By Kathy Serio
Many amateurs and juniors probably haven’t had the privilege of being at the horse show for the dreaded “set-up” day. I was my own groom for many years, so I used to do my own set-up. It wasn’t a great first day of a horse show, setting up two or three stalls by yourself: unloading hay, shavings, tack trunk, setting up buckets and watering all before unloading horses.
You were always next to your trainer’s barn of “inside clients,” at the end or on the back side of the row. After all, you were the “outside client” and the odd man out, doing your own care, not a resident of their farm. After loading your trailer at home with hay, grain, shavings, tack and trunk, usually alone, then loading the horses and driving two or three hours to the show grounds, set-up began. By the end of the day you were a filthy mess, covered head to toe, looking like you’ve been “tarred and shavinged” and you hadn’t even ridden or fed the horses yet.
Now, take the scenario above and magnify this by a lot. The first few times, being a part of “set-up day” for an entire barn was a bit overwhelming and never-ending. Let’s say I sure wish I invented the zip-tie. When I married Tommy, I married into Summerfield Farm, and unfortunately I had a skill set of driving a truck, tractor, trailer, dragging an arena, switching out PTO hitches, bush hogging, etc. — skills often put to use at Summerfield, no prima donnas allowed.
Once, Tommy said, “I’d love to teach you how to drive the Freightliner, honey. It’s easy.” I’m certain it is easy; it’s just one more thing I don’t need to add to my resume of “stuff Kathy can do” around the barn for the same reason I never admit to the fact that I can braid — because I’d be called to do it, and no thanks!
I’ve fallen for the, “Take Ali with you and go ahead of us with the equipment trailer. We’ll be right behind you with the horses.” Sucker born every day, but I wasn’t born yesterday. Now, I always make sure I have one of the guys with us as well. The first time I showed up to a show on set-up day with just one poor helper, our 15-year-old working student, Ali. It was 100 degrees and we had 12 horses coming not right behind us, but a good two hours behind us.
We had a trailer full of 12 trunks, a golf cart, mats for the two grooming stalls, 24 water buckets, 12 feed buckets, pitch forks, manure carts, grooming boxes, feed, drapes, signs, saddle racks, bridle racks, two Dalmatians (one unruly and young), two grooming stalls and one feed room to arrange.
Things looked dismal when we couldn’t reach the top of the shaving towers brought to us on pallets — 60 bags to a pallet. We had 120 bags of shavings to unload, 10 per stall, and guess where the scissors were? Yes, they were in the tack trunks, and all of those trunks were stacked on top of each other in the trailer with covers on them waiting to be unloaded by the two of us with the dolly. So … we used truck keys, we used a metal stake we found in the trailer door, we used the backside of the hammer, and things turned rather comical as we attempted to open the shavings bags into each stall. The boys always carry pocket knives. Girls … not so much. Note to self: purchase pocket knife.
I think it should be a requirement for every child to come early and help set up, just to appreciate the enormous task, as well as to appreciate the organizing skills needed in arranging a barn away from home. Keep stallions from mares. Put grooming stalls up front in the aisle. Put hay in the feed room so it’s easily accessible. Hang wall boxes out of the way in grooming stalls. Set trunks on chocks at least 8 inches away from stalls in order to access sliding stall doors. Place owner’s trunks in front of owner’s horse. Place all Summerfield trunks close to the grooming stalls. Place water buckets away from feed buckets to keep horses from dropping grain in water buckets, and never fill water buckets before shavings are in stalls or they all get a lovely bucket of shaving soup.
Make a “hay area” in the back of the stall — not on the side where the door is opened, or they stand and poop in their hay area. Position wrap holders not in the way of sliding doors, blanket bars not in the way of wrap holders. Put fans on doors so as not to die by electrical fire when the horse chews the cords. Organize electric configuration for fans. The list of things to strategize goes on and on.
Just when you think you’ve thought of everything, the horses show up and all hell breaks loose. I recall Mr. Serio arriving with the Freightliner he wanted to teach me to drive, seeing the look of death on our faces, wondering what the problem was. He jumped out of the cab, where Elvis and the air conditioning were blasting, in a crisp, clean, freshly ironed, long-sleeve button-down shirt (I’m certain that man travels with a personal valet in the back of the Freightliner, as he always manages to stay clean and look presentable), in leather gloves to protect his hands, wondering why we looked like death warmed over and why the drapes we hung looked wrinkly. “Didn’t you put water on them first to stretch them?” He asked as his dog, Tuf, leapt into the golf cart, which was still in the equipment trailer. At that very moment, I recall turning to Ali and asking her where we put the shovel: “We have a body to bury….”
About the writer: Kathy Serio is an amateur rider based in Wellington, Florida, where she works full time in the equine pharmaceutical industry. In 2012 she married her trainer of 12 years, Tommy Serio, who often calls her “Lucy” for Lucille Ball. Being trained by her husband brings a whole new dimension to riding as an amateur. Kathy spends her spare time riding and laughing with her two- and four-legged gang. As Charlie Chaplin said, “A day without laughter is a day wasted.”
Photos by Kathy Serio