day, but this was like winning the lottery.

After we finished the morning chores, I started riding right away. And I didn’t stop. Not until more chores needed to be done in the afternoon anyway. I’d finish those and start riding again. I left my last chore until I was done riding all of my horses. I needed to bathe Kathy’s young horse for an event the next day. I was drying Dante at 8:30 pm when Kathy walked into the barn and found me with her horse. She was visibly irritated.

I don’t understand, “she said.  “Why didn’t you do this earlier?” It was getting cooler by then, and she would have preferred for him to be bathed in the afternoon, when he could have dried in the warm sun.

I said, “Well, I had a lot of horses to ride today, and I tried to get them all done before it got dark.”

Fare Well had many amenities at that time, but lights in the arenas was not one of them. (This was also by design).

Kathy asked me how many horses I rode.

I said, “Eight.”

Her mouth hung open catching flies at this revelation.

Jee-nn,” she said in her sweet southern drawl, “That’s too much. You can’t dooo that.”

We went back and forth about it, because it all made perfect sense to me. Ride as many horses as you can during the daylight, and bathe the one horse in the barn with lights last.

She said, “Jenn, it’s just too much. You need to learn to tell people ‘nooo.

I mulled this over, and finally said, “Okay, I will.” As she walked off, I thought to myself, “Now why in the world would I ever want to do that??”

(Post script: I did get there Kathy. It just took another twenty years….)

Turkey

Thanksgiving of that year, my sister and her boyfriend drove from outside of Atlanta to visit me at Fare Well Farm. They brought me a surprise—a kitten. The boyfriend had a stray cat that had showed up to his house and had two kittens. One didn’t make it, but they thought I was the perfect person for the surviving kitten.

I called her ‘Turkey.’ This was the first of many subsequent, unoriginal pet names. Turkey was a tiny, fluffy, white kitten with a few patches of brown and black on her face and back. A calico. When she arrived, she was a little purring machine who could fit in my hand. As she grew, she quickly transformed to being fiercely independent, and then just being plain fierce.

I always felt like Turkey was really a terrier who happened to get stuck in a cat suit and she was pissed about it.

One day, I found Turkey hiding in a stall. It was the end of the day and I was going through each stall checking everyone’s rugs. I found her hidden in a hay pile in the corner. The horse didn’t see her, and was happily munching bits of hay politely. Turkey was hunkered down, her nose twitching, and I could see the gleam in her eye. Not good. I decided to wait and see how this was all going to turn out.

Without making a sound, she slowly backed up, before launching herself like a rocket, out of the hay pile, and straight onto the horse’s nose. Shocked, the horse flew backwards, before boxing the air at the perpetrator. Turkey still got a left, right hook in before skidding out of the stall.

After that, I started to watch for her because I didn’t want to get stuck in the middle of the crossfire. Her other favorite trick, if she happened upon an open stall door (because I was in there) was to leap straight into a horse’s tail. She’d land like Spiderman, a leg in each corner, ears flat, biting at the strands. This all happened in a millisecond because the horse would inevitably start kicking. She would repel off as quickly as she had landed, and jet off, unscathed.

She was a ninja cat and no one was safe.

Love first …

Fare Well Farm was a moniker for an amazing group of individuals, who collectively, were great friends through horses. We often got together for other events and social gatherings outside of the barn.

I had my first “official” date, while at Fare Well, with the son of one of these ladies from the barn. He was in his first year of college. I’m pretty sure his mom put him up to it, but alas, I found myself sitting across from him at a bar in downtown Columbia. He asked me if I wanted a beer as he ordered one. Without hesitating, I replied, “I don’t drink beer. It tastes like horse piss.” No “Thank you, but…” or “I’ll just have a coke, thanks.

You can take the girl out of the barn, but you can’t take the barn out of the girl…

It was our first and only date.

Hearing this story, Russ asked me recently, “Have you ever tasted horse piss? How can you compare it to that?”

I replied, “If every metaphor depended on empirical evidence, I’d be screwed.”

Needless to say, it took twenty years to learn to say “no” AND to develop a filter.

Then George

With both my heart horse and my heartbreak horse sold, I was on the hunt for a new partner. I headed up to New York to David Hopper’s place. Going to David’s was my real first “horse buying” experience. Up until then, I had either bought the first horse I tried or ones that fell in my lap. David had seven for us to see. It seemed a good place to start.

I picked a dark bay four-year old out of all of them because he was quick with his feet and he had an agreeable attitude. It didn’t matter he had pedal osteitis. The vet said it after examining his x-rays and I brushed right past it. Ignorance is bliss. I ended up sending him back to Texas to live at a friend’s small farm with the sole goal of fattening him up while I concentrated on pulling in some good grades at the start of my freshman year.

GeorgeNovice
George at one of his first events at the Virginia Horse Center, circa 1992.

 

… Finally, Loss

After my year was up,  I left for college in Virginia. I was slowly, steadily making my way to Middleburg. Soon after, I received the news that one of our ladies at Fare Well was very sick. She had cancer. In short time, the disease found her lymph nodes. The fight was swift and brutal. She was only in her mid-thirties when she left us. I remember thinking she was much too young for all of this, but still so much older than me.

Half of that sentence was true, at least.

Just a few years ago, we lost another Fare Well member to cancer. This time she was a couple years younger than me. Still way too young.  I got to know her when she started her adventure being a working student at Fare Well Farm as I was headed out the door. In true Fare Well fashion, she later groomed for me at my first CCI** at Radnor.

Radnor
Radnor, 1996.

 

After the Fare Well

I might have left Fare Well to continue on my journey, but they were only five hours from college, so I came back a lot in those four years. They always seemed to have room.

Now, thirty years later, much has changed for all of us. Some people still ride and some don’t. There have been a few divorces and a couple remarriages. Their kids are grown and now there are grandchildren.

My gap year was such a great time in my life. I learned a lot and had many good and bad experiences that comes with immersing yourself in horses. It was my first time living away from home, having roommates, and a full-time job. I met amazing people that year, people that I still call my friends. It set me up perfectly for what was next: college.

 

 

 

 

6 thoughts on “The Gap Year

  1. Hey Jenn…Fun blog especially fun as Joyce and I were classmates at boarding school — Miss Hall’s school in Pittsfield Mass. I used to see her Virginia Horse Trials and most recently at reunions. Small world!

    Like

    1. Such a small world!!! Her farm in SC is amazing. I enjoyed riding with her too. I love anyone who is super competitive, and works really hard to achieve it, which she did. Thank you for sharing. That’s amazing!

      Like

      1. She too had physical cancer challenges and her success is an inspiration to me as i am fighting ovarian cancer. Thank God for support from Deana and my other friends

        Like

      2. Nancy,
        I had no idea! I’m sorry to hear this. I’m glad you have good support. That will help Immensely. Please take good care. If there is ever anything I can do for you, please let me know. Stay strong!!!

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s