xc schooling: this is not a negotiation

The thing that sucks about being an integral part of event organization/management is that you spend all this time making courses fun and rideable, and then you decorate them and make them all gorgeous and even more fun, and then you clean them all up before you get a chance to ride them. I mean, talk about unfair. So obviously I’m all over any opportunity to school the course when one comes up — especially right after the event, when the footing is still awesome!

Murray was hard to read for much of the time we were on course. He was super calm and mellow walking around, not jigging or spooking or pulling ahead of the group. Just walking around and enjoying the scenery. And that is awesome! I totally want ponito to be calm and mellow out there.

When we started warming up over the easy, mellow fences, Murray got a bit of pep in his step. He pulled me toward the little logs on the ground, and even some of the bigger ones.

Then we came to a fence that was a bit bigger, and a bit more like a cross country jump — a pretty standard log box, nothing too exciting. Just a bit different. And Murray was like “okay, okay, okay” right up to the base and then “WOAH NO WAY”. Which is really not that easy to ride, especially when you’re not in the best riding shape yourself.

So I got a little defensive and kicked Murray toward the smaller fences for more of  warm up. And in response he got pissed.

The problem with riding defensively (for me, at least) is that it means I get left waaay behind over the fences, and I can’t stick with the motion of the jump. I unfold the landing gear way too early, and end up slamming down on Murray’s back and/or face with every fence. Which is understandably unpleasant.


not how i want to be landing

But when your horse is being pulling you forward one moment and slamming on the brakes the next, it’s hard not to get defensive. And when he bucks and leaps and throws his head up so high he’s looking back at you between his ears well… you don’t really want to let go of those reins.

That is, of course, why I have a neck strap. I was just too stupid to think of it at first.

hello, mother!

We jumped back and forth over the log for a bit, with an unnecessary amount of accompanying antics. So I decided to leave the log box for later, when Murray was in a bit better mental space, and we headed up the hill to watch the prelim and training team tackle the down banks.

I had wanted to practice over one of the medium (probably 3′ drop?) banks, since Camelot often has one. But we just settled for watching and laying down in the grass instead.

When we got to the little BN/Novice banks, Murray was like “YES UP BANKS YES” and he was awesome! Then I turned him around to go down them and he was like “NO HELL NO”.

Long story short we tried easing him into it by going off the edges and just representing and representing and representing and following another horse and Murray just doubled down with Nope. I could feel him pushing his sides out against my leg further and further back from the lip of the bank, and could just tell that the conversation was getting less and less productive. It would have been different if there had been an even smaller bank to step down, but as it was I called it off. I knew it wasn’t going to get better, only worse.

So we moved on to the water. After which came Murray’s piece de resistance of NOPE.

look it’s just a little rainbow chevron! it’s awesome, okay Murray?!!

So there’s this new rainbow coop coming out of the water. And I’ll admit, it’s painted a little scarily for a pony. It’s probably a bit weird looking in their not-quite-full-color vision. And Murray was having NONE of it.

I walked him up to it, had him touch it, let him look over both sides of it. Then we trotted up to it and he was like “naw” pretty far out. So I cantered up to it and he was still like “nope.” We switched to the other side so he was going back to the group and he SCREECHED to a halt basically right on top of the fence. And then he did it AGAIN. And then I smacked him with my reins, gave him a good long runway, and got a quality, rhythmic canter going. And he stopped again.

Each time he stopped he was basically on top of it. Front feet touching the base board, nose right on top of it. He just didn’t want to jump it.

I’m not going to pretend I was giving him the perfect ride every time. But it was a good enough ride and a small enough fence that stopping on top of it was truly unnecessary.

a much more reasonable landing position! yay

This might be too much anthropomorphism, but it really felt like Murray was thinking “I don’t know if you recall, but I don’t have to do this anymore if I don’t want to.” Which is, unfortunately for him, not the case. I’m not going to ask him to do anything too crazy. And in response, he’s going to have to do what I ask.

We had this discussion once more about a bright orange table (think Home Depot if it were a highlighter), and then a small green and blue bunker. After the green and blue bunker there was a long gallop stretch, and Murray really took off and flattened out. And I think something clicked then — that cross country is the place where we do the jumping and the galloping and it’s not soooooooooooo bad out here after all.

We schooled the ditches with a good bit of success (it really was my fault for letting Murray point himself at a ditch I knew had just been filled with white gravel — I should have given him more of an opportunity to look at it first), and Murray started pulling me toward the fences again. I felt like we were finally in a good enough rhythm that I could get into a proper jumping position and stay out of his way, and in return he could use his body the way he wanted to.

We ended with the last few fences on the Novice course — a large hanging palm log on a gentle downhill, short gallop, then a pretty sharp left turn to a little coop. Murray cantered down to the palm log and felt so good that I just let him gallop on to the final fence. He slowed to a trot for a hot minute when he thought that I was going to ask him to jump the training or prelim fences backwards, but then I turned him onto that sharp left and he saw the coop and was like “oh super!” and trotted right up and over it.

Getting into that groove felt awesome! I just wish it hadn’t taken us 90 minutes to get there! Fingers crossed that with a few more jump lessons and another XC outing under our belt we get back to that place of rideability more quickly and can actually, you know, run a whole course.