P and I had a very busy week leading up to Aiken. A second XC schooling just wasn’t in the books for us, thanks to Hurricane Matthew, and P got an unscheduled 4 days off, which is usually a recipe for disaster. So to combat the spookiness that typically accompanies an unworked Pilgrim at home, I scheduled lessons for the 2 days before we left. Since breaking my ankle, I really struggled with my jumping position since I was so unbalanced. My left ankle wouldn’t flex at all and my right ankle would be sunk down, making me a very twisty rider, so I’ve worked incredibly hard on regaining the mobility back in that ankle. I also had this horrible habit of fetal-positioning myself leading up to a jump and never stopped hearing “sit back, sit back, sit back” ad nauseam. So naturally I took those corrections just a leeeetle…
So I set up a jump lesson with one of the ladies who came XC schooling with us- she’s a friend of a friend and knows her stuff. She mostly coaches hunters, but after watching her go XC for the first time (and then crack open beer right after), I felt like she was right up our alley. So I hauled over to her place and let her unleash the fury on me.
We had some great moments and some not so great. Pilgrim was a bit on edge after seeing the cows in the pasture next to the arena, then lost his shit when one cow got a blue tub stuck on his head. I couldn’t blame him, it was quite the sight. But we watched it for awhile, then went back to work, so progress.
Trainer A’s observations of me are that I worked so hard to correct my left side, that it has now overtaken the right side. My right leg creeps up, while my left leg stays put, and puts more weight on my left seat bone, while leaving my right seat bone floating in the air. All this has been confirmed by Pilgrim, who continually misses the left lead under saddle, but not on the lunge, and has been more reactive on his left side (hindquarters and back) during his PEMF sessions, which I’ve been having done on him in place of chiro for the past month.
Once I was aware of that imbalance, the other things came more easily as we progressed. I was able to have more of a fold over the jumps, rather than perching in my stirrups, which helped my release immensely. We also worked on half-halting at the canter, because P didn’t appreciate me pinching him with my knees after landing from each jump. P is a narrow horse, so that pinching was impinging on his ability to take deep breaths, thus the taking off out of panic. He also is a horse that appreciates support. When we jump and I pinch with my knees, my lower leg comes off of him and trainer A observed that he would sort of hesitate in mid-air. When I focused on landing with my hips open and my legs in contact with his sides, P calmly cantered away. Each. Damn. Time. He’s such a tattletale. We had some very lovely jumps, and I will definitely be coming back to her for help in between trips to Aiken.
Excuse the vulgarity of the picture above, but I couldn’t help myself. When we were done, I tied P to the trailer so I could put my stuff away and then I hear hoof steps on the ramp. Thinking P was loading himself to go home, I ran over, only to see him stretch out and pee. So my horse does circus tricks to relieve himself. He’s quite the character.
The next day, and much to the dismay of P, we loaded up again, this time to go to trainer J’s for a much overdue dressage lesson. Thanks to truck troubles, I haven’t seen her since April…woe was us. P was not sure about being back after watching her running alongside the horse before us with a whip.
Throughout all the time we trained with trainer J, she was pregnant and not riding, then the last time we saw her, she had just had a C-section a few days before (she’s badass) and still not riding. So she asked if she could get on P because she’s wanted to sit on him since the first time she saw him. Of course I said yes, and it was so funny how excited she was. She’s always been one of P’s biggest fans, and a huge reason why I’ve stuck it out with him.
Then I got on and we resumed. The last time I was there, our homework was to work on straightness. It was good to hear that I’ve done well with that, but now it’s time to bend! I’ve been struggling with P moving off of my leg- he tends to push back into it rather than move away. So we worked on turning on the forehand, which was really tough. P wanted to do it, but he really didn’t know what I was asking. He kept shuffling his feet around and then I praised him like crazy when he got it right. Eventually he started to understand, but the biggest victory was that he never got so frazzled that he stopped trying. So that’s our homework now- bending and moving off of my leg.
She also noted that he has trained me well to not make him go forward. Which is sad because I worked really hard on that earlier in the year and have apparently let him revert back to slugging along. So much to always work on.
The next morning, we were off to Aiken! Of course P saw me coming for the 3rd morning in a row (we usually ride at night) and was like, “Nope, you leave me to lay here in my round bale.” Then I snapped a carrot and half and all his principles went out the window.
We arrived in Aiken around noon, P went out to a pasture and I got to work putting last minute touches on the XC course. I absolutely love it out at Paradise Farm. Trainer L and her team worked so hard designing new courses and building new jumps, and it looked all looked amazing. Like this Prelim jump:
Later on I walked the course alone. Much to my surprise, the jumps all looked tiny and boring (I entered the Starter division- 2’3″). I found myself looking longingly at the BN and N jumps- many of which we had already jumped when I came to train here, like these:
It was a twisty course, lots of up and downhill jumps, and all the jumps except 1 were off a turn. But rather than walking the course with a sense of dread, I was really excited for XC. Of course it helped that we had an awesome XC school just a couple weeks ago. The last time I was here for a horse trial, my horse had repeatedly stopped at tiny jumps with a 4* rider on his back.
So after leaving the start box, it was a slight bending line uphill to the first jump, a small pile of logs.
Then staying on the right lead, to the next jump:
Then a steep ride downhill that I planned to trot, still heading to the right. When I walked the course with Trainer L later on, she warned me that many horses don’t care for white jumps. That along with it being at the bottom of a hill made it super important that I keep P balanced and forward. I wasn’t too concerned though, because pretty much all the jumps we have at home are white, and most are white gates.
Then up the hill and to the left to the little (but very sideways) house.
Then just into and out of the water on the other side. Trainer L advised me to come to a trot after the jump 4 because the entry into the water was next to a Prelim log and going any faster would likely result in P thinking he was going to have to jump that. P has always been funny about water, but at our last schooling he marched right in a the trot with no hesitation so I was hopeful. Just in case he was backed off, Trainer L advised to keep the strides small and try to minimize the splash as much as possible.
Then out of the water, up a small hill and to the right to this itty bitty log.
7 was off the right lead and a sort of combo between a ditch and a small down bank. Trainer L’s advice was to ride this like it was a jump. Her words: “Even though it’s nothing, you need to ride it like it’s something. You need to ride it like it’s the biggest, widest ditch ever. Do what you need to do, get left behind even, but DON’T jump up his neck going over this.” Yes, ma’am!
Immediately to the left after the “ditch” was a coop on relatively flat terrain.
And then a slight bending line to the right (and past that Prelim spiderweb jump) was a small box.
Then a right turn to this log, landing uphill.
This was the first jump on course that I was a bit apprehensive of. The branches were noisy and spread out underneath it. We had a sharp left turn and I could see P bolting after jumping this.
12 was probably the narrowest jump we’ve ever jumped, not to mention it was off a sharp left turn and uphill. Getting him straight and presenting it correctly to him was key here.
13 was a rolltop off a left turn. Since 12 landed heading towards home, I anticipated having to use many half-halts to get him to come back and make the turn in time to see the jump.
After 13, we go straight and past the mound and around blue table to the right. Turning right presents the BN log first so Trainer L warned that P would probably lock onto that one first and I had to be very clear in square turning him to the left to show him this log.
15 was one we’ve jumped before. We also jumped the BN replica of this with no issues, so this one looked incredibly small. It was another tricky approach where P would likely see other jumps first so getting him square to the correct one was important.
Last was a small box that was on a bending left line from 15. It was placed in a way that made it easy to show him which jump was ours, then land and head past the flags!
Walking it with Trainer L later that night was incredibly helpful. I haven’t walked a course with a trainer since I evented as a teen. Though I got in a little bit of trouble. As we were heading back to the barn she turns to me and says, “This is the last time you’re entering Starter. If I had seen your entry come in, I would have changed that shit.”
But that was a boost of confidence in it’s own way. She thinks we should be running Novice, though I say BN will be plenty.
Show recap coming tomorrow! I’m in the process of purchasing photos from the photographer since husband wasn’t there to be my media person this time.