This post is out of order because I wanted to frontload the good stuff — i.e. the most hysterical cross country ride I’ve ever had, seen, or heard about — and then get back to the rest of the stuff. So first: Cross Country at Camelot!
The funniest cross country ride there ever was…
I was, of course, late getting tacked up for cross country, in part due to running around pinning numbers on my class-mates’ saddle pads in addition to getting their bibs tied on. I wasn’t too worried about running late, as Murray had done very well the day before with a minimal warm up, so I just focused on getting him loose and listening and popped over a couple of fences. I had one stop at a smallish vertical, which surprised me, but when I kept my chest up and leg on he went over the next time. Murray was calm walking up to the start box, which was somewhat shocking, but pleasantly so. And then we were in for the funniest cross country ride I have ever been a part of — or witnessed, honestly.
Our approach to the first fence was easy — a welcoming log — but fence number two was near the dreaded finisher’s booth, and Murray was busy staring at that booth and tried to skitter away to the novice fence instead. I pointed him back at the BN feeder, and we popped over a little crookedly. Fortunately for us we got to turn away from the dreaded finisher’s booth right after that. Fence three was easy, we’ve schooled it many times, and I took advantage of a long gallop to fence four to get Murray moving forward a bit. Coming up on fence 4 we approached the observation tower and an all-new horror — A FIRE TRUCK. Murray was not having it with the fire truck, so I got him back to a trot and just kept talking to him to get him forward. Unfortunately, at this point on course (a long open stretch by the water), the horse ahead of me was passing me in the other direction, essentially we were on the same track going to different fences. Murray and this other horse saw one another and let out mutual “OH THANK GOD COMPANY” sighs and scampered over to one another, much to my chagrin. I was like “Murray, stay in your lane!” He did not. I came to a complete stop, and the other girl had an opportunity to trot past me, at which point Murray flipped a bitch and was like “super, I’m just going to be following this guy now!”
Luckily for us we were well out from fence four and it didn’t count as any kind of refusal, and with just a little cajoling I got Murray pointed back towards fence four — one of our favourite big tables that we have jumped many times before. Over fence four, up the bank, and around to the downhill fence that had defeated us on schooling day. Approaching the scary landingless table I asked Murray to trot so he had plenty of time to look at it, but he PULLED me toward it and leaped over it with no questions asked! Much pride.
Six and seven were straight forward, though we had not jumped them during schooling, and then it was back to the passing lane! As predicted (I was almost on time), the next horse on course was coming up behind me and he was COOKING. Murray saw that horse’s confidence and was like “I’M AUDI 500!” and pulled off the track into the weeds to follow the spunky little connemara. I circled, got him back to the trot to pass the scary scary fire truck again, and pointed him at our fence 8 — a purple rolltop into the water.
Our next challenge came at fence 9 — the canoe out of the water. Something near there spooked the boy a little and he skittered sideways in his trademark Murray move. In my trademark Nicole move I kicked him forward to the fence at a walk and patted him and UP AND OVER WE WENT. The show photographer got such a magnificent picture of it.
The rest of the course was fairly straight forward — a quick hop over the dragon wall (pictured above), pull far left to make the turn to a bicycle rack, then a funny little turn to a coffin — easy house-ditch-little house, and then the finish flags.
But oh dear. By the finish flags was that dreaded finisher’s booth again, and Murray saw it after the ditch and was like “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” He slammed on the front brakes and I nearly came off in front of the last fence — AGAIN!! Fortunately for me, it didn’t take much to convince him to trot the little house, and then it was just a teeny weeny bit of convincing needed to get him through the finish flags and past that pony-eating booth.
I had cleverly untied my bib on the cross country course, so it was little matter to slip it over my head, jump off of Murray, run up my stirrups, return the bib, and shower the boy with affection. He deserved it.
Meanwhile, back in Derpssage land….
We started out the weekend with a rather unfortunate series of events that resulted in a two-hour road trip turning into a five hour road trip. In short: the hay blew off the trailer, I tried to fix it, the wind was too strong, we got a flat, 20,000 lbs on a slanted road is too much for a trailer aid, diesel mechanic came to our rescue, etc. We got to Camelot in the late afternoon, and since the schooling event is so generous we were allowed to school the course before the show began the next day. At first I felt rather silly about this — part of the whole reason I was paying for this schooling show was to get Murray a little more show-broke. I want him to be good at venues when he’s very familiar with them and only a little familiar with them. But when I saw several professionals rocking around the XC course themselves (both of whom were in my division) I thought fuck it, and my schooling continued without
Murray was the most cheerful, happy, forward, pleasant, fun pony to ride for schooling that evening. I’d look at a jump, say “let’s go!” and he’d leap into an uphill canter and attack that shit. He was so soft in my hands, but so forward to the fences, there was nothing we couldn’t conquer! We did have a stop at table on a downhill slope with a funny turn after, but we’d been waiting a long time and I was worried about the funny turn so I wasn’t really riding the table. We picked up on more skittery-sideways stop when Murray suddenly saw some flowers in front of another table — one where the landing was invisible from the top side — so I let him have a look, and approached it at the trot and all was well. Since we had such a late “start” to the day, all that there was time for in the evening was taking care of ponies and food for ourselves and literally falling into our tents to sleep.
Saturday morning dawned bright and early, and my lovely teammates fed Murray for me. Thanks to his prolific and public displays of
affection feels, everybody knows he gets no alfalfa, but that also makes him super easy to feed. My tack was filthy and so was he, so I gave him a really solid curry down with a rubber curry and a jelly scrubber, a firm brushing, and then got down to braiding. Of course, I was running late, so I had to press some children into tack-cleaning service, but we got braided and tacked up and dressed and I was really only missing my stock tie — which I was too lazy to tie myself anyway. Murray warmed up really well; he has honestly become 1000% more rideable in dressage away from home. I’m not sure exactly what has influenced him the most, but I’m sure it’s some combination of Murray becoming more mature, getting more experience away from home, and better riding on my part, including more consistent communication through tighter aids. I also have a pretty consistent warm-up routine: walk a fair bit on a loose rein, stretchy trot/canter, then walk again, and finally pick up some real contact and ask for a bit of connection.
From braiding through my warm up it got windier and windier at Camelot — it was blustering pretty well when I finally got in to my test, and given everything that was going on (scary monopod lady, wind, scary judges booth, scary wind, scary crowd watching our dressage test, scary wind, etc.). When we went into our test Murray was pretty noodly, trying to avoid… various things? I couldn’t see anything ahead of us down the first centerline but he was certainly all over the place, but I managed to push him back onto the centerline and got him back togethear ound the first corner. Unfortunately, I was losing my shoulders a bit and kept falling forward a touch when Murray would lean on me, then he would use the slack he’d generated to poke his nose out a bit and take a peek around. I wasn’t quick enough to keep him totally through and round in the environment, so I did my best, and we pretty much got all the movements in the right place. The crowd and monopod lady on one side of the arena made Murray reluctant to head over there in the circles (at the canter especially, and made him quite inverted during the canter), but at least he listened to me when I pushed him out on the circles.
I already mentioned our little flubber moment during the free walk — but basically, while Murray was just getting to X and really stretching down and monopod lady picked up and moved her monopod right in front of us, and Murray was like “uh, nope.” I picked up the contact and asked him to come into it a bit more, but he wasn’t having it, so I just settled for picking up the medium walk early. Our trot transition to the right was obedient but hollow, and our geometry got a little better going right, thanks to the scary things being a bit less visible. Our last centerline was good, but instead of Murray’s typical crisp, square halt, we practically walked into it (and then were critiqued for it being “abrupt” which I found confusing).
After reviewing the pics and video, we pretty much deserved our 40. Murray wasn’t really round or through for more than a few steps at a time for the entire test, and I think I was so focused on keeping him in the court and doing the movements that I didn’t have any brain power left to encourage him to actually use himself. But ah well, live and learn. I’ll push a teeny bit more for the connection next time and see what happens. The tough thing is that I often lose the connection pretty seriously on the first centerline, but I can also often pick it back up in the first corner…. so we will see.
Some final thoughts…
Overall, Saturday was a huge success. We didn’t get eliminated or throw any tantrums in dressage. Murray listened to me and jumped everything on cross country! We came in 21 seconds over optimum time( and the optimum time was pretty generous already), which I was very okay with given that we trotted large sections of the course, circled, and came to a dead stop at least once. The goal had never been to blast around without a care, but to get Murray trusting and listening to me, despite his instincts to save my life through his high-brow jump-judge evasion techniques. I will have a more detailed wrap up/discussion of this later in the week, but it felt incredible to come off course and know that I had made the right choice EVERY TIME and that it had truly paid off for Murray. It felt so much better than blasting around the intro course and finishing with no jump/time penalties, and SO much better than fighting my way around a soft BN course, and SO SO SO much better than being eliminated after riding my ass off!
Tomorrow: stadium. For which I will leave you a little foreshadowing…