If you ever have a chance to work with him in any capacity- TAKE IT.
The woman I was going to split the hotel with cancelled at the last second because her horse injured himself, so my husband and kids tagged along because I was not prepared and don’t have any “camping” equipment yet, so we stayed at a hotel.
Since there was limited stabling at Gibbes Farm (where the clinic would take place), Pilgrim was being stabled about 4 miles away at Easy Breeze Farm, which is a TB training center. It was a very cool farm, with a turf track around the property’s perimeter (sadly we arrived too late to try it out), and a nice, airy barn. The little yearling pre-racehorses were adorable running around!
P got settled in, then we checked into the hotel and got some food. Myself, husband and our older son got hibachi while picky Baby Noah got Wendy’s. Bed at 10, then up at midnight because Baby N is SICK. And stayed sick until 4 AM. Then I had to be up at 5 if I wanted to watch the 1st group (Training level) go. More sleep vs watching an international rider coach? No brainer.
I got there and headed up to the group of riders who were starting with SJ. Tim was super nice, encouraging and had them start with a large X that was slightly downhill and then alternate turning left and right to get their horse supple to each side. Then they did the same over a (2’6-ish?) gate. Then he started stringing courses together, having them count strides at the combinations. Each horse and rider was completely different in their way of going and experience level, so it was very educational to watch how he’d help each rider set their individual horse up through the course.
We rode over to the XC course for the 2nd half of their session and it was also neat to see how he dealt with other riders’ insecurities (get ready for mine, buddy). The jumps were fairly substantial and there were a lot of refusals. During a session with Trainer D, if P stops at something, I’m to back him up and not let him turn away from the jump. Then we halt…trot, canter, jump. But with Tim, he’d typically have them start from the first jump, even if the refusal happened later in the course. I’m actually not sure why, as I didn’t think to ask until I was thinking back over the clinic. Maybe to get the horses used to continuity rather than just taking it one jump at a time? He said to contact him if we had any questions so I think I’ll do that.
There was one scary moment at the water, where one of the rides came into the water off a bank, through the water and was supposed to go over a log out of the water. Her horse hung a front leg, and then he scrambled with his back legs to get over, but fell off to the left. She was thrown to the left, but from our POV, it looked like he had fallen on top of her. Tim and I ran over there and she got up, and her horse looked fine, other than missing a shoe. He jogged out sound so she got on and walked around, then they called it a day.
Then I had to leave to go back to the other farm to get P ready. He was chilling in his stall, super calm, so I tacked him up sans bridle and loaded him up. Somewhere in the 6 minute drive to Gibbes, P swapped places with a fire breathing dragon, as that is what UNLOADED from my trailer.
He didn’t stand still for a second. It literally took me more than 10 minutes to get his fly bonnet and bridle on and tighten his girth, and then to hold onto him while I got my helmet, vest and gloves on. It was ridiculous. As soon as I was on, we were off. Talking to Tim about our experience probably made the poor guy dizzy because P just walked in circles around him and refused to stand still. Then we were joined by the other rider (the other 2 in our group dropped out…hooray for semi-private lessons!) and got started.
In the 20 seconds that P walked next to the other rider’s horse, a super quiet 19 year old QH, he was instantly bonded. We spent more time going sideways trying to be close to her, than we did going straight. Ugh.
We started off with a tiny log, which P charged at and then bolted away. I thought we were over this?
Again, a difference between trainer D and Tim (what? More than 1 way to train a horse?)- trainer D has us jump off a loose rein and let him canter away, doing it until he calms. Tim had me keep more contact and when we landed, immediately turn him, giving him something to do. This worked quite nicely, as P quickly found out that he better wait for me to tell him what to do.
Then we did rollbacks- jumping the little log and turning and jumping the log behind it and figure-8ing around like that- very similar to the exercise I did on Thursday night in the arena. P was very much NOT like himself and was flipping his head every which way, going sideways and bouncing around like a pogo stick. It was a little unsettling, to be honest, because the lengths he was taking it to were more extreme than anything I had experienced with him.
Then we added in a shallow ditch that P was not a fan of, probably due to the big logs lining it. He’s always been good with ditches but it was for sure wider than he’s ever jumped before.
The other horse, who had consistently run out at nearly every fence (but in the most polite way possible, at least), refused and then P refused. We were instructed to keep our eyes up, shoulders way back and “nag” them until jumping it became the easier option. P has never been a ditchy horse so this took him only a couple of tries. Then we trotted it a couple times, cantered it, and then added in the logs in front of and behind it, first doing the 3 as a combination, and then incorporating it in the rollback exercise.
Then he put together a little course, adding in a gigantic log. Not really gigantic, if you aren’t irrationally afraid, but to me it looked enormous. It was a solid BN size log, to which P at first said NOPE, then leapt awkwardly, almost unseating me. All I could think was “At least I won’t be the first fall of the day!” but I managed to right myself and we did it again.
Then he added another BN log and gave us our course, which I’ve posted below. This one we were able to get through without screwing up too badly.
Next we went to the water and didn’t do much- just in and out at the trot and canter, and ended cantering through and over a small log out of the water.
I leaned a stride early and P refused, so we did it again where I actually controlled my upper body and it was perfect. Great note to end the day on, and I took my dragon back to the other barn and then headed to the hotel to shower and lay down for an hour before meeting up with all the clinic participants and Tim for dinner. I asked for Tim’s thoughts on Pilgrim as an event horse, due to his extremely cautious nature, and he asked if I’d like for him to get on him the next day to see what he feels like. Yes, please!
The next day I had an earlier ride time- the girl who had ridden in my session the previous day cancelled because her aunt (who rode in the Novice group after us) had a fall during HER session and was in the hospital. Apparently someone from every group had a fall that day, except for from mine. Though I came VERY close. Sorry for ruining your record, Mr. B., though Pilgrim did try. So the 2 BN groups were combined, since there were only 4 of us left standing out of the original 8 BN riders. I got there early again with my dragon in tow, so I could watch the Training group school the banks. Tim rode the horse that had fallen the day before so his owner could see him go and to help him regain some confidence on xc. That was educational in itself. Tim’s a very sympathetic rider…to a point. Once it’s clear the horse is taking advantage, he does what he needs to do to regain control. It was very cool to watch that in action.
I got on P to warm up, hoping Tim would remember that he had offered to ride him, and P settled down quite nicely.
Then we walked over to the field we had been in the day before, and he turned super spooky again. We met up with the other riders and Tim asked if anyone had anything specific they wanted to work on. I immediately said “banks” because up banks have been a problem for the 2 of us. He said we’d start with that, then asked if I wanted him to get on now or later. NOW, please!
He got on P and I walked over with Matt to catch up. When I got there, Tim asked if I saw him almost fall off. Umm, no. What? He said P spooked hard at one of the jumps and almost got him off. What a story that would’ve been.
So here’s P schooling the ditches with Tim. The first time, he popped right up, showed off his flying changes and….refused the little log at the top. I was surprised to see him stop so far back, and doubly surprised to see him stop with a pro on. Tim’s reactions were fantastic- he didn’t get unseated (because he wasn’t leaning forward), he didn’t overreact and he didn’t OVER ride it when he asked him to jump it the 2nd time.
Next he started from the beginning, up the bank, over the log and a left turn and back over a tiny little feeder, then down the bank. P jumped the up bank and log great, then refused the feeder. Again, I was surprised that he stopped with Tim on, but not surprised that he stopped. This is his M.O. He’s not doing it to be bad in the slightest, but he is very cautious. Once he’s seen it and KNOWS he can jump it, he will. He’s that way with oxers also, because he wants to SEE what’s in between those rails. Again, I loved how Tim rode him through it- very soft and light, patted him to reassure him and then firmly asked again without overdoing it. I’m glad it’s not just me…but it did make me question him (P, not Tim!) as an eventer because, hello, P won’t get to see the courses beforehand. I don’t want to just rack up 20 penalties per fence so my horse can have a look at each one. It will come with education and more experience. P has seen an xc course now 7 whole times (including the clinic). Not exactly a seasoned event horse so I’m probably getting way ahead of myself.
Next we headed to the field we were in the day before. Tim asked if he could ride him a bit longer (was I going to say no?) because he wanted to see if he could install that “go button” that is missing. He said he’s a fantastic jumper and a very cool horse, but he’s very questioning about new things and needs to know to trust the rider’s leg more. Agreed. Have at it!
Then he called out a course that made me glad I wasn’t in the saddle. The jumps were freaking enormous. If these are BN (turns out they were Novice and 1 was Training) then I will stay at Starter forever. Because I watched the Training riders go both days and these were the jumps THEY were jumping. When the other riders were finished, he had a go on P and P stopped at the first log- the same one we jumped repeatedly the day before- so I don’t know WHAT was up with that.
So he turned him, jumped it two more times and then headed back to the course. P had ANOTHER refusal at another log we jumped repeatedly the day before, so Tim took him back to the beginning (jumping logs along the way), and started over.
It seemed like the more he got going, the better he became. Once he realized that was NOT going to stop, he complied, though he thought hard about stopping at one FREAKING ENORMOUS Novice fence, so Tim jumped it a few times each way and then continued on course. Towards the end he was rocking and rolling over the fences, including the log combination at the end. It was very cool to see someone else ride him, since it’s usually just me, and even cooler to see a top international rider deal with his issues.
I got on an Tim said to just canter the BN log that we did yesterday and he just did and let him walk. So we did.
As soon as we got back, he goes, “Ok, now canter that BN log and then onto the N log pile.” That was the one I had immediately labeled as terrifying, but what was I going to do? Argue with a 4* rider that it was too big?
So here’s my train of thought, riding the 2 jumps.
- “Just the log that we did yesterday. Fun stuff.”
- “Ok, here it is. Sit the F back, KC.”
- “Wow, you sat back. Now look how good that felt, do that EVERYTIME.”
- “Oh, right. Turn left to the log pile of doom.”
- “Wow, this hill is steeper than I thought. Add leg, this is NOT enough canter.”
- “Wow, I added leg without being told. I’m so brave.”
- “Don’t look at the jump, don’t look at the jump, don’t look at the jump. SHIT that’s a big jump, raise your eyes, don’t look at it again.”
- “Will it hurt when I smash my face into those logs?”
- “Add leg, and DON’T LOOK AT THE JUMP.”
- “Am I really seeing the distance 5 strides out? Let’s try it…5, 4, 3, 2, 1”
- “He didn’t take the flier!’
- “Wow, we’ve been in the air awhile.”
- “THAT WAS AMAZING.”
I was seriously grinning from ear to ear, it felt unbelievable. Definitely the biggest XC jump I’ve done since my accident in 2004. And in the video, you can hear Tim praising my decision with the canter, said it was “spot on”, no big deal.
Next we headed to ditches, which is where Matt failed me and the videos he took say “Unsupported”, presumably because he dropped the iPad. I really don’t know what happened there, but my tries at recovering them have been unsuccessful.
This was a different ditch than the one we did yesterday, which was wide but very shallow. This ditch started narrow and then widened, but was very deep. P originally started to refuse, but then got right over. So we trotted and then cantered it a few times. I was yelled at to keep my shoulders back and think of it as just another canter stride. That helped a ton and P just quietly went over, even as he was asked to start going over the wider parts.
Then we went to the water complex that we were at the previous day and this time P trotted right in. We trotted in and out at various points, then we were to canter down the ramp into the water, through the complex, bending to the right, and out over a log, turn around and go back over the log, then straight ahead and out of the water, turn right and over a big log, turn left and canter into the water, stopping in the middle of the complex. (he doesn’t play around when it comes to courses).
No video of this either (iPad’s memory filled up so he was deleting things to make room and only caught the end of it), but maybe that’s a good thing since I fumbled my first attempt by leaning at the log out of the complex and P stopping. We started from the beginning, and I was instructed to get a stronger canter since he would need it to get through the water and over the jump. So we did, and I did and we jumped, then turned and back downhill, over the log and out of the water on the other side. I turned right, and P got a little sideways because I slowed him down, but he popped over the big log (he had never seen this particular log before so I count that as a win), and we finished. We did it once more, it was great, and that ended our clinic.
Here are some takeaways that I need to jot down:
“You focus too much on what he’s doing rather than focusing on where you’re going and what you’re SUPPOSED to be doing. Look where you want to go and it’ll happen.”
“He goes much straighter when you add leg and ask him to go forward, especially in the canter. When you slow him down, that’s when he gets wiggly.”
“Thoroughbreds like to know where your hands are. Press your knuckles into his neck so he can feel where your hands are and he’ll calm down.”
“He CAN stand still! Yesterday he didn’t stop moving for a second.”
“He’s very sane for a 6 year old Thoroughbred. He’s a very cool guy and you’ve got yourself a very nice horse. Most Thoroughbreds wouldn’t be behaving this nicely.” – Said at the end of the 2nd day at the water complex
“When he starts to wiggle around, you need to get very still, keep your eyes looking where you want to go and keep him moving forward. He’ll figure out that he’s not upsetting you and he’ll stop.”
“When a horse refuses, you need to nag, nag, nag. Move your body, kick, flap your arms. Annoy the shit out of them so they just jump because they’d rather do that then put up with you any longer.”
“I ride my horses with breastplates, an ‘oh-shit’ strap, neck straps…the more things I can grab onto rather than the reins, the better.”
“You have to have enough forward canter that you can slow down from.”
As of now he’s planning on coming back in September and I will be the first to sign up. Seriously, if you ever get the chance to ride with him, jump on it.
My favorite part was probably as we were leaving- Matt, P and I were heading back to the barn and Tim was going to coach the last group and as we said our goodbyes, Tim says to Matt, “Great to meet you, thanks for being here,” (you know, normal stuff) to which my dear former-Marine husband replies, “Looking forward to seeing you slay bodies at the next Rolex.” ONLY MATT.
The ride home was VERY eventful. I was originally going to stay and watch the Novice group go after I was done, and Matt was going to take the kids and go home to be able to pick up the dog before the kennel closed. I decided I was tired and wanted to go home, so Matt followed me and we headed off. About 60 miles away from home, on I-77, I felt a jolt and looked in my side mirror to see my tire ripping apart. LOVELY.
So we pulled over, Matt changed the tire with P still in the trailer because I-77 is CRAZY and there was no way I was unloading him there. The closest exit was still 5 miles away and the tire was completely destroyed. P stayed remarkably calm, even with the trailer bouncing around as cars flew by. It still took about 30 minutes to change because I didn’t have the tools in places that made sense, but then we were back on our way.
I got back to the barn while Matt went and got the dog. I unloaded P, unloaded my stuff, then went to start my truck to park my trailer and…my truck wouldn’t start. It would crank, but never turned over. I tried 3x, then just cried because I was SO tired and Matt wasn’t picking up his phone and the world was obvi ending.
He called, said he’d be there in a few, and I tried the truck again. This time I just held the key turned and after about 15 seconds, it started. I parked the trailer, unhitched, went home and fell asleep.
I’ve rejoined US Rider, an appointment has been scheduled to have the trailer tires replaced and my truck is currently getting inspected to see what’s up. I had a membership with US Rider, submitted a claim once, only to have them screw it up, so I let my membership lapse. But I’m back starting to go to places further from home and by myself (like Aiken on my own at the end of the month) so any form of protection is welcome. I’m also purchasing this because I do not want to have to use the hydraulic jack. That looked like a mess.
So even though all the tires were inspected before we left this weekend and pumped to the appropriate PSI, I’m still getting all new tires put on the trailer. Though they have plenty of tread, they’re on the older side, and I will do all I can to not have to go through that again. I’m just glad I decided to leave when Matt did, otherwise THAT would’ve sucked.
All in all, a wonderful experience and we came away with a lot of confidence as well as a lot of homework. Now I need a dressage lesson to fix that left lead issue that is still persisting before Paradise Farms HT at the end of the month! Because if Tim Bourke can’t get him to pick up his left lead then…I’m sure I don’t need to finish that sentence.