xc schooling: just keep learning

I spent last week in San Diego for a wedding (+ friend & blogger adventures) this week, which is why the long, pensive silences and deep sighs.  But before I left, on Tuesday morning, I managed to squeeze in a quick XC school at WSS with trainer and my RBF (and others).

I wanted to get out and ride the Novice fences to build my confidence before Camelot, and also because the Novice course at WSS is cool.  RBF wanted to school her new, awesome mare.  One of our friends is working on getting to know her mare and settle her on XC, and the other was trying a mare she is interested in buying.   So it was a total girl power party — Murray didn’t feel out of place in the least, because as we know he is really a mare at heart.

big novice fence, a little cruelly set very early in the course

We had some minor struggles, which are interesting and gave me something to think about.  Part of it may have been due to Murray feeling sore or not quite himself — our Monday ride he was hollow through his lower back and I spent a long time just trying to encourage him to lift and become connected.  But it’s also a new height and new challenge for both of us, so likely that was contributing.  I started out the day with the goal of focusing on my position: I wanted to keep my lower leg underneath me a little better (instead of swinging it out ahead of me — went too far on that one), and follow the motion over the fences better.  I rode differently because of this, and maybe that added to Murray’s confusion.

Anyway.  We warmed up over a little log.  Murray wasn’t pulling me to fences the way he did at Camelot, but he was forward and happy.  Then we hit the log and cantered down to a log box.  Murray turned on the gallop in between the two fences, I fell into the trap of assuming speed is bravery, and he stopped.  It was fine, we looked at it, turned around, and went right over.  I know that’s a problem we have, and should have actually put in the effort to get Murray looking to the next fence before we were on top of it.

I love decorating this produce table fence!

We jumped the next few fences (a coop and another log) successfully, then came up to the big red table.  This is a max size novice fence and it looks and feels BIG — part of that is that the ground around it has sunk and been worn away, so it has gained an inch or so since it was first put in.  (I’m guessing we will need to dig it down or replace it for the September events.)  Galloping up to this fence Murray had a great, forward step, and I tried to keep my leg on with gentle pressure to remind him to keep moving forward.  But, as you saw earlier this week, it did not go as planned.  Murray slammed on the brakes pretty far out — we had huge skid marks leading up to the fence as we stopped.  (Riding the stop I had felt like perhaps I should have kicked him over the fence anyway, but after watching the video I’m SUPER glad I didn’t, as we had no power after skidding so far.)

I turned to my trainer and said “I have no idea what’s going on with us right now. I don’t know if it’s him or if it’s me.”  She told me to try again, let him shrink his stride and get deep if we wanted, and she’d watch us.  We jumped it, but we got really close and I felt like Murray had to put in a LOT of effort to get over it.  I wanted to jump the fence from a more open, galloping stride and better spot, so we tried again. We had a good pace, the step was a little short but not too bad, and yet we stopped again.

I chose to back down to a simpler question.  We both needed to be confident that we could tackle this stupid table.  We jumped the green coop (you can see it in the background above), and Murray was fine.  B suggested I turn around and take it immediately the other direction to give Murray something “different” to object to.  It worked — Murray stiffened his front legs on approach, and I smacked him behind my leg where I wanted him to take off to let him know that we really were going.  We went.

So we tackled the red table one more time.  I kept my leg on, but didn’t chase Murray with my leg or seat.  I insisted he keep an open step, and didn’t pull him back at the last minute.  I didn’t look down, I didn’t stare at the fence, I stayed calm.  I say I did all these things, but really what I probably did was ride slightly less like a drunken monkey.  And we did it, and it was awesome!! (Pic evidence at the top of the post.)

The rest of our adventure was really smooth sailing.  Murray and I really enjoy the technical elements presented at Novice — they are close together enough to be fun, but really welcoming easy to navigate.

We killed it at the half coffin, and the up bank combinations. Murray was slightly less forward than I wanted, but after the success at the red table I wasn’t going to be too pushy.  I know that neither of us handles a lot of change at once well, so I tried to keep it simple-ish: forward step, no more stops.  It worked — Murray was super for everything else on course.  I’m super proud of the pony.  Sure, we had hiccups, but he did the things!  And it has me feeling pretty confident for Camelot, since I’ve seen all their Novice fences and ours are bigger (lollll). (Please don’t change your course suddenly, Camelot!)

novice pencil, four strides to a quarter round (but we made it five, natch)

There’s a lot I’d like to change about my jumping position after watching the media of this school — and that was WITH me trying to change some of those things on the day of!  I’ve always ridden defensively and “unfolded the landing gear” faster than I should.  I also tend to be behind the motion of the fences a little.  Murray is pretty trustworthy now, so it would probably be a good call to make his life a little easier by jumping with him a bit more.  I see grids and no stirrups work in our future!  And if you have books or videos or other resources for me to practice on the ground with jumping positional stuff, I will gladly take them!

craniology, part 1.5: the force of a falling object

Thanks to Amanda’s super Sunday Blog Roundup, I found this really interesting article from Eventing Nation about what a helmet will and won’t do to protect you in a fall.  It was incredibly fascinating and well worth the read, but left me with a couple of questions:

First, what are the forces at which the helmets in question were tested at when they failed the impact tests?

Second, what are the forces that are frequently experienced by an equestrian falling off of their horse?

gravity can be a real bitch

I couldn’t find any answers to the first question, which is an important one to me.  If the authors were testing helmets at 10,000 gs (G-forces) and they fail to protect the head against two impacts at that force well… that’s unrealistic.  But if the authors were testing helmets at 350 gs (a force easily acquired by an object falling from 3.5 meters with a stopping distance of only 1 cm), then that’s a much more reasonable test.  Fear not, I’ve emailed the main author of the study to get a little more information about how they conducted their research.  I’ll update you when I find out.  (I did discover that they use a really funny machine to test these things!)

To the second question, the answer is: it turns out it depends.  The basic calculation of g-forces involves the rate of deceleration and the force of gravity.  Rate of deceleration can be calculated by using velocity and stopping distance.  And therein lies the rub: stopping distance is highly variable on difference surfaces.  For example, when you drop your phone on asphalt, the stopping distance is basically just the crunch factor of your phone — as little as 1-2 mm in some cases.

The other complication is that there are multiple force vectors at work when you fall off a horse.  Not only do you fall from some height to the ground, but you also stop your forward motion — motion that can vary from 300 mpm (slow canter) to 600 mpm (Rolex gallop) depending on the speed you’re moving.

lets not forget all the physics lessons Murray has given me

I took physics (twice), though, and was pretty confident that I could figure out the force vectors, so set about determining the g forces likely experienced by helmets and riders falling at different speeds.  G forces are a convenient unit to calculate this in, since they are the same no matter the mass of the falling object — and that’s the unit in which the “brain trauma” numbers were reported.

The set up

You can use this handy-dandy fall force calculator from VaultCanada if you’d like to calculate g-forces of objects falling straight down.  It doesn’t add it in horizontal movement, but it is a bit of fun to play around with.

Then there are the basic equations.  I didn’t actually consult a physics text book, but I did use the VaultCanada site (linked above), the physics classroom, and the engineering toolbox.  Pertinent equations are below.


Pythagoras will help me with that last one

There are a couple of other caveats here.  Because I was using physics equations, they aren’t taking into account any of those pesky real-life forces like friction (ground or air), the oddity of the human/horse shape, what part of the body hits the ground first, etc. etc.  We are also not taking into account the fact that different parts of the body are likely to encounter different amounts of force by landing at different times.  Just assume that the hypothetical human in these equations always lands directly on their head.  So we’re working with a frictionless, lawn-darting, spherical humanoid riding in a vacuum.  You know.  A really realistic one.

Also, I could be wrong. There aren’t any internet resources that confirmed my plan to add these forces using the Pythagorean theorem.  I bulled ahead regardless.

Also, force vectors for helmet calculation will be pointing in toward the object.  Because what we are interested in is the force the surface is exerting on the object (one’s head, for example) during the stop*, so the force vectors should be reversed from the above image.  It doesn’t affect the calculations.

*You know that old joke about cliff jumping.  It’s not the long drop that kills you; it’s the sudden stop at the end.

With that information, let’s answer a few of my burning questions about forces and riding!

We’ll start with an easy one.  If you drop the helmet on the ground, are you really voiding the protective abilities of your helmet?

Let’s say you’re about my height (1.5 meters), and drop your helmet from your hands (about 1 meter high) on to arena sand, which compresses about 2cm when the helmet hits the ground.

100 cm / 2 cm = 50 gs of force

If the stopping distance decreases to 0.5 cm (5 mm)

100 cm / 0.5 cm = 200 gs of force

I don’t actually know how much force the outside of a helmet can withstand.  But 200 gs is well below what a helmet is supposed to protect you against (300 gs), and likely below what the helmets are tested at.  I’m not going to make any declarations about the safety of a helmet after being dropped on anything but arena sand — which I don’t think is the end of the world.  (When some butterfingers drops her helmet repeatedly on the barn aisle though….)

More pertinent to humans, if someone falls off of a horse onto arena sand, what are the forces experienced by their helmet?  And by their head?

First, what height are they falling from?  Let’s say we have a 16.2 hand horse, and the human’s head is 2.5 feet above that height — like a medium-height person sitting on a relatively tall horse.  That’s 241.2 centimeters high.  Let’s stick with that 2cm stopping distance again.  Without any horizontal motion (i.e. horse is standing still and our spherical rider just falls off the side):

241.2 cm / 2 cm = 120.6 gs of force — a not insubstantial amount of force, but not enough to for sure cause a serious brain injury

If the helmet foam compresses by 2mm during the impact, then the head in question experiences a slightly different amount of force

241.2 cm / 2.2cm = 109.6 gs of force — a pretty awesome decrease, thanks Charles Owen!

What if you fall off at the peak of a fence?  My head was about 292 cm in the air at the peak of that charming 2’6″ fence above (I used a really specific measuring system called PowerPoint), so if we go with our previously calculated stopping distances

292 cm / 2 cm = 146 gs
292 cm / 4 cm = 73 gs

Okay, let’s talk horses in motion.

In stadium, posted speeds vary between 300 and 400 mpm — I think? I’ve never really paid attention except when writing up programs — which is well within the range of a canter.  Let’s say that rider and pony have an unfortunate parting of ways at 350 mpm involving a dirty stop, and our lawn-darting, spherical rider goes flying over pony’s head and on to the ground, where she skids for 30 cm (1 foot) in arena sand that compresses to 4 cm (a little more cushy than the aforementioned arena sand).

vertical forces = 241.2 cm / 4 cm = 60.3 gs
horizontal forces = (5.8 mps)^2 / (2 * 0.3 m * 9.8 m/s/s) = 5.7 gs
Pythagoras says: combined forces = 60.57 gs

That’s really a fairly gentle fall, all things considered — barely more significant than falling off your stationary horse.

What if we jack up the speed to 520 mpm?

vertical forces = 60.3 gs (same as above)
horizontal forces = (8.76 mps)^2 / (2 * 0.3 m * 9.8 m/s/s) = 38 gs
Pythagoras says: combined forces = 71.44 gs

All in all, it seems like falling in soft, squishy footing in stadium (or dressage, I guess) isn’t all that awful.  4 cm isn’t even that deep of an impact crater.

Cross country is where things get sketchy.

Cross country footing is nowhere near as squishy as stadium footing, so I’m conservatively estimating a 1 cm vertical stopping distance.  This drastically increases the vertical forces right off the bat.

vertical forces = 241.2 cm / 1 cm = 241.2 gs

If our spherical rider falls off of her horse traveling at 400 mpm, and stops in a distance of 10cm (skidding), then

horizontal forces = (6.67 mps)^2 / (2 * 0.1 m * 9.8 m/s/s) = 22 gs
Pythagoras says: combined forces = 242.26 gs

If said rider is traveling at 600 mpm and has the same stopping distance (10 cm), it looks worse

vertical forces = 241.2 gs
horizontal forces = (10 mps)^2 / (2 * 0.1 m * 9.8 m/s/s) = 51 gs
Pythagoras says: combined forces = 247 gs

Let’s say that the helmet our hypothetical rider is wearing compresses by 2mm (0.2 cm) during the impact, as above.  Then we get

vertical forces = 241.2 / 1.2 = 201 gs
horizontal forces = (10 mps)^2 / (2 * 0.102 m * 9.8 m/s/s) = 38 gs
Pythagoras says: combined forces = 208 gs

Once again, that’s an appreciable decrease in force caused by only a 2mm compression within the helmet.  Helmets are cool, man.

I ran out of fall-adjacent media

Just for shits, here’s what happens if someone traveling at Rolex speeds falls and has a stopping distance of only 1cm (maybe they hit a fence, I dunno)

vertical forces = 214.2 gs
horizontal forces = (10 m/s)^2 / (2 * 0.01 m * 9.8 m/s/s) = 510 gs
Pythagoras says: combined forces = 563 gs

Helmet compression of 2mm decreases this impact force to 395 gs, which is a really appreciable decrease.  As if I needed more reason to wear a helmet — gotta protect that money maker.

These estimates are probably not all that realistic, given the many caveats I had to list above.  I’m also not taking into account multiple concussions, bouncing, being kicked by horses, hitting other objects… Really, there’s a lot more that could go in to this model to make it more accurate (though as we know, the more predictors you add to a model the less predictive it actually becomes — statistics is a cruel mistress).  But it was an interesting exercise in practicing physics and geometry again, and gave me some idea of the serious forces we put our heads under.  Thank you, helmet, for protecting my melon so often!

(Now I have other questions. What forces are needed to break certain bones, for example?!)

camelot: cross country rebate

The last time I ran rated cross country at Camelot did not end well.  I had better luck last year with an unrated course, but that course was a bit on the soft side and not terribly long.  This year, I was excited to see many of the old fences on the BN course, lots of nice long gallop tracks, and noticed that I felt like everything looked tiny!  It was awesome.

I didn’t ride until noon on Saturday, so I had plenty of time to jump judge for prelim and training.  The divisions went pretty smoothly, minus a rider fall at the coffin in training that created a little hold on course.  The EMTs were not totally sure how to get out to her, and once they were there how to get back, which was both hilarious and exasperating.  But the EMTs were very kind, and the rider was fine, so all was well.  Unfortunately, there was another hold on course due to a rider fall in warm up that did not end so well — the rider was rushed off with sirens and needed surgery.  Sobering.

Despite knowing about both of these holds, I somehow tacked up way, way, way too early.  Like a full hour before I needed to be trotting around in the warm up too early.  The upside of this is that Murray was extremely well behaved to tack up.  I did it loose in his stall, and he just stood quietly and nibbled on hay while I slowly put on my vest, sipped on some water, and made sure that my pinny was on nice and tight.  Eventually I could stand it no longer, and headed over to the warm up ten minutes before I would have been in there for my original ride time.

Murray and I stood in the shade grazing for a while, and after I couldn’t stand it any longer I climbed aboard.  Murray was not really impressed with this idea, and wanted to run (forward or backward, either would be fine) home to stabling.  I walked him in small circles and figure eights until his back relaxed, and finally, finally, we headed in to warm up.  This did not help the feeling of nervousness, of course, but c’est la vie.  The one thing I wish the show venue/warm up steward had done was announced an approximate delay time for the division so that we could have avoided constantly checking in.  But c’est la vie — I get that they wanted to try to hurry things along as much as they could.

Murray warmed up perfectly, moving up toward the fences without hesitation.  Camelot has a fabulous, huge cross country warm up, and there were lots of fences for us to jump.  I did everything once, repeated my approach to a table so I could have Murray jump it a bit more out of stride, and then headed out on course.  I got to watch my teammate Suzanne ride the first few fences with her 5 year old (or maybe only 4?).  Then it was our turn out of the start box!

I didn’t feel any hesitation from Murray at all as we came up to the first fence, he was all go, go, go!  Between fences 1 and 2 we got up a pretty good canter, and Murray only went off the track for a little while as he gave the prelim/training start box a wide berth.  Fence two was a bright blue bicycle rack off of a tight turn that I rode firmly too, since we’d had a stop there last year.  Fence three was Excalibur, and Murray had some second thoughts about the line of fences and jump judges to the left of the sword.  He ran pretty far to the right, but I pointed him back at the fence, trotted him to it, and over we went.

Fence three to four was where Murray really started to gallop, and since fence four was a little table I let him at it.  There was a huge stretch between four and five as well, and Murray really got moving there.  We were going pretty fast — around 500 mpm — and as we came up the small rise to fence 5 I over-checked Murray a little.  He didn’t care, leaped over the post and rail fence, and continued on to six.  Six A-B were close to five, and my main spot of worry for the course: they were on a downhill, not quite a straight approach from 5, and had a bending line between the two fences.  But I pointed Murray at them and he just went!  It was the exact same thing with fence 7 — he was galloping over to it so fast, I remember thinking that the wind was really, really loud in my ears — and about six strides out I asked him to come back to me a bit and look at the fence.  He looked at it, decided it wasn’t a problem despite being pretty slanted and bright pink, and galloped on.

rainbow neck strap ftw

Fence eight was where I got us in trouble.  We were barreling down to the trakhener, and I knew we were going to have trouble with it at that speed.  Murray wasn’t listening to the brakes though, so I tried to keep my leg on while I aggressively half halted.  This got his attention back, but it was too much hand a little too late, and he came to a jerky stop about a stride from the fence.  I had heard the TD describe earlier that she did not want any horses jumping fences from a stand still, so I knew I wasn’t going to squeak by without the stop anyway, so I walked Murray up to the fence, circled at the canter, and he leaped over no problem.

I should have known this could be a problem spot for us, but I guess I was too worried about the 6AB combo to think about the downhill approach to the trak.  I also didn’t think we’d be going 450+ mpm, I thought we’d be cruising along at a much more rateable 350 mpm.  Had I thought about it in advance, I would have asked my trainer (duh), or thought to circle well back from the fence to get Murray’s attention back on me.  Alas, I didn’t think about it, and I certainly wasn’t able to think about it out on course.  But at least it was a new mistake, and not one that I will make again!

camelot is quite pretty!

I briefly pondered how I should handle the rest of the course now that I had a stop.  Should I slow down?  Should I school the water?  I decided to push on — we’d had such a good run so far, there was no reason to slow Murray down and disrupt the flow of the course.  There was also not very much course left — we were 3/4 of the way home anyway.

Despite the  many training and prelim fences surrounding our water entrance, Murray cantered in no problem.  Our second to last two fences were a half coffin, and I slowed Murray up a fair bit so he would see the ditch and not step in it.  I needn’t have worried, since he went right over it, and happily redirected over the sharkstooth second element.

jumping ahead was quite prevalent on course – ah well

I’m so, so happy with how cross country turned out.  I had wanted to run clear and within the time, but I’m okay that it didn’t happen.  The mistake was mine, not Murray’s, and it was an honest one.  Everything about the course minus that one moment felt fantastic — we were going fast, but were totally in control (well, we had steering, if bad brakes), and the speed wasn’t an evasion.  Instead of using speed to mask his insecurities, Murray was excited to be out there, and whatever I pointed him at he was game to jump.  THAT is a huge accomplishment.  Even if it’s not all that different from Twin, this time I was right there with him, instead of holding on for dear life!


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!)


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)


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



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

twin schooling part 2

Among the challenges of schooling cross country for the first time in a year is remembering how to ride cross country.  On Sunday we waited until the kids were pretty much done with their XC rides before getting Murray tacked up and ready to go.  Since he did so well on Saturday, I wanted to just school him over everything once and Aftermake it a bit more “run” like — stringing together six or seven fences in a go — so that we could get the feel for running and jumping in sequence back.

down banks are really not my strong suit

Murray was definitely feeling the work from Saturday, and wasn’t quite as peppy or forward as he had been earlier in the weekend.  But that was an important aspect of the ride to me.  I need to be able to ride Murray when he is tired and punky and not his fresh XC schooling self as much as I need to be able to ride the supercharger forward pony.  Fortunately, despite being a little tired he was still right there with me.  When he got a little sticky to the base of a few warm up fences I just kept my leg on and he went right over them – no problem.

We cruised over the first few fences in the course, a coop and a turkey feeder, then I took a wrong turn and headed over to the intro course for a little house and hanging log.  I backtracked when I saw the real hanging log we were supposed to jump, and went back for that one and another go at the half-coffin.  This was where I made my first real mistake.  I assumed that since Murray had seen and jumped everything the day before with such professionalism that he would be okay right off the bat with them on Sunday.  Not so — he still needed a hard second look at the ditches, so he stopped at the jump element of the half-coffin as he peered down into the ditches below.

Half coffin with the silly 🏇. My fave part of all the videos is @_ac_eventing_ cheering us on! #notoriousottb

A post shared by Nicole Sharpe (@nicolegizelle) on

After we schooled back and forth over the ditch we headed back up to the top of the half coffin and it wasn’t a problem.  Then it was up the hill to the upper plateau and some of the benches that Murray literally flew over on Saturday.  I skipped the water since there were a bunch of people schooling there and headed over to the down banks.  After our stop at the coffin I decided that I was going to give Murray a good chance to look at everything technical if he showed any hesitation — I’m more than willing to give him the benefit of the doubt after so many months without seeing this stuff!  So we trotted over to the down bank and let him look at it.  He walked a couple of strides then went down without a problem, so we schooled up and down the bank again just to solidify it in his mind.

This video is from his first look at the bank on Saturday.  What I love so much about it is how he’s thinking.  There’s a little bit of “can I get away with not doing this?” but once he understands the question and it’s clear what I want, he’s just like “oh okay, down we go!”

thinking pony from Nicole Sharpe on Vimeo.

After the down banks we came around to the wine barrel table again, which I pulled Murray to a stop in front of so he could look at it again.  I didn’t want to fuss with him getting spooked by it again, and wanted him to really have the opportunity to stare the fence down.  It might be just me, but it seemed like most of the questions we had problems with were painted black — not something we see a lot of at our barn.

The last few fences were little roll tops before and after the water, a jump on a small mound (giving you just a little something to gallop up and down), and some straightforward tables toward the finish.  Murray finished strong even though he was soooo tired, and lifted his head up to look at the next fence when I made it clear there was still work to be done.

murray: I am not touching that weird black wood

I can tell that we have some fitness work to do before we will be ready for the event, but we have a few weeks for that!  (More running for me, more trot sets for pony.)  And it feels absolutely awesome to know that Murray is ready to go out and jump our BN fences and then some.  I just need to get my show nerves under control and learn how to give him a supportive and forward ride, especially if he is tired. (Hahaha, “just”!)

back in the game

We left to school Twin Rivers on Friday at noon, though not without significant disorganization on my part. I packed everything that seemed to be absolutely essential — the horse, a saddle, girth, bridle, tall boots, and helmet — and then kinda threw anything that seemed like I might need it in my car and stopped at Target on the way.  It worked (ish): I ended up with three hind boots and only one front boot, and only three standing wraps, but me, my horse, and all of the other essentials got there just fine!

The ponies had about ten minutes to settle in after we arrived before we got on for a dusk hack.  My goal for the weekend was to see how feasible it would be for Murray and I to show at Twin in April (a mere four weeks away!!!), i.e. show him the fences, see if he remembers anything about cross country, etc.  But I also wanted to use my newfound skills of expecting professionalism and telling him firmly exactly what I expected of him (with frequent rewards).  (Murray is also modeling his fabulous new rainbow rope halter from Sundance halters, which I am IN LOVE WITH, and I love my rainbow neck strap EVEN MORE.)

At a new venue Murray is often, predictably, looky, spooky, and bucky under saddle.  He was all three of these things during our ride, but the amount of looking, spooking, and general silliness I got was SO much less than I have experienced in the past.  He was awful to tack up because I was in a rush, but once I got on I just asked him to keep walking forward.  In the schooling arena I brought him back to a walk from a jig, or a trot, and when we did pick up the trot I immediately asked him to pick up some semblance of contact as well.  And what do you know – it worked.  He stopped looking for things to look at, and got down to business.  There was a little bit of bucking and swapping in the canter, but I got up off his back and let him have a little canter around, and then asked him to get back to business, and there he was again – right there with me.

It was super.

 I find hanging logs really weirdly intimidating, despite my attempts
to adore trakehners. Murray don’t care.

On Saturday morning I watched the kids at a couple of their young rider lessons, then got tacked up for my cross country schooling with B.  We decided that we would try for a longer, more educational school on Saturday with a short, review + XC-run-simulation on Sunday, provided that Murray’s brain could handle it.  Murray came out ready to JUMP.  It was like we haven’t taken a year off from XC and competition, and he was attacking the warm up fences.  The course is in the middle of some fairly big changes right now, so I jumped a few sizes of each element. I wanted to school mostly beginner novice fences, with an eye to a possible move up in the Fall.  But we will be showing BN until I can get my show nerves under control and give Murray the supportive ride that he needs to be successful.  Schooling bigger definitely helps me feel more confident, but I wanted to make sure that I gave Murray (and myself) the chance to look at everything we might see on a course.

Murray was SUPER forward to the fences, literally pulling me to most of them.  All I had to do was keep my leg on and get out of his way.  Of course, that meant I kept getting left behind because I’ve been riding somewhat defensively for the last year, and I’m pretty weak and rusty.  I’m not used to riding this forward jumping horse, and I also didn’t want to let myself get sucked back into the old mistake of assuming fast = confident.  I checked Murray a little too much to a fair number of fences, but he persisted despite my bumbling in those cases, and every re-approach got better!

We did have a handful of stops at technical questions that we haven’t seen since our last XC outing.  The ditches and down banks all posed a big problem for us at first, and I had to walk Murray up to them and back and forth in front of them before he was willing to go.  Once he remembered what ditches and down banks were, he was fine, but it took a few tries.  At a second set of ditches on course he slowed and I let him come down to a halt, but after a second of looking he pulled us right over them!

We schooled a brush roll thing that I thought was Novice, and Murray stopped at it when we came up to it the first time.  I think we both realized that it wasn’t a Novice fence at that point, but it wasn’t terribly oversized.  The thing that had me worried was the terrain — immediately after the landing to the fence was a steep but short downhill, and jumping into a downhill landing is something that we can always do to practice more.  I think Murray wasn’t sure of the fence itself — he’s never seen a brush roll before.  We came back to it with a little more determination and he cleared it easily, landing off the edge of the landing pad and partway down the hill with no problem.

I’m not going to pretend I wasn’t super pleased we so easily schooled a Training level fence.  Even though it wasn’t our goal when we came out, it’s a nice little feather in our cap to know we can do it.

Of course, there is a whole list of new mistakes I’m making that I need to work on now!  The classic problem is strength and my position — I still need to sit up a little straighter and get used to these long, two-point canters.  I will need to study a little more video of riders with a similar body shape to mine to see how they hold their bodies on cross country.  I also need to practice following and staying with Murray more over fences.  The defensive position works for us in stadium because he so often gets behind my leg and super deep to the jumps.  But out on XC he was leaving strides out (read: using an appropriate take off point for any other horse), and jumping me right out of the tack.  And for the first time ever, I kept pulling my reins too short, and noticed that my elbows were locking.  So I will have to get a new set of reins (mine have an inconvenient tear in the rubber grip), and work on those elastic elbows.

We schooled Sunday too and he was just as faboo!