It's a week after the NAEC. This time last week is was a gorgeous sunny day at Fair Hill, and I was delivering lunches to the Pennsylvania vet check for our officials and volunteers. This Saturday it's cold and rainy, my house is filled with boxes of paper plates, clipboards, and couple boxes of leftover Entemanns pastries. Not that I am complaining about that! And for the first time all season I have time to watch a college football game. Which means that I am bored. After a year and a half of planning and three solid months of spending every waking hour in front of the computer… I don't know what to do with this newfound free time! My husband, I am sure, would appreciate me actually sorting through the boxes currently stacked in the living room and making them disappear - preferably to a place that is not our already full basement. That's not so much fun. So I thought you all might enjoy a little NAEC wrap-up from the ride manager's perspective; a very skewed perspective, but it will certainly be different than any other report from the NAEC.
A little history
I was asked many times during the week of the NAEC how I get roped in to managing this ride. The answer? I was asked, and I didn't know any better, so I said yes. Seriously. I moved to the Fair Hill area a little more than two years ago because my now husband lived up here. A friend of the family, Jean Higgins, was involved with Fair Hill. She organized the Country Shoppes for the annual Festival in the Country. She told me about Fair Hill International and suggested I get involved - "It'd be a great way to meet horse people in the area, and it'll look good on your resume." So I did. That first year I organized the special events - the Pony Club games, the mini horse demos, the sheep herding demos - all that cool stuff that probably none of the people at the NAEC got to see because they were far too busy. Apparently I did a decent job with that. A month later Lana Wright asked me if I would manage the endurance rides for the next couple of years - their ride manager had other obligations, they needed someone to fill in, and oh, by the way - we've put in a bid to run the Pan Am Endurance Championships. Now - I do not ride endurance. Never have. The only time I have ever ridden that far, besides fox hunting, is drag riding last fall for a friend's CTR - and I could not walk for days after that. I had never really heard of endurance. I had certainly never seen endurance. So I said "Sure! No problem. But I don't know anything about endurance." Lana, ever the optimist, said no problem - we'll help you out. And the rest is history… The first endurance ride I ever attended was the Cranberry Ride in New Jersey in the spring of 2004. Nick Kohut was the best vet in the world for whom to scribe, and Donna Curtain and Patti Pizzo, themselves experienced in the organizing of a Pan Am event, gave me all kinds of good tips, which I promptly forgot because I still had no idea what I was getting into.
In April of last year we ran a 25 and 50 mile ride - our annual "Foxcatcher" ride. Those who attended will fondly remember the mud and having to be towed IN and OUT of the camping field. Seems to be a recurring theme at Fair Hill… Fortunately for me, I had Louisa - ride secretary extraordinaire - to help me out. She had at least been a ride secretary once or twice before, and we muddled through. Ride number one, under my belt.
In May of last year I flew down to the Biltmore for my first FEI ride experience. Dennis Bostich, our trail boss, actually flew us down there. He helped with the trails and putting out glow sticks. I wandered around, met lots of people, promptly forgot their names, and huddled under the tent with everyone else when thunderstorms rolled through. And I met Anne Ayala, a godsend, and really the reason that everything for the past year has gone so well. Anne is the most organized person I know.
October of 2004 was the NAEC pre-ride. It was endurance ride number two for me, FEI ride number one. It was our very first time to run an endurance ride the same weekend as the Festival in the Country (an over 15 year tradition, highlighted by a three star three day event, with the likes of David O'Conner and Bruce Davidson competing). Which meant more security, parking passes, wrist bands, badges, volunteer pins, radios, and cars. Lots of cars. All of them stuck in - you guessed it! - the mud. We learned lots at the pre-ride. We learned that we needed better glow sticks and more of them. We also learned, in that process, the location of every single store within a 30 minute radius that sells glow sticks. My dad and my husband got some VERY interesting looks at the store when they bought out every glow stick they owned (200 of them!) on Saturday afternoon, after my desperate plea for help when we realized the glow sticks we had were not working well and we needed more. LOTS more. We learned we needed more volunteers - and man did we get them for the NAEC! I learned that every single official I had at the pre-ride is 1) insane and 2) absolutely wonderful. I love them all. I have no idea why they do this, but I will not question it. Use them. They rock. And, most of all, we learned that it's no fun to run a big FEI ride in the cold and the mud, and it's no fun for people to have to wait forever for the nice tractor guys to pull them out. So - we changed venues for the NAEC itself. We decided that even though moving to the Fairgrounds put us a little out of touch with the rest of the Festival (it's about a two mile drive, although still on the same block of state land), it was well worth it to have gravel roads, running water, and electricity. All the modern conveniences of home.
2005 was filled with lots of letters to sponsors asking for help, a great trip to Reno for the AERC convention - my first one - a great presentation for the NAEC at the convention, and lots of questions from all of you. And that was wonderful - you had questions about things I had never even considered. We secured some awesome sponsors - Gulf Coast 4 Star Trailers really came through for us, and lots of vendors promised to send us "stuff."
I was a bit distracted in April and May, as I married my sweet husband on May 7. Poor John. I can't say he didn't know what he was getting in to. He survived the NAEC pre-ride last fall, and a week after it was over he asked me to marry him. So he at least had some idea that I was crazy. I told him we either had to hustle and get married in spring of 2005 before I got really busy with the NAEC, or we had to wait until spring of 2006 when it was all over. We chose sooner rather than later, and I'm glad we did. He's the best, really the best. I know all you endurance riders will say the same about your spouses. And I know it's true. I've met some of them!
So that brings us to this fall. Things were going well, from my perspective. My dad (my webmaster) had put together a great website, and I filled it with information for all of you NAEC'ers. It worked great, if you actually read the website. Note to any other FHI endurance riders - I will never again send out a rider packet by mail. If you can't surf the web, you're going to come to our ride without info. The cost of photocopying and postage is way too expensive!
Louisa was dealing with entries, with the help of Mary Lutz, who was sorting out missing paperwork issues for the USA zones. Canada, we must admit, is WONDERFUL - never a piece of missing info from them, ever! Good job, Canada. A pleasure doing business with you! Louisa is a master at checking all details, and with all those entries, substitute horses, straw orders, etc she really had her hands full.
Wendy Moon, my hospitality coordinator, was dealing with officials and transportation and housing. We spoiled them and had them staying in a nice B&B not far from Fair Hill. We had travel arrangements all set until Mike Tomlinson decided to come in early and then forgot that he was supposed to give Tom Timmons a ride from the airport. Tom is resourceful, though - he showed up a few hours later. He's good at hitch-hiking. Needless to say, at least a dozen people checked with Mike on Sunday to be sure he had ALL the passengers he was supposed to have going back to the airport in Philly!
Joe Dernowski, stable manager from heaven, I think, organized straw delivery, the stall charts, and the ever important coffee. Joe and the other Pony Club moms and dads who helped out had a fabulous time up at the stables - you all treated them like gold! Thank you for that - you've guaranteed me some new volunteers for the next ride!
Lana had the trail marking crew all set. Since Fair Hill is public property, we are only allowed to put up ribbons a week ahead of time. Lana schmoozed a little bit and got permission to put up our ribbons two weeks ahead of time, which really helped. Lana organized the spotters out on the trail. They were a great, dedicated group of workers. Poor spotters at the road crossings at night were starving because I forgot to bring them dinner! Thankfully the ham radio guys pointed that out to us, and we fed them. Late, but we did feed them. Sorry!
Dennis, John Stacy, and Helen Stacy are trail map kings and queens. John's maps of each trail are posted on the web - they are all GPS fancy in some way that I don't understand, but if you are on the computer and click any point of the map you will know the lat and long of that point. Pretty fancy stuff. John also made the composite maps that hung in the Ed Walls Activity Hall and in the stables for the week of the NAEC. Dennis made the great, easy to read map for the program and did a really great power point presentation for the trail briefing, highlighting all the bridges and creek crossings. We're fortunate that we have such smart, computer savvy trail people! We're also very fortunate that we have savvy trail people who will happily spend 24 hours the day of the ride putting up glow sticks, racing from point to point to keep up with the leaders to make sure everything on trail is ok, and taking down glow sticks at midnight while they are still glowing and can be seen. They were a bit giddy by 3:00 a.m., and I heard that I missed a great photo opportunity with Joe, our fearless stable manager who also helped with glow sticks, standing next to the truck with glow sticks hanging off every article of clothing he was wearing.
So we had all our crew in place. Bob Walsh and Jack Weber rounded up tons of volunteers to help with timing at each vet gate, and Ellen Tully found a wonderful group of scribes (some of whom came down from Canada!). We were ready. And then…
A week before the NAEC, we had a hurricane coming up the coast. Not a big hurricane. Just an annoying system that promised to drop a lot of rain. So we're thinking - no big deal; we need the rain. We hadn't seen rain for about two months, and the ground was rock hard. So it rained. And rained. And kept raining. At least six inches of rain in a 24 hour period on the Saturday before the ride. I work (in my real job) for Maryland Million, Ltd, which runs a Breeders Cup-type day of racing for Maryland sired thoroughbreds. That was scheduled for October 8. It was cancelled because the roads to the track were flooded. Guess when it was rescheduled? October 15 - the day of the NAEC. Fortunately my job has known since before they hired me that I had this crazy endurance ride to manage for Fair Hill, and I would have to be out for the entire week of the event. It just caused me to stay in the office for a long time on October 8, making sure I had everything ready for the rescheduled event the following week.
In the meantime all the people camping in the field we offered were wet, cold, and a bit miserable. Thankfully Louisa lives right around the corner and could go check on the folks stuck in the field and could make some alternate arrangements for a lot of other folks to stay at other local stables. The beginning of the week was crazy, as we shuffled people around to any dry place we knew of, were told by the landowner of our camping field that he'd really rather we didn't stay there while it kept raining, and moved all those horses out of there on Tuesday (miraculously, I think they all got out without tractor assistance). And it kept on raining. So this is ride number THREE that I have run at Fair Hill where I've had to have a tractor on hand, ready to pull people out of the muck. Can't a girl catch a break?
Wednesday rolled around, finally, and we officially opened for business. Horses checked in and we at least had every horse in one place, dry and warm, and had all trailers in one place. I am assuming that check-in went well. I think I was driving around putting up parking signs at that point! Wednesday afternoon was filled with final set up in the vet gate areas. Buck (very nice man, no idea what his last name is) helped me set up a bunch of tents, move straw bales, set flowers, etc. Poor guy didn't know what he was getting in to when we asked if he could help "for just a minute." His sweet wife thought it was great - we kept him out of her hair for a while! Wednesday night USA East and AERC International hosted a fabulous welcome reception, and I truly do appreciate the USA East people who brought me beer as I was working away in the office! And thanks to the PAC North vet who finally dragged me out and tried to make me dance. I think people had a great time, and Jen Sapira did a wonderful job of decorating. Thanks, Jen! We used your decorations all week.
Thursday morning Jack Weber helped Buck and me do a final set up in Pennsylvania before the crew and riders came through for a tour, at which point we realized that if it kept raining we were going to have a serious parking problem. On to Plans B, C, and D, none of which really looked promising. Cross your fingers and hope for the rain to end… The ride briefing went well - Dennis and John Stacy did a great job with the trail description. We made all our riders ride a mile and a half over to the Festival for Opening Ceremonies - Joe leading in the front with a Gator and me following behind trying to keep a watch out for loose horses or other trouble. Thankfully all went smoothly, and the Opening Ceremonies got rave reviews from all who attended. Thursday night we hosted a welcome dinner for everyone. Our food vendor, Charmaigne, stuffed people full of tacos, beans, rice, and brownies. My husband and two of my friends (all absolutely not horse people) brought beer and wine and took tickets at the door. They were also the very last people left there at 9:00 and helped me clean up everything. Thank heavens for friends (and husbands).
I've lost track of anything I might have done on Friday. Horses had their initial inspection; I think that went well. The photographer took team pictures, which turned out GREAT! He displayed them for the weekend in the Ed Walls Activity Hall. And the rest of Friday is a blur. I vaguely remember the excellent bluegrass band playing during dinner. I met a whole ton of volunteers, drag riders, and ham radio guys. My parents brought any remaining EquiPedic tee shirt we could find from the house - we needed them all, Richard! I think I went to bed sometime. I don't remember.
Saturday at 3:30 AM was a miracle - clear skies, STARS, and a great breeze to dry out things. I got a call from Dennis and Lou, out putting up glow sticks. Their report was that, other than the fact that Lou's phone had been dropped out on trail somewhere and was lost forever, things looked great. The trail was drying out, the footing was pretty good, and the sky was beautiful. I drove around to a couple different places on the first trail, just keeping track of how things were going, right after I remembered to flip on the lights in the arena where we were vetting. I was sitting on the tailgate of the truck, in the early morning, with no sound around until I heard the front runners' hoof beats - pretty amazing. Not being an endurance rider myself, I don't know so much about these early morning hours out in the middle of nowhere with just the sound of your horse. It's a bit addictive!
Saturday was a blur of ham radio checks, phone calls, running lunches to people, and making the toilet paper run (who'd have thought that two porta-pots could run out of toilet paper in a period of three hours!). Our announcer, Geoff, was at the main Festival grounds. He kept making updates to the crowd of several thousand there watching the cross country phase of the three day event. Geoff announced for us a bit last year, thought that endurance was a pretty cool, if not crazy, sport, and was delighted to help us out again this year. He does a great job. How those announcers can keep on announcing while I am chattering away on the radio in their ear is beyond me!
Saturday night after dinner made by my own dear sweet Dad (he, my mom, and my husband helped me out Saturday night by feeding all my volunteers), I volunteered myself to be the last check point before the finish. I was about .8 miles out, with a radio, calling in to Geoff who was at the finish line with microphone and his announcer voice ready. We had spotters at four miles out, 1.5 miles out, and with me, so we could do a pretty good job of calling in where the leaders were and getting a crowd up to the finish line. From what I heard, it was quite a crowd! Probably my proudest moment as a ride manager was while I was standing out at the edge of the race track listening to the chatter over the radio, the announcer, and the roar of the crowd as Karen and Dom galloped their horses up the steeplechase track and across the finish line. I was sorry I didn't get to actually see it, but hearing it was really good enough. Plus it gave me a good opportunity to say hi to all the other riders passing me going in to Vet Gate 5 and to cheer in Lisa Conner and Betty Baker as they turned on to the track and headed for home.
And then it was back to business. Ham radio guys called and said that my spotters were starving. Ham radio guys called to say that the crew at the crew stop on Trails 5 and 6 said we're out of water. Fortunately the nice ham radio guy walked down the hill to confirm this while I was making a pleading call to the water refilling guy and gave the report over the radio that "apparently lack of sleep has made the crew not realize that if they just turn the spout, more water would come out of the big water tank and drop in to the trough." Hooray for that! It gave me a good laugh, after a good panic.
Sunday morning had me driving like a mad woman over to the Festival, yelling over the radio that I needed help from anyone at all who was available, as I needed podiums back at the Fairgrounds for closing ceremonies. Details, details. Couldn't we have just made them stand on muck tubs and buckets? Thankfully, people at the Festival are used to desperate pleas for help and typically turn out in full force to help out. We truly have wonderful volunteers. Podiums made it to the Fairgrounds, closing ceremonies and awards went terribly un-smoothly from my point of view, but hopefully you all didn't notice. Geoff was about ready to throttle me, so I did make sure that I had a very well organized plan for our second little award recognition ceremony at 12:30 at the Festival. The officials helped me load the podiums back on the truck, nice volunteers helped me un-load them, and all too soon it was time for our final ceremony at the Festival. One last national anthem played to celebrate the gold medal winning team of USA Pacific South (fortunate that a USA team won, as we needed to play the anthem anyway to kick off the day of stadium jumping). I had lunch in the VIP tent, actually sitting down. I think I watched a couple trips of the stadium jumping. I met my family and took a stroll through the Country Shoppes, saying hi to nice Jean Higgins (who still comes to Fair Hill every year as a vendor, and who made beautiful top ten awards for endurance). Life since then has been full of results, clean up, and my "real job."
So what does the future hold for Fair Hill? I think we have finally recovered enough to start thinking about that. Anne Ayala, of course, is the first person to plan ahead that far - "You know if you do an FEI ride in the spring of 2007 it could be a selection ride for the 2007 Pan Ams." We'll see. In the meantime we have our Foxcatcher ride in spring of 2006. We might not do anything next fall - AERC Nationals are not too far down the road in Virginia so it might not make much sense for us to do a fall ride. I might volunteer to go help take pulses or something. Something less stressful than running the ride! Good luck to Bob Walsh with that. He will do an excellent job, I am sure. And the Old Dominion endurance group is fantastic. So we're looking forward to helping with AERC Nationals and hopefully seeing a lot of the friends we made here!
Keep checking back at our website for details on what we have coming up. We're at www.fairhillinternational.com. And for more rider coverage from the NAEC, check our EnduranceNet. Steph Teeter was with us all week and took some great photos and video along with her always entertaining and informative ride diaries. Thanks to EnduranceNet for all their help!
So I think that's it, from my end. I suppose all I have left to do is tackle the big pile of boxes in the living room. I have a million clipboards to sort through. Somewhere I need to find the book we have with all your rider bios in it - Louisa needs it to help her write an article for our local horse magazine. And maybe, if I am lucky, I will come across another box of Entemanns pastries!