I’m past patiently waitin’
I’m passionately smashin’ every expectation.
Every action’s an act of creation!
– My Shot; Hamilton
I had a luscious four hours between dressage and cross country, so settled down for a celebratory post-dressage beer and sangwich. I chatted with the people across from me, bought the big pink hat, and walked the cross country course one more time. I had already memorized it, but took our barn manager’s kid out with me to talk strategy.
Much of the course was what I had jumped while schooling, but there were a few odd questions scattered in there. One jump had us turning right to scoot between a prelim fence and the edge of a water complex we didn’t actually have to enter, up to a quarter round with brush under a tree. (I later heard someone complaining bitterly about that fence, but really found it rode fairly well.) We had a faux trakehner (aka a vertical with a really fat ground line), a house down bank (about 5 strides), and a half coffin with ditch to log fence. No truly related distances, but some fun stuff to ride. There were two fences on course that I was a little worried about. One was the ditch, which I know Murray is a little looky at when he hasn’t been schooling much, and the other was a very simple log a few strides out of the water. The complexity with the log was that you had to make a hard left out of the water to get there, and it was flanked by an enormous advanced table with fluffy ferns and all kinds of terrors on it. So I was worried that Murray would spend all his time peeking at the corner and not listening to me (little did I know).
I also took a moment to check in with the office about the rules of schooling the ditches. The office girls kindly directed me to the president of the FEI officials )Wayne Quarles), since the president of my ground jury wasn’t in the office at the time. So Wayne asked me what the rulebook (which I was conveniently carrying with me) said about schooling and I plaintively exclaimed that I couldn’t find a rule in there about it! Wayne took over the rulebook for me and had a look through and Francis O’Reilly, the president of the ground jury for the HT, showed up. Francis said I would be able to school any fence a level lower than mine, but if I had no lower level ditch available to me for schooling then I was out of luck.
Wayne pointed out that there is actually no specific wording in the rule book about it and that some officials interpret this to mean that if the obstacle is not flagged on the course at the competitor’s level, it “does not exist”. And you can’t get eliminated/penalized for doing something that “does not exist”. The caveat to this, of course, is dangerous riding, for which a rider could be eliminated at any time. Francis agreed, and told me that I could school the novice ditch if I needed but cautioned me to “be safe”.
The drama of the unfortunate wardrobe malfunction is pretty straightforward: I didn’t unpack the trailer properly, and didn’t pack my pinny holder at all, so I found myself just 36 minutes out from my ride time with no girth, no saddle, and no pinny holder in which to ride. My barn manager loaned me her daughter’s saddle and I used my short black fuzzy girth (a wardrobe malfunction if I’ve ever seen one!), and ran up to get Murray ready and find me a pinny holder. There was only a short step stool available to me, and when I tried to jump up into the foreign saddle I didn’t quite make it and landed behind the saddle on Murray’s back instead. You can imagine just how thrilled that made Murray, but I refused to fall off and dumped my whip and somehow scrambled into the saddle.
We walked down to XC warmup and the steward told me that I had 15 minutes until my ride time, which sounded absolutely awful considering that I was an absolute mess after the last 30 minutes of panic and drama. I was nearly crying, and nothing felt right — the saddle was different, obviously, and my stirrups were too long but maybe not, and my reins were too slippery and definitely, definitely too long for us — they were practically getting looped around my foot. I cantered off so I wouldn’t be able to cry, and while B got the other BN rider on my team off to the start box I popped Murray over a couple of fences. Murray was pretty game at first, cantered the X and vertical well, but when I pointed him back at the vertical he shook his head and ran sideways.
I got back over the vertical and over the log jump once, but at that point more and more horses were joining the warm up and Murray was not having it. He ran sideways when I pointed him at the fences, and B suggested I just head out to the start box. And it was a good thing too, because I got to the start box with only 51 seconds to go. Walking over there, B told me to head out of the start box really relaxed and like we were schooling — no pressure on either of us.
I knew, after all the mayhem leading up to cross country, that I wasn’t going to be going double clear, so it was just a matter of sticking to my goals and managing my expectations. The goal was to get Murray over all of the fences, and not let him work himself up into a state where he would start running out or stopping at fences. I’d school the ditch if I needed, and there was nothing on course that we couldn’t trot if it came to it, so that’s what we would do.
Apparently, I needn’t have worried. We trotted out of the start box and I let Murray fall into a canter as we approached the first fence, a coop. Murray didn’t think twice about the flowers or the course or the other horses galloping around him, and he jumped over with some gusto, kicking and playing after the fence. But then we were on to the turkey feeder for fence 2, and Murray leapt happily over that one too. I still wasn’t feeling quite myself, so started singing to myself on the long gallop to fence 3 — though it was pretty strangled and un-melodic, just me chanting the words to the only song I could think of at the time: Counting Stars by One Republic.
We schooled the first water, and it was a good thing too since Murray came to a stop and stared at his reflection for a moment before trotting through. The funny brush jump I mentioned above rode really well — Murray looked at the big fences on the left and trotted into the water, then spooked a little at the water, and right over the fence. I was the tiniest bit worried about that fence since I heard someone talking loudly about the track I’d taken.
There was a long gallop stretch between fences 8 and 9 and Murray really wanted to stretch out. I, on the other hand, really needed him to lift his head up and listen to me because 9 was a little house headed down hill to a down bank. Once again, Murray was ready for the down bank even if I wanted him to slow down and think about it, and he popped right down the bank. 12 was the half coffin and Murray was galloping so well I didn’t really have time to think about schooling the other ditch, we just went for it. I gave him a big half halt Murray told me to suck it, and cantered over the ditch in stride and out over the logs.
The last potential trick on course was that log by the corner, and I did get Murray to slow to a trot through the water so we could get a good track. Then it was just up over a little mound, over a table, and down through the flags.
I couldn’t believe it when we got through the flags without a single jump penalty, and only needing to school the water. I knew I’d made the right choices for Murray and me, but what I didn’t expect was for Murray to take such a big step up to make up for my inadequacies. I went on to cross country insecure and anxious because I’d been stupid and was ill prepared, but Murray knew his job and took over the rest for us. I didn’t feel a moment of hesitation from him on course, and any time I asked him to take a moment to think about a question he was more than happy to tell me that he’d already thought about it!
It was the best cross country run that I’ve ever had, and even if we did come in 35 seconds over time, now I know that we are more than prepared for this challenge. Next time, we’ll go for time too!