yves clinic with mom-bod-mare!

Big news for the MBM: she has a new owner, and a new name! Little Miss Perfect is now Suzy, and she has a lovely new human who is going to learn to event along with Suzy! She also gained a couple of little girls who adore her and feed her heaps of carrots, and who Suzy will get to tote around and care for like the broodmare she is. And the best part for me? I still get to ride her a bit!  Suzy’s human was kind enough to let me ride the little mare in a clinic with Yves Sauvignon on December 3rd.


just the cutest little trot

Funnily enough, it’s been a couple of weeks since I last rode Ms. Suzy.  Her owner was riding of course, and just hadn’t needed me to jump in since before Thanksgiving! I wasn’t entirely sure where Suzy stood, but I shouldn’t have worried — she was the super star I’ve always known her to be.  Our warmup was quick and simple, just a bit of WTC in each direction, before Yves had us head through a set of four trot poles.  Suzy rushed the poles the first go through and cantered right out of them, so I settled a little deeper in the saddle and worked on achieving a more balanced and quiet trot. Our next few trips through the trot poles were quite nice, and Suzy got a really nice pace the last go through.

 

Our jump warmup was unremarkable, if a little disorganized. It took Suzy a minute to get into the rhythm of jumping, and we knocked a few down before we got fully organized. My position was a bit better during warmup, which I could probably attribute to focusing on quite a few more things once we got going a bit (keeping the canter, good turns, straightness, pace, etc.).  But I would like to be a little softer on her mouth throughout the ride!

not a traditional picture, but v. exciting because Suzy didn’t really have a moment of suspension in her canter for quite a while. now look at all that air she’s catching!

Yves asked us if we had cantered fences, and I had to respond that we hadn’t reaaaalllyy…. I know Suzy has done it with her owner (I’ve watched), but her canter is still fairly weak and she isn’t confident in it. She is inclined to break to the trot before any kind of footsy challenge — canter poles or fences, for example.  So we kept it to a trot right up until the end.


yeah, she really is that dang cute

Yves set up a series of fences that would help us start thinking about getting the correct lead after a fence, changing directions, steering, and straightness.  The first was a single trot fence with a big sweeping rollback at the canter to another trot fence.  Suzy and I got the correct lead the first time but biffed the first fence, so we tried again.  This time we got the wrong lead, so Yves had us change leads through the trot, make a circle, then come back to the trot before the second fence.

The exercise was three fences set more-or-less along the centerline of the arena. You jumped one fence and made a big sweeping turn to the next one, in the pattern of a three-loop serpentine.  We approached tracking left, which is Suzy’s weaker lead, and if we landed on the left lead we could continue on. If we landed on the wrong lead for the pattern we were to trot, change, circle, and trot again before coming to the next fence.

such cute!!

After one go through at the trot, where we had to change leads both turns, Yves had us approach at the canter. I asked what he wanted me to do if Suzy broke to a trot before the fence.  Yves responded that he wanted us to canter, but if the trot was the right decision for that fence, then let her trot.  Seems mystical, but I knew what he meant: make it a good experience for the horse, whether at the trot or canter.  I know that she’ll only get better at cantering fences if we actually canter the fences, but it’s hard when Suzy really lacks confidence at the canter.  Yves reminded me to wrap my lower legs around her and really support her at the canter to help her along.

it’s a lovely canter when we get it!

Our first attempt at cantering the second fence was a tiny mess. Not a real mess, but definitely not our best work (it got better, though!).  Suzy wanted to trot so badly, and I squeezed and squeezed. She trantered a little, but it still had a bit of rhythm to it, and we made it to the fence at a pretty good spot.

not the trantr fence, but what am i doing with my hands?!

Our next few attempts went even better! Suzy was more confident, so she didn’t try so hard to trot on the way in to the fence. Her canter has such a great cadence — every step is very similar, so it was easy to know where we could take off each time!  Yet another thing to love about this mare.

so sporty!

We made a couple of good attempts at picking the right lead over the fence. Well, really, I’m not sure what I did — I just really thought about the direction I was traveling after each fence and rewarded Suzy heartily for getting the correct lead when I did that. I watched the video over and over to see if I did anything to help her but… I can’t see that I did anything, really.  So we’ll give the credit for that to Suzy.

My one glaring error was that I kept turning Suzy rather poorly, overshooting the center of the fence and ending up off to the far side of the fence. I tried (somewhat erroneously) to correct and head back toward the middle of the fence after doing this, which resulted in lots of crooked fences.  Yves encouraged me to just ride straight to the fence, even if we were a little off-center.  I’m not entirely sure what I need to do to sort the turns out… I tried turning earlier, but somehow still ended up overshooting the center. So perhaps I need to commit to the centerline a little earlier?  Not sure.


a tiny attempt at sass in the lead change

The best part was Yves complimenting me several times on making the right choices.  I just followed my instincts with what Suzy needed — usually just less speed and a steadier cadence, but also a few well-placed circles that let us get that steadier cadence.  It’s so wonderful to hear that your instincts are correct!  Such a big pat on the back for me. And extra big pats for Suzy for being such a good sport, and trying so hard. We got lots of good exercises during the lesson to help her progress and get stronger. The hard part will restraining myself so I don’t tire her out with my enthusiasm.

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fat bottomed girl / footloose

The fat-bottomed-girl has been trimming down and shaping up lately.  MBM is such a smart and funny girl, and so different from Murray.  So different. Our time together is coming to an end, as MBM is currently on trial with her new home.  But lucky for me, her prospective owner is very lovely and has asked me to keep riding a few days a week when she can’t get out.


getting trimmer, right?

One of the biggest surprises to me with MBM is how little confidence she has in her canter.  She actually has a lovely canter when she relaxes and slows down, but her instinct is to brace and race.  Even in her more controlled canter, she will break to a trot before we get to a canter pole.  I’m  used to horses who would rather canter poles than trot them, not those who would rather trot.  But her canter will never get stronger without practice, so I’ve devised a few ways to trick MBM into cantering over poles or very small fences.  A pole or small X just three strides out from a fence works nicely — it’s far enough that it’s not stressful, but close enough that the momentum from the fence carries us forward in a canter.  In one little jump session I could feel MBM become much more confident in her canter over the poles, which was really cool.

Queen of Cantering Verticals inspects her handiwork.

A post shared by Nicole Sharpe (@nicolegizelle) on

Oh and jumping. She does that. Without a second thought.  She needs a look at things before we go over them still, but she will go right over if you keep her straight to them. It’s all itty bitty baby stuff right now, but her attitude about it is super cool.


sporty, sleek mare vs. fluffy, feral gelding

Murray, on the other hand, is as fluffy and feral as ever.  Our clicker training is going so well, but unfortunately I had to back off the hand-walking because he’s gotten a couple of bandage rubs.  Those are closing up really quickly, but walking is unlikely to help them.

Thanks to being stuck in his stall more and the quick change in the weather (it was 80 on Saturday and 35 on Monday night, Murray is getting pretty uppity.  Our hand walk on Sunday was a little wild.  My attempts to  keep him at arm’s length from me were not totally successful, and I got shoulder checked a couple of times.  Murray didn’t seem to understand that shoulder checking me led to no treats, but did care about being pushed away and rewarded me with plenty of head shaking and body wiggles.

Poor pony boy got so confused when he saw another horse walking by the arena in a halter.  He thought he was going to get some turnout time and started leaping and playing around on the end of the lead rope. I got his head back on his shoulders, and we continued our walk.

And then a stiff breeze blew up his butt.  More shenanigans ensued, but as always, he didn’t pull me and directed all flailing feet far away from me.  I stood there and thought “why am I not taking pictures of this?”  He bucks big and leaps in the air to boot, it’s completely ridiculous, yet weirdly in control, which is why I seem to find it funny.

Of course, it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurts.

When we walked past one of the turnouts on our way back to the barn, Murray wiggled and flailed and his left hind came to the side (classic Murray move) and grazed the back of my right leg and glanced off my right quad above the knee.  I’ve never been kicked before so have no frame of reference, but this was pretty mild I suspect.  I doubled over and took some deep breaths to get myself sorted and re-oriented.  And by the time I thought “oh, Murray should probably know that this is an unacceptable behavior” he was standing quietly at the end of his lead rope looking at me, like “what, did something happen?”

So yeah. Do not recommend.

BUT the mighty leg hole has reached a new stage of healing (there’s a SCAB!!!!!!!!!) which means that we are probably only a couple of weeks out from some real turnout. And then  Murray will be back to his normal, lazy, dopey self. Hallelujah.

weirdly delighted at the hoof detail you can see in this

 

lessons from children

This week has been a hectic one, for both pony and non-pony business.  I have to negotiate the process of getting a new passport (more complicated than it should be, but I’ll cover that when it’s all said and done) and we leave for Camelot on Friday, so there’s lots of packing and laundry and tack cleaning to be done.  And I’m moving at the end of the month.  And the WSS Horse Trials are on September 2nd. And I expanded one of my positions at work.

You know. Just a few things going on.

Anyway, my fearless leader had to travel for the first half of this week, leaving me without a trainer for a jump lesson pre-Camelot.  This isn’t a big deal, since our jump lesson last week was super fab, and we also get to school the XC course on Friday prior to showing.  But one of the young riders, and resident kid of our barn manager, set a new stadium course on Tuesday so I asked her to give me a little lesson before Camelot.  This kid, we’ll call her Pie, has been running prelim for the last year and riding naughty ponies as long as I’ve known her.  She also has plenty of experience riding Murray, though mostly early in his career. And she’s fifteen.

screengrabs courtesy of my teenage tutor

During warm up, Pie told me to slow my trot on approach to a crossrail.  I was like “um, do you even Murray, bro?” because a slow trot always leads us to disastrous warm up fences.  I much prefer to over-do it and kick him to them instead.  She insisted at the canter as well, and I didn’t comply and pushed Murray for a long spot instead, which resulted in a really ugly chip + me getting ahead.  So it was going so well so far.

I didn’t want to jump too much, so Pie built up the course in pieces.  We started with a short approach to a white gate, rollback to oxer, shallow bending line to vertical.  I kept my philosophy of squeezing Murray into the contact in my mind, and tried to remember my revelations from earlier in the week (post also coming later) about shaping Murray using both my inside and outside aids before a transition.  The transitions weren’t beautiful, and the canter still wasn’t in my hand, but stadium rounds start whether you’re ready or not, so I tackled the first fence.

Murray, shockingly, did not stop at the gate, which hasn’t been on a course in six months or more.  He did pull a little through the rollback, got a funny spot to the oxer, and somehow what should have been an easy seven turned into an ugly eight for us.  We tried again, and got the same funny spot to the oxer, then I pushed for six strides yet drifted even further out on the bending line for another ugly eight (or seven, I don’t even know).

Murray: oh Nicole, could you stop biffing the turn to this oxer please?

Pie lectured me about the bending line.  I needed to pick a track and ride for that track, instead of not picking a track and riding for nothing.  “And half halt,” she added.  Which, to her credit, she had been saying to me for the entire lesson already.  I just wasn’t really listening.

Half halting my horse is hard. Half halting while jumping results in slowing down and stopping.  Much safer to push.

Anyway, we finally committed to a good distance, then added in a triple bar (!!! for triple the fun) with five strides to another vertical.  I felt Murray hesitate ever so slightly as we first approached the triple bar, so I tapped him lightly on the shoulder (and immediately regretted it because I worried that he would use it as an excuse to lose forward momentum), and we went right over.  I did absolutely climb his neck at the vertical though, because we had too much speed coming in.  Pie told me to half halt, I did nothing, and so we got yet another atrocious spot.

In case you haven’t caught on (I hadn’t), that was the theme of this lesson: Pie told me to half halt, I didn’t (or maybe did, but only a little), chased my horse to the fences, and got shitty spots.  It was the. whole. lesson.

Murray, on the other hand, was a freaking star.  Long spot, short spot, Nicole climbing his neck, Nicole getting behind — he jumped it all.  He is clearly ready for this.  At one point we lost momentum after a sharp turn to the barrels, and when Murray had nearly ever excuse to stop over it, he went anyway.  He was jumping really well, and being so, so, so rideable.  He was a good boy.

I, on the other hand, was riding like a juggalo.

please, Nicole, please learn how to land from a fence

After a full course at Novice+ height (we measured later and Pie had set it kinda big, which is good because that’s how I like to prep for a show), we discussed my half halting problem.  I had realized throughout the lesson that my problem was that when I heard “half halt” I was hearing “slow down”, and the two aren’t really equivalent.  I also didn’t want to half halt because I have a tendency to be grabby with my hands, and that really does slow us down.  If I instead half halted with my leg on (you know, a real half halt), I could balance Murray’s energy instead of letting it get long and flat.

Pie also said that I needed to stop chasing my horse to fences, and trust more than he was going to do his job.  The phrases “you don’t need to gallop to every fence” and “this is not cross country” may have come up.

But, I whined, I’ve had to kick Murray to fences for so long that I don’t know how to do anything else.

Half halt, Pie told me.

I settled on one more course of a few fences to get the pace and balance right.  I picked up a canter and approached the first set of jumps — the ones that had given me so much trouble throughout the day.  “Is this the canter I want?”

Pie told me to half halt. (She does actually know how to give directions other than this one.)

Magically, we hit the gate perfectly.  Through the rollback, Pie told me to half halt again.  So I did.  I crossed the line we had (literally) drawn in the sand to mark where I should be able to tell how many strides it was to the oxer (yet another problem I was having), so I told Pie that it was three strides from there.  Which it was, perfectly.  I had to half halt again in the bending line to the vertical, but that also worked out perfectly.

The first three fences had gone so well that I decided to just finish out the course.  Coming down to the triple bar I heard Pie tell me to half halt again, so I did, and that one was a perfect spot also.  Every single fence came perfectly, except one that I couldn’t resist chasing Murray to the base of.

this is particularly impressive as it’s the out of a one-stride

So yeah.  I spent my morning getting schooled by a fifteen-year-old, which I am not used to.  I’m sure I would have struggled with the directive to half halt even if it came from B, though I probably would have just done it because it’s ingrained in me to do what I’m told by authority.

I learned a lot from this lesson.  Namely, my horse is being a fantastic boy right now, and I should trust him a little more.  I can’t chase him to the fences, because it messes up his ability to find an appropriate takeoff.  I seem to have no clue what an appropriate canter is for stadium, but I’m sure I’ll learn.  And for god’s sake I need to remember to half halt (when Pie tells me to).

Next step: fix those atrocious hands and awful landings!

video from twin

I splurged and bought RideOn Videos at Twin, and it was not a waste!  I can’t embed them, but you can find them on the RideOn website.

Dressage (watch out for Murray’s buck right at C!)

http://www.rideonvideo.net/watch.php?vid=6d924f210

Cross Country (I look like a drunk monkey in this video, but since it represents a significant portion of the first 30 minutes I ever spent in that saddle, I’ll take it — plus, Murray was such a star)

http://www.rideonvideo.net/watch.php?vid=c6a797d86

Stadium (sometimes, you’ve just got to double check every fence on course to ensure there are no crocodiles or spare mongooses beneath them)

http://www.rideonvideo.net/watch.php?vid=11a7ef591

 

twin recap: enough

Look at where you are,
look at where you started.
The fact that you’re alive is a miracle,
Just stay alive, that would be enough.

– Non-Stop, Hamilton

 I told you this entire week would be about Twin.  I needed to get it all down for myself, so I can remember everything.  There are a few more things to wrap up, a little more retrospective, and a little less gloat-worthy.  Though there will still be a bit of gloating — one can’t help oneself after such a weekend.

victory can-NOPE

Between cross country and stadium Murray dug up his entire stall, added a small water complex, and took full advantage of the terrain.  I tried to flatten it out when I checked and walked him on Friday night, but dirt that your horse has dug up and then peed on is HARD to move with a pitch fork.  And he completely dug it up again the next morning so… I gave up.

After stadium Murray was practically throwing himself on the ground, and I knew he’d been struggling with the fact that he’d been essentially unable to roll all “weekend”.  I quickly untacked him and in lieu of a rinse took him down to the lunging arena for a little roll in the soft sand there.  Murray was more than happy to comply, and somehow on his first roll managed to unlatch his halter and stood up happy as a clam… and totally loose.  Fortunately he was also too tired to go running off, and the other girl in the arena thought it was funny rather than annoying.  He had six or seven more good wallows in the sand before I put him back in his stall, which he flattened out over the course of the next day until it was hardly possible to see that he’d completely re-engineered the day before.

The tubigrip solution worked splendidly to ice Murray’s legs.  I cut a length of tubigrip twice that (and a bit) of Murray’s front canons and pulled it on over his shoes, folded over, with the fold at the bottom.  It was very easy to stuff ice cubes in the pocket that created, and then move the ice around with my hands to give coverage where I wanted it.  Since Murray’s extensor tendon swells on front of his left canon, I wanted ice over the front and back of his legs, so this was nice. I wrapped the ice pocket up tightly with a polo wrap, which helped keep the ice up as well as added some cold pressure to the whole shebang.  After that they stayed up nicely for 30 minutes, and I had a cold, wet piece of tubigrip to use over the poultice when I was done to boot!

The most wonderful thing about this entire weekend was feeling all of our hard work and training pay off.  We have both worked hard — Murray to improve me as a rider, me to teach him some fraction of what he ought to know.  And it has been a road full of terrain, water traps, and even a few U-turns and misdirections.  There are so many times when I wished I could have bought a horse who was braver, more reasonable, more compliant, a better mover, smarter — I didn’t want any of those things this weekend.

I bailed on our partnership ways only a human could, and Murray stepped up to fill the gap in the only way his pony self could.  He went forward when he needed to, woahed when I asked, and let me know in no uncertain terms that he had got this.


murray and I feel rather different about the ribbon ceremony

It feels so good to come through every phase of an event filled with pride at what we lay down, even if it wasn’t my vision of a perfect or winning dressage test, even if we didn’t perform as well as we can at home.  There wasn’t a single time this show when I wished I’d made better choices for my horse — though there were obviously several moments when I wished I’d made better choices for me!

Twin showed how far I have come as a rider and horsewoman too.  I didn’t expect Murray to make up for my deficiencies (though he did it anyway), and I didn’t try to bully him through to something that neither of us was entirely sure of.  I knew I’d biffed it getting ready for cross country, so I didn’t try to fight him over the fences, and I was ready to withdraw if he needed it.  But he didn’t, and I’m so, so grateful.

We have truly, finally, built a successful partnership.


this is the cutest we have ever looked

twin recap: blow us all away

Duel before the sun is in the sky.
Pick a place to die where it’s high and dry.
Leave a note for your next of kin,
tell ’em where you been, pray that
hell or heaven lets you in.

– Ten Duel Commandments; Hamilton


i love how Murray treats the landing of fences as if they’re way bigger than they are

Saturday dawned and I was determined to be ready to go with much more time than the day before.  Since I knew what saddle and girth I would be using, and all my fancy butler clothes were carefully packed up in my garment bag already, I knew I was in pretty good shape on that front.  Murray had dug several huge holes in his stall, which is new for him, and when I took him on our hand walk he was shockingly brave — like, walking up to traffic cones and nosing them, and sticking his face inside trash cans to rifle around in the papers and used SmartPak strips thrown in there.  Super weird, brave shit.

The stadium course was really interesting!  It was really just a big serpentine.  Walking the course I was a little surprised by the height and spread of the oxers, but later realized they looked much bigger on foot because my height perspective was skewed (they look smaller from Murray’s back!).  And also because when I see pictures of other humans near BN- and N-sized fences, I assume those humans are the same height as I am.  But I’m a solid 6″ shorter than a lot of people, so suddenly the fences leap up when compared to relative points on my body.

Stadium warmup was less crazy than dressage or XC warmup since it was pretty much just limited to the 12 riders in our division, and a handful of riders from the division after us.  Sitting in 8th/11 (or maybe 12 remaining riders) I knew I was going pretty close to the beginning, so jumped around and then watched a few rounds.  As the rider before me, my teammate, went in I popped back over the vertical one more time for a quick refresher, and Murray was game and good to go!

I tried to give Murray a look at some flowers and spooky standards by walking him past the combination at 7, and he definitely gave them a bit of the side eye.  The buzzer rang as we approached the back fenceline, and I asked Murray if he wanted to pick up the canter.  It was a bit of a sluggish canter, but I kicked him forward to fence 1 and kept my leg on all the way up to the fence.  Murray backed off a touch but I was right there for him with my lower leg, and while he got deep he went over just fine.  I kicked for the 7 stride to the oxer and we got 8, of course, but it was still a pretty good fence.

As we came around to jump 3 I felt Murray hesitate and sputter.  Fence 3 had these big stripey horse-head standards, and while we have horse-shaped standards at home there was clearly something spooky about these ones because horses had trouble with them all day!  Murray actually came all the way to a stop and sidled to the right, but I didn’t let him turn away and I put my leg on.  He walked and then trotted the fence, shockingly leaving it up.  I didn’t know if it would be considered a refusal (it was), but I wasn’t willing to turn him away from the fence just in case.  (I later found out that this is pretty borderline in the eyes of the judges.  Had I been closer I would have been much better off turning and re-presenting, since they would count jumping from a stand still as a refusal anyway, and is also considered a huge no-no in the eyes of officials. The more you know.)

The bending line to 4 rode really nicely, and I felt Murray peer again at fence 5, since it had a big wavy panel underneath.  But I legged on again and Murray didn’t question me.  I rode the bending line to 6 as a right-angled turn so we would get a really straight approach and be able to make the inside-track left turn to 7A.  I really kicked to the two stride but we got deep (of course), and crammed 3 in there anyway (of course).

The last line was pretty straight forward, Murray had finally (really) gotten into a rhythm by that point.  We still managed to do 9 in the 7 strides between fences 8 and 9, but then it was a pretty straightforward gallop down to the closing oxer.  As I tried to pull Murray up I took a moment to look over at the clock and saw our time was in the 99-second mark, just under our allowed time of 100 seconds.

I had looked at the standings before I went in to stadium and knew that, going in, fewer than 4 points separated me and the three riders ahead of me. So with no rails and just 4 jump penalties, now just 2 rails separated me from the magnificent purple ribbon.  Two rails!  Horses knock down two rails ALL THE TIME.

I jumped off Murray and couldn’t stop grinning like a shit-eating monkey because i was just so happy with his performance.  Even if we had ended up sitting in 8th I would have been so happy with him for how he stepped up for me all weekend.  Even with that silly stop at fence 3, Murray didn’t back up or run out — as he did at Camelot in 2016, or even in cross country warmup — and when I kicked him forward he responded by moving forward and not with a tantrum.  It was super.

Then the rider after me fell off at 7A.

I saw the fall just out of the corner of my eye, and said to my teammates “did she just fall?” followed by a really inappropriate expletive of joy.  Not everyone heard me but… a lot of people heard me.  (I’m not proud of it, I’m just telling it like it is.)


he is so happy and relaxed in all of these!! i love that!

Then the rider after her fell off and took her bridle with her at 7B.

I had just gone from 8th to 6th in less than 2 minutes.

The rider sitting pretty high in the rankings — in second or third, I think — had some serious and unfortunate disobedience from her gelding which eliminated her, raising me to 5th.

I was so stupidly, deliriously happy.  Part of me felt that my final placing was a little cheap, since I relied on 4 people getting eliminated on XC and 3 people getting eliminated in stadium to reach 5th.  But at the same time, I didn’t get eliminated on stadium or XC so there is that.


when jumping from real deep, be sure to leap like deer

The only downside to the morning was that after the awards ceremony I chose to take part in the victory round, which broke poor Murray’s already highly-taxed and well-worked brain.  We left the stadium arena and he promptly tried to back into or sit on every human and horse in sight.  I know that the people waiting there were thinking of other things (their own impending stadium rounds, for example), but I was a little surprised by how slow they were to move or even look around them as I frantically yelped “sorry! sorry! sorry! sorry! sorry! sorry! sorry!” and tried to do anything to get Murray out of the fray.  At one point he slammed my leg into another horse’s butt crack, and I was really worried that we were about to get kicked, but a kindly coach nearby yelled at me to trot him forward and it actually worked.  At least, it worked to get us out of the mess of horses, and into the middle of the warmup where I finally got Murray settled enough to get off and try to calm him down.

Lesson learned: no more victory gallops for us.

twin recap: go, man, go!

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).


jump one was quite cute

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”.


extra credit moves after fence 1

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.

scary corner at left, BN log at right

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!

the happiest