clinic notes · cross-country · equine affaire · phillip dutton · video

Phillip Dutton at Equine Affaire

I kind of lost track of time while shopping and only saw the second half of Phillip Dutton’s clinic on using ringwork to prepare for cross country, but what I saw was really terrific.

I had sat through nearly all of Julie Goodnight’s clinic earlier that day on the canter, and was really disappointed at the amount of time she spent covering extreme basics (like…what a canter looks like, and how you have a right and left lead, and how to cue the canter. yeah. that was the first HOUR) so I was thrilled to see that Dutton had a group of extremely capable riders and was kicking their butts.

He worked with individual riders, setting up broad exercises but then addressing each horse and rider pair’s challenges as they worked through it. These were NOT easy exercises – think one stride extreme slices, and one stride right angles, and big wide corners. He had them up and out of their saddles and in a true cross-country gallop to approach some jumps. It was really cool to see, and to see the riders and the horses improve in just a few minutes.

Here are three of the exercises that I watched.

cross-country · scarlet hill farm

Cross-Country Schooling at Scarlet Hill Farm

Last Saturday, Hannah and I took the boys to Scarlet Hill for another cross-country school. We got there a bit late – my fault, I had an hour in my head as the travel time and it was closer to an hour and fifteen – but tacked up quickly and were over and warming up by ten minutes after our start time.

We shared our lesson with a woman on a big, powerful, brave Dutch mare that looked like a tricky ride – very eager! Not my kind of ride, I think, but clearly quite athletic. She and I ended up doing many similar patterns and courses.

Tris and I followed up on our work from the last school: land and go, and work on setting a pace between the fences that would help us to build confidence, jump fences out of stride, and maybe not get overtaken at our next event. After some of our galloping practice in the back fields at home, I was feeling more confident about pushing him for more speed.

We started with a few big loops of straightforward soft BN fences, and I urged Tris forward after every landing. He felt great right off the bat – clicking in with me, going when I asked him to. We had one squirrely moment at our second fence of the first course, a fairly straightforward coop. It wasn’t anything to do with him looking – it was just my lack of focus on the center of the jump. Once I locked in, he did too, and jumped it just fine. D. suggested that for the first few fences on course, I actually sit back down and bring him back earlier than I would otherwise – as many as ten strides out instead of five or six – just to make sure I had his attention.

Really, I was thrilled with him the whole day. The only rough spot was when we did some slightly more technical work, slicing some fences and then coming back to do them as an in-and-out. We’re not great at related distances anyway; Tris has a shorter stride, especially when I haven’t really gotten him forward. Our first run through gave us an awkward 3.5 stride with a launched takeoff in what should have been two. We resettled and sliced a few more times, and then were tasked to run it again, then turn left and go up a decently steep hill and jump a BN house fence at the top.

This time, we did it in a nice smooth 3 strides, and I really pushed him up the hill. He dug in for an extra gear and got to the top of the hill chuffing and excited, and once I found the fence, he shot right toward it and jumped it in style. It was probably our best bit of the day.

We had one more big loop run, which had some pieces I wasn’t thrilled with; he was getting tired, I think, and I slacked off on the land-and-run imperative. We finished over a ditch, and he jumped it nicely though I need to work on my form over the ditch.

We stood while Hannah and Tucker jumped some very impressive, very large jumps in style, then cantered through the water a few times, then home! Exactly what we needed: confirmed our previous lessons learned, and built in some confidence going forward.

cross-country · galloping

Galloping Practice

I have been pondering my XC run at Groton House Farm, and asked J – who had a good vantage point for a large-ish sweep of my run – whether I had been going too slowly, or whether the person following me was going too quickly.

She confirmed that I need to add quite a bit more pace to get around, and also added that in order to get and keep that pace I’d need to get up and off his back more. Which I knew, so here’s confirmation that it’s my next focus.

T. did chip in that going clean comes first, then you add pace, but we seem to be more or less okay with that part (pending exposure & experience, of course), so I was ready to work on pushing him in the gallop last night.

I looped my stirrups (note to self: stop being lazy and punch more holes, already) and we headed off out back. He warmed up a bit sticky at the walk and trot, but was clearly pleased to be out of a ring. Once I had him moving out at the trot, we added in a bit of light cantering around one of the jump fields with me off his back, asking for forward but not reaching for much more than that. I worked hard on keeping my leg on, staying connected, and occasionally tapping him with the crop when he backed off.

Then we added in some more speed, and I worked on not just maintaining but urging him forward from my galloping position. I had a few heart-in-throat moments, which proves to me that a) his steering, especially left, is still not entirely confirmed and b) I still have some getting over myself to do in regards to riding at speed. Particularly downhill.

We weren’t out there terribly long, but we were out long enough for my calves and thigh to start to burn, and when I pushed through that, we got to some really good stuff. He was really reaching for the bit and using himself better, picking up speed but without going completely unbalanced. We had a moment or two turning left, and I chose to sit down on him and bring him to a canter in some circles to get him off my left leg and more supple that direction, then sent him forward again.

(It’s another symptom of our age-old differences between right and left. Tracking left, I get more power and straightness, but he is supple as a brick wall. Tracking right, he is wiggly and supple all over the place, but when I try to add in power and straightness, he drops out from underneath me. We cycle between those two sides every few weeks or months.)

We finished with a good hand gallop up and down the track, then walked back and had one last gallop up the track, and he was getting both a little tired and a little fresh. There was a moment when he put a foot a teensy bit wrong, and bobbled, and was so mad that he launched himself out of it without any urging from me, digging in for another gear and absolutely flying. When we reached the top of the track it took me several strides to bring him back and he practically pranced along the trail to cool out, he was so pleased with life.

The real lesson here is that he does have that gear in him, and when I can find it, he likes it. Now we have to be able to access it sooner and more consistently. Not only that, but earlier – we’re not going to have the time or energy for that much running around in order to get there at a show. Part of it is definitely a fitness question, so that’s the first we’ll address, and hopefully in keeping up these sessions I’ll unlock that gallop earlier.

2012 show season · beland dressage schooling show · cross-country · dressage tests · groton house summer classic

Groton House Summer Classic Recap

Short version: GOOD BOY!

Long version: show prep was delayed on Saturday due to the failure of our apartment’s central air mid-day Friday. I baked up a storm while the repairman cleaned the compressor to rid it of all its pollen build-up. I finally got to the barn around 3:30 and commenced prep, which was actually fairly straightforward. I’ve got a packing rhythm down now, and for the first time this season felt confident in everything I’d packed and gotten done. My prep ride was not good, and in retrospect should’ve been longer – I never quite got him through and connected, but we were in the outdoor and he was pissed about having to work harder in the deeper footing. I gave him an hour-long bath with both shampoo AND conditioner, and he looked fantastic – I even scrubbed his blaze and Quicksilver’d his hind sock to really bring out the white. He was miserable and furious the whole time, but that’s pretty standard for baths.

Sunday morning we got off just a few minutes late, but it turned out I hadn’t allotted quite enough time for tacking up and getting him ready by myself – as everyone else bolted for the Beginner Novice course walk and I didn’t even have time to snag an Elementary kid. It was probably my fastest and most efficient show tacking up ever, and failed on two counts: his braids and my white breeches, neither of which was really presentable. I’m going to have to start braiding him for lessons to get practice back, and to figure out how to secure the running braid, especially the tail end – it’s been pulling out mid-warmup and looking awful.

Warmup was good, not great. It had some nice moments and was in a good place near the end. We needed a bit more suppleness than we ever got. When we trotted around the ring prior to starting he gave bug-eyes to the judge’s house, but we turned and trotted back the other way and he was already over it. We started our test, made the turn at C, then turned to go across the diagonal – and got rung out.

I was completely baffled, and walked back to the judge. “You’re meant to cross the ring directly at B,” the judge said. I stared at her, and said “I thought it was a diagonal?” and my brain completely melted down, thinking oh God, if I’ve memorized this test completely wrong, and how am I going to ride all my diagonals as direct lines, and she said, “You’re riding B, right?” and I said, “Yes, B. But I really thought it was a diagonal.” The judge paused and said, “Novice B, right?” and I felt a huge wave of relief. “No, Beginner Novice B.”

Now that we were on the same page, I circled off the long side, back down the center line, and started my test over. I’d lost some connection and rhythm, though, and was flustered, and on top of never quite hitting my stride in the warmup meant it was not the best test I’ve ever ridden. It did have some nice moments: I was really pleased with my accuracy, making a point to distinguish circles from corners, nailing my diagonal departures and arrivals, and really letting him shine on those diagonals. The left canter was a dud – flubbed the lead, unusual for us, and then meandered down the long side – but the right canter felt good. The final centerline and halt was good.

After the dressage test we had some downtime, as I untacked him, organized jumping equipment, and put him back on the trailer. I settled arrangements to meet my stand-in coach for the day – Denise from my XC lesson last week, as my times didn’t work out to make the general Flatlands one – and then even had a few minutes to chat with people and relax.

Then we went on the XC course walk and my semblance of calm went up like a puff of smoke. It was a solid Beginner Novice course – Denise said that King Oak in the fall will be comparable or even perhaps a bit easier. It was still a good move-up course but this was a big leap of faith I was taking, transitioning up to BN so quickly. Tris and I have a long, solid partnership, we’ve been working to expose ourselves and get off property and stay focused, but this was still not a decision based entirely on safe, solid, reliable mileage.

I brought my camera, but was too busy suppressing my gag reflex to take pictures, and there are no pictures online that I can find, so a verbal description will have to suffice. First jump was a nice, inviting big log uphill, and then a turn left to a bit of an airy three-log pyramid on a fenceline, with a bit of a downhill on the landing. Curve left over a little barn-like coop, and then land and turn right and a bit of a run across the field to what I think was a maxed-out rolltop. This was the first jump of any size and it was the one that I was most worried about. Land from the rolltop and enter the woods, then go left through a gate and over a tiny little ditch. Continue along a trail through the woods, turn a hard right and go down a bit of a steep, rocky, hill, at the bottom of which a sharp left loop and over an open log fence of some size – basically another log coop with zigzag logs across the front. Come out into the back field for an option: big, almost Novice-sized flat-topped coop or a smaller adjacent one. Curve right uphill for a cute little brush fence, and then downhill again for a solid red coop. Through the woods, curving left, and out of the woods off a small drop with a downhill away back into the field, then a hard right back into the woods, up and out the other side and turn left over two related fences, both hanging logs – I believe four or five strides between. Through a bit of a tree line, and down a steep hill into the water complex, which is gorgeous, but we were only doing a mandatory crossing. Cut left after the water to come up around a hill to the right, for a little red bench, then left over a rock pile topped with a log, then uphill over a cabin for the final fence.

It was a solid course. I’m not sure what I expected, but it got in my head in a pretty good way. I walked from that to the stadium course, which was also solid: fairly straightforward lines, but a couple of full-on BN airy oxers. That did not help the knots in my stomach.

I tacked up and got him ready with the help of one of the barn grooms for the day, and we walked up to the stadium warmup, where we stood quietly in the shade with Tristan’s nose on an XC jump that wasn’t on the course. He was near to falling asleep, and I talked to T. for a few minutes, asking him if he had any particular advice for Tristan for the XC course (“Point him at the jumps. Keep your leg on.”). Then it was time for us to put in a few jumps, and oh, did I ever eat the first few. Leaned, didn’t keep my leg on, stared down the jump like it was going to eat me – a tiny little crossrail, mind. T. got after me, and cleared it up, and we had a couple of nice jumps over an oxer, and then waited again. I was more or less completely numb waiting, and then went into the ring, and saluted the judge, and picked up the canter and…locked on the first jump. WHEW.

I think it was one of the best stadium rounds I’ve ever ridden. It flowed, I got my distances, and I was so determined to get up and over everything that I had plenty of leg. We had a small bobble coming to the second-to-last when we didn’t land with the right lead and we had a stride or two of fight about picking up the correct lead, but we nailed it, and then I was so relieved to be coming toward the last jump that the distance wasn’t great, but we did it.

We walked down to XC, and we had a bit of delay so they could keep the numbers of people on the course down, and then they told us to go. I composed myself a bit, and pushed him forward into a trot. We were a bit lacking in impulsion for the first fence – which Denise had suggested we trot, but we landed and we were away. My nervousness translated nicely into laser focus, and there was nothing in my head but forward, forward, forward, and steering. There were a couple moments when his shoulders drifted, but I got them back immediately. Our direction on the course walk had been to land going away, much like our XC school, and we accomplished that on a few fences. There were a few moments when I trotted him – through the gate and over the ditch (which he jumped BEAUTIFULLY, clean and economic and landed cantering), down a few of the trickier hills, over one jump Denise had suggested we trot as it came after one of those hard downhills and picking up the canter on a tight turn would’ve stretched our balance.

We had a few rough spots; the big red coop going into the woods came right after a dirt road. I had thought that Tris might jump the road, actually, and was urging him forward, but he skittered a bit at it – not a stop or spook, more like a moment of uncertainty that there was new footing underneath his feet – which threw us off our approach, and though I had urged him up and forward again he knocked the jump hard with his front legs. He recovered quickly on the landing, though, and didn’t seem too stung, so we kept going. When we emerged up the hill, we were called off by the jump judge to be overtaken – I didn’t think I’d been going too slowly, but so it goes. Then there was a fall on course, so we were a little while in re-starting. I didn’t give him a great approach to the fence, plus he was tiring, and that first fence was a little awkward. I urged him forward for the second, and he cleared it easily.

We trotted down the hill to the water and he went bug-eyed on the approach, but I kicked and kicked and kept him pointed at it, and eventually we trotted in, went back to a walk briefly in the water, and I praised him to the skies and then picked up the trot again out and the canter again going up the hill. The last few jumps were great, and then – since I had jumped the right-hand side of the last fence – there was a split second when I wrestled control of his shoulders back to stay pointed between the finish flag.

I was really, really proud of him, and could not have asked for a better go of his first full Beginner Novice course. He was pretty tired, just stood to be untacked and sponged off, but his breathing came back down quickly, and after he was sponged a few times my father took him for a bit of a walk around the parking lot. When he came back he was completely cooled off, and I put him on the trailer to hang out and rest in the shade, and made much of him.

The rest of the day was pretty relaxing – I spent some time watching other warmups, with friends, and watching the scores go up. Our dressage score of 37.6 had us tied for seventh place after dressage, but after the jumping phases we moved up to third. I hadn’t expected to finish in the ribbons; I was aiming for finishing on our dressage score. I was pleasantly surprised and quite proud of Tris. The only confusing spot of the day was when I looked at my dressage test – and we’d received a four on our free walk. His free walk is usually his shining gait, and I had thought ours was pretty good that day. Ah well.

Home, where I turned him out in his pasture for a long drink and a roll, rubbed him all over with liniment, and gave him a gram of bute with dinner. Back to work on Tuesday for a flat lesson; our next show is a dressage schooling event on July 8.

cross-country · scarlet hill farm · video

Scarlet Hill Photos & Videos

One of the benefits of having M. “squiring” (his word; apparently grooming sounds boring) was that I got to hand him a camera and document the XC school. There are only a few photos after the fall, alas, because he kind of freaked out, but so it goes.

First up, two videos. The first was our first attempt at going forward after a jump, which resulted in the little bucks there. The second was our second try, with me keeping his head up and really sending him forward. I like the second one better, for obvious reasons!


Second, a few photos. I’ll post them in order with my thoughts.

 Warming up, with a little bit of a run.

 I like our distance. I do not like my upper body, or my release. My crappy release will become a theme.

So the goal was, after landing off that jump, to get a good head of steam up, make a wide turn, and head back over the same jump. In this picture you can see my biggest and most constant challenge galloping him: keeping him straight, especially through his shoulders.

 Better, more forward jump! Even worse release and upper body.

Better distance, good forward jump, a bit of height…holy crap my release sucked.

And then, the jump that undid us. You can see two things here: how I was angled and off-center, and the slight shift in Tristan’s body that is him thwacking his RF. (Actually, three things: I’m leaning, which is why I’m about to eat grass.)

So then we rebuilt our confidence with this little jump, over which he is much scopier and centered and I am not leaning quite as much.

abscess · cross-country · falling off · lesson notes · scarlet hill farm

95% Perfect: Cross-Country Schooling at Scarlet Hill Farm

With Tristan completely sound for a dressage ride on Friday night, we went up to our scheduled lesson at Scarlet Hill Farm on Saturday. The trip went well, and we got there with plenty of time to tack up and walk around a bit.

We started the lesson with a bit of trotting and cantering around, and then some small and medium-sized jumps singly. Denise pinpointed our problem almost immediately: Tristan tends to land from cross-country jumps and think he’s done, often coming back to a trot. Part of it is his laziness, and part of it is my fault, leftover from his grab-the-bit-and-run days. In order to build a rhythm out on course, though, and to really work on his galloping, we’ll need to figure out how to land, kick it up a gear, and then come back for the approach to the next fence, all strung together and repeated.

So our task for the first 20 minutes was to get a good, forward approach, land, and gallop off straight. I was to make a really big, exciting deal out of going forward, straight. We’re still dealing a bit with his tendency to fling his shoulders every which way as an evasion. As Denise put it, if he’s going sideways, he’s not going forward.

For the first jump with this strategy, I cantered him up a hill, really zeroed in on the jump, landed, and immediately cheered him on forward – so he threw a party on the landing, as they say, dropping his nose and throwing in a few bucks out of excitement. He’s only done that a handful of times, and I couldn’t stop laughing. He’s still Tristan, so we’re talking mostly speed bump bucks that he stopped as soon as I pulled him up. We tried it once again, and this time I kept his head up and urged him forward, and he found his galloping gear a few strides out. The idea is that teaching him to land and go forward will also help improve our approach, and improve his scope as a consequence.

We then put together a few jumps, in some nice big loops of the field, and I was happy with everything except one piece of my own riding. I didn’t find as many places as I wanted to get off his back, for a few reasons. One, I’m not in the kind of shape I want to be in, and didn’t feel like I could both balance and ride effectively. Two, related, when I got off his back I didn’t have the kind of connection that I wanted in order to keep him forward; dropping back into the saddle helped me bring him forward and up – and then put me in the right place to gather him again for the fence.

Then we strung together six jumps in a row, in a big wide circuit. The first three went beautifully, and after that we had a bit of a downhill run. He was feeling a bit fresh, and a bit off-balance, and at the foot of the hill Denise had given me the choice between a BN-sized jump that was a bit spooky, versus a jump that she thought was 2’9″ or 2’11” – definitely Novice-sized – but rampier and much more straightforward. When I looked at it from up the hill, it also looked like the line would be easier, the turn wider and flatter.

However, I hadn’t anticipated being off balance from down the hill, and I both backed him off a little too much – feeling too fast, though I really wasn’t, and also a bit in my head, as it was bigger than anything we’d jumped yet – and didn’t get my line, angling him a bit to the right and not really channeling him straight over.

We still would’ve been fine save for one final thing: he dropped his right front leg ever-so-slightly and caught his hoof hard on the 4×4 on the top of the jump. Again, still fine, except this was the foot that had just abscessed, and I’m sure dinging it that hard stung like hell. He landed, went OW, and stumbled hard – never falling! – but just enough for me to be thrown forward on his neck. I had a moment or two of trying to save it, and then decided to bail, rolling over his shoulder and landing shoulder-hip-head. I completed the roll and went straight to my feet, to see him hopping around and not even wanting to put the RF on the ground.

I had a moment of sheer panic and checked over the leg – no hair missing, no scuff on the boot at all, and then I saw a scrape on his hoof. Denise made it down the hill, and we stood him for just a second, then walked him about, and then I got on and walked and trotted him for a second. It had clearly stung like hell, but wasn’t any kind of permanent problem. We then proceeded to walk and trot a few times over the smaller barrel fence, the “spooky” one (he didn’t care) in beautiful form, and then we went up to play in the water, just in case his foot did start to ache again.

He did GREAT at the water, everything I could have hoped for – went right in, trotted around, trotted in and out. Then we put together another small course that involved jumping out of the water over a small long, looping around a few small jumps, and dropping back into the water over the same (barely 12″) log – which he’s never done before.

Again – GREAT – and not only that but he jumped out of and dropped into the water SO WELL. Like a pro. Set himself up for it, didn’t launch, didn’t hesitate, slowed down but only a hair, and I was so stinking proud of him. Unfortunately after that loop his foot really was achey – sound at the walk and trot, but clearly not quite up to galloping and jumping. I asked if we could pop him over a ditch while we were there (he has never indicated any signs of being ditchy, but I wanted to cover my bases) and we did so.

As Denise pointed out, he was jumping much better and more cleanly after whacking his foot. She said wryly that it’s a tough lesson, but sometimes they need a bit of a wake up like that. He even got close to cracking his back and getting scopey over a little red house jump. It’s really too bad that he started getting sore again, because he was starting to go really well, but I got everything I wanted out of the day, and we’ll be back next month for more.

He stood quietly to get untacked and bathed, and I rubbed liniment all over, including his RF hoof and sole, figuring why not? When we got back to the barn, I settled him in and soaked his RF again to get some of the sting out, then gave him bute and asked the morning feeder to give him more. That, plus some rest, should put him right as rain.

In the meantime, I am off to Dover to get myself a new helmet (it was due anyway, 3+ years old and dropped a few times) and him some bell boots to go cross-country in from now on…

abscess · cross-country · groton house summer classic

Declaring Victory

Tristan walked and trotted sound on the longe line on Tuesday night, and when I examined his foot, there was no pus at all. We’d been going back and forth on whether the pus was some sort of weird moist environment reaction to the meds in the poultice, or whether it was drainage. The poultice had dried thoroughly and stayed stuck to the bottom of his foot during Tuesday, even though he lost the rest of the boot, and so created a mostly-sealed environment. No pus inside that means I am confident that it was drainage after all.

Wednesday night I rode, and while he felt all sorts of stiff and hinky, he also felt even in the way he struck the ground, which T. confirmed, through the walk, trot, and canter. It makes sense that after a week off and on stall rest he wouldn’t feel great. I stayed on long enough to confirm to myself that a) he wasn’t sore in his feet at all and b) his whole-body issues were related to the stall rest, and I could feel how to work through them. I didn’t want to push him too far and make him sore after being still for so long. I soaked his RF one last time, since I was there anyway, and took his “DO NOT TURN OUT” note off his door.

C. checked in on him last night to clean out that foot, and reported that while he was sick of having his feet messed with, he looked good otherwise. I’ll go down tonight and focus on stretching and straightening and working him through and getting him ready to go XC tomorrow.

Not an ideal place for a lesson – mentally or physically – but I feel good about his soundness, and I will present our challenges to the trainer before we begin. If he shows signs of soreness or it’s not going well, we’ll pull up. I do hope we’ll be able to school productively, though, as this is our confirmation/confidence-booster before going BN at the Groton House Summer Classic next weekend.


Playing catch up again…

Let’s see.

Flatwork: We’ve been experimenting with a better level of collection which has us running into the age-old conundrum of ruining the mediocre now in order to make the next step better. Which is HARD. And always frustrating. We’re trucking along pretty well now with acceptance of the bit and some stretch and looseness and reach, really good at walk and trot, building solidly at the canter, can’t I just settle in with that and have a horse that’s already 200% better than he was this time last year?

No. Not really. So: really setting the outside aids, lift off the inside leg, keep the bend, teasing out more and more pieces of true self-carriage, stay there even when Tristan insists he’s dying, and start to get glimpses and pieces of it actually coming together for one or two strides. Back on the uphill climb part of the training plateau, where we’d been coasting the surface for a long time smoothing out the bumps and making sure his brain was coming, too.

Riding is such a humbling experience sometimes. So many people have told me “oh, it’s just sitting on a horse, I could learn to do that in 20 minutes.” Yes. You probably could, I tell them. I could sit you on a horse, and if you’re already a reasonably athletic, coordinated person, I bet I could get you w/t in 20 minutes, and if you’re very good, canter in half an hour. Then you’ll spend the rest of your life trying to make it *good.* And that’s the part that a lot of people don’t get, refuse to understand. It’s also the part that I find completely addicting.

Conditioning: We’ve started actually working on hills and terrain, really putting the galloping track to good use. March up, march down, then again with leg yields back and forth across the narrow-ish track. Trot up, trot down, if not on the bit then at least stretching and using the body, keeping the march uphill and the balance downhill. Ditto with leg yields. Canter with cadence and balance and a wee bit of stretch. Gallop with my position opening and closing, rating the speed and then coming back, strong half-halts to try and lift what is still a very flat gait. He really enjoys this work, and is always quite chuffed and strutting afterward.

Short version – LOVED IT.

Long version – LOVED IT. Once Tristan stopped trying to bolt. Which really was never anything *bad*, just him expressing his opinion and me temporarily getting up in my head and forgetting that yeah, I can too keep my leg on and control that outside shoulder no matter how much he tries to convince me I can’t. And it was never anything but him needing to say “I still need to say HELL NO first, mom, don’t you ever forget that.”

Because really, once he got over that – and it was just the initial gallop ’round – he was WONDERFUL. Even a tetch lazy, not quiiiiite dragging me to fences like he had last time, which I chalk up to a week-long effort to tire him out. And it meant I got the opportunity to push him to a few fences, which was a-okay with me to practice. Jumped everything happily, only a split-second looky at the water, popped over ditches and banks calmly and quietly, so sensible about things that the clinician said admiringly “He’s really kind of cool, isn’t he?” Which pretty much made my day. Another rider was admiring him too, someone who really knows her horses, and I was SO PROUD of my little mustang.

In short, not preoccupying myself with what he was going to do meant we both got to buckle down and really learn. About jumping fences downhill – leg on, open the body a bit for balance, keep his hocks under him. About really packaging the canter for an up bank. About slipping the reins and finding gravity with my feet for down banks. About softening for a bit after an uphill fence to keep momentum. About focusing my eyes just beyond, but not too far beyond, a fence to encourage a better flow for the whole thing. About trusting him to work out his distances a bit once I’ve found our canter and show him how to carry himself up to the fence.

Biggest “best pony ever” moment of the day might have been when we were asked to lead another balky horse through the water. Yeah. Tristan. Who thinks water is the devil, who had to have another horse lead him through this exact water four weeks ago. Marched right through in front of this little mare, only a hair-second thought of taking a drink, and then waited, standing quietly, in the water. SO PROUD of him.

In short, as always, best. pony. ever.


Cross-country school at Scarlet Hill Farm!

Short version: WHEEEEEE!

My day started at 4am; drove the truck down to the barn, hooked up the trailer (took an embarassingly long time, usually I can hitch it myself in 2-3 tries…) pulled it out and started packing what I hadn’t the night before. Tris could tell something was wrong when he didn’t go outside with his friends, but bless him, only objected mildly and got on the trailer with a minimum of fuss. Trailered up well, came off the trailer at Mach 10, and I only hung on to the lead rope because of the knot at the end as Tris tried to pull me THROUGH the chest bar. I have some very impressive bruises already coloring in, and I don’t typically bruise.

Ah well. Tacked him up while he paced in circles and stared bug-eyed at the world, Hannah made sure his splint boot velcro straps were trimmed to her satisfaction (:P) and off we went – a bit later than the other horses, who were already trotting around when we got there. Tris was high as a kite, so I walked him around for a bit longer, and had a trot in which I asked nothing more than that he start to calm himself. Then we pulled up and T. described an arc for us to gallop. I thought seriously about asking someone to hold Tris so I could go puke in a bush.

Our turn came, and we started trotting, and then I sucked it up and asked for a canter. Did NOT approach gallop, was not going to go there, and that decision paid off when we had a long discussion about turning at the top of the hill to head back down. Muscled through it and jigged to a halt. Then over a warmup fence, which he charged in a bit of a long spot, but which thankfully reassured me a bit that his jumping brain, always good, was still installed. (Every other kind of brain had leaked out his ears at this point, however.)

Next, a short course, and Tristan stomped and cavorted and fidgeted and paced and generally acted like a total jackass while the other horses did it, and oh my God, I spent the whole thing thinking “T. can’t possibly ask us to do that on our first XC school in 2 years, can he? Oh my God, he can. Oh my God, I’m going to die.” Once again, I contemplated puking in the bushes. T. at least gave me some smaller options, and…off we went.

First couple of jumps okay, and then I got totally lost and panicky up on the hill – couldn’t see a line to the logs that the others had jumped, much less the line away from those, so I sort of went around them in a really stupid way and got all up in my head coming toward the next fence, a BN-sized house with a green roof and flopped all over the place and Tristan took his out, cut hard right. Many times. Squirreled and cut and…sigh. After I don’t know how many cut-off approaches I finally got good and mad, about the time T. crested the hill and started talking me through it step by step, and we had one prop/deer jump through the middle, circled for it again, and then went, I kid you not, SIDEWAYS over the corner of it. It must have been really interesting to watch.

One more approach, one more cut out, and now I was PISSED; circled again, and we went over it with a huuuuuge flyer, but straight and true, and T. started calling out leetle elementary jumps for us, building a rhythm, not letting me think about it, using my gritted teeth and my anger to build confidence, and bless him, it was perfectly done. Tristan started to find a rhythm, he started to jump them straighter and cleaner, and I could feel him start to widen his brain and take it all in.

Back down to the others, and for the rest of the (two hour) school, though I was not infrequently nervous, especially about galloping way off from the others, I was not scared again.

So, next up: ditch. Scarlet Hill had a neat little ditch complext that was a half-ditch (one side riveted, other side natural), an E ditch and a BN ditch side by side. Tris and I were tasked to trot over the half-ditch, since it was his first ever. And my God, he NAILED IT. Big strong surge of a jump, not a moment’s hesitation, a clear enjoyment of launching himself into space. Never even thought about looking at it (though to be fair it wasn’t very looky). One of the times over he was so pleased with himself he threw his head down and started bucking, nothing bad, just exuberance. GOOD. BOY.

On to banks next, up and down something I think was a low BN? I’m not great at eyeballing height. We trotted up to it and LAUNCHED into space over it. I am sad to admit I did not grab mane in time and probably caught him pretty good. He didn’t especially seem to care. Turn around, trot down, no hesitation at all, just dropped down. Trot up again, and he offered a canter so I took it, and he jumped up much better – more economical, more clean, more straight. Down again was quieter yet, a more true drop instead of a jump off. No hesitation, no spooking, no questioning. GOOD BOY again.

Then we did a bit of a course: up the bank, over a series of planters into a field, up over a stone wall out of a field, up a stone wall at the top of a hill, back down, over the same stone wall into the field, down through the field, over a baby coop to get out of the field, down the same bank. Bank up went well, and Tris jumped me right the hell out of the tack over the planters into the field, I gathered just in time to point and boot him over the stone wall, and half-halted hard enough that he trotted up the hill and over the stone wall. Fine by me; these were all easily jump-able from the trot, and I wanted more positive than challenging today. Less of a launch back into the field, and we had a bit of a discussion about hand-galloping down the hill to the coop. Landing was a wee bit spooky, with tall grass a few feet away from where he put his feet down that he didn’t want to run through. Bank was a bit more of a launch, but he was quite pleased with himself overall.

Then, water. Oh, Tristan. I knew he’d have issues. He HAAAAAATES water. Luckily, issues were minimal; after a few minutes of planting his feet and spinning around hard, T. had C. and her big bay horse trot past us; I kept kicking; Tris eyeballed the big bay horse and trotted after him. Didn’t give me another problem about it after that – we trotted back through a few times and even picked up a canter in the water to come out.

Lastly, a big long course. Down to the banks, up the hill to do the same loop we’d done before, back up to the same loop we’d started with that Tris and I botched so badly. No rosy glow for me; I was as nervous as I’d been, and starting to get very tired to boot. Tris, who’d gotten himself quite wet cantering through water, was shaking like a miserable wet dog (hard enough to jar me out of the saddle) and pawing and generally making his displeasure at his wet state known.

Nothing for it: started off down the hill. Jumps all went much smoother than the first time around, and this time he felt more balanced down the hill; we held the hand-gallop over the baby coop, and down the bank, and up the hill he felt like he had a little more in him, so I opened him up. Something clicked in his brain, and he was ON. Next was a transition pile of logs, tiny, he flew over it out of stride, chaaaaarged up the hill in a fast hard gallop, taking me to the next fence: he wanted it, and he wanted it bad. All of a sudden I had a cross-country horse underneath me, and oh. Oh, that was amazing.

Up the hill, and there were those log piles I’d skipped the first time. I had a brief moment of indecision, then pointed him at the BN one; he checked back in, I said go, and ZOOM. Down the hill, circle around, attacked the little house like he’d never had a problem with it, down over the ditch, then through the water – checked back in again just before we went in, but I responded in the affirmative, and he dug for another gear. Zoomed through it. Pull up, many, many, many pats, and he was done.

He was almost insufferably pleased with himself, prancing and motoring around, ears pricked. T. actually used the word “astounding” to describe how Tris started to eat up the course on the last run. No one could believe that was his first XC school in so long, much less his first ditch, bank, and water. Oh, and have I mentioned that he’s 15, and wasn’t really ever handled until he was 11?

I. Love. This. Horse.