Ok, so it failed because I scratched. But I should probably explain because I’m sure no one has any idea what I’m talking about. Unless you got my texts. All million “should I or shouldn’t I stay” texts. Love you guys.
After the Paradise Farm HT on the 15th, I made plans for our “move up” to BN (does it count as a move up if it’s already the lowest recognized level?) to be a recognized HT on November 6th. I was going to take P to a local jumper show this past weekend so we could work on stadium and then school at Paradise the Friday and Saturday before the event since it was only a few minutes down the road. But then I saw that the venue we were going to for the recognized horse trial was also hosting a schooling HT this past weekend. So I called my trainer to see if she’d be available and if we could stay with her, packed my bags and a week later we were on the road to finally, FINALLY compete at BN.
We got to Paradise early afternoon on Saturday and did a dressage school with Lellie. I had to powerwalk P to warm him up and get him in front of my leg (because dressage Trainer J says we walk slower than Father Time) and then I asked him to trot and P gave me the most lovely, calm trot transition and it felt like riding on air. Of course, Trainer L chose that moment to walk over and says, “BORING. That is SO boring. That is the most BORING trot ever and if I were judging that trot in a test, I would tell the scribe to score it however they wanted and I’d go out for coffee.”
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…my trainer.
But really, she’s right. In dressage tests, most of the comments are that we lack forwardness. And it’s because P can sometimes be so OVERLY enthusiastic, that I tend to reward him more when he’s quiet. So we tend to always have very average scores, between 33-35. And to be competitive even in BN, we need to get into the 20’s.
So we head into the dressage arena and Lellie asks us to do a walk to canter transition. I ask, it fails miserably because P ignores me, so Trainer L says, “Have we ever done the smash n bash?”
It wasn’t as bad as I feared.
The “smash n bash” is an exercise to get a dead-sided horse, such as mine, to react instantaneously to being asked to go forward. What I’ve been doing was more of a build up- ask nicely, ask with a little more leg and then finally pony club kick. Unfortunately, I’ve been doing lots of pony club kicking. Not the most elegant, but P has me well trained.
Anyway, you kick with both legs…hard. She said she wanted him to buck. I don’t think she really wanted him to, but she knew I’d kick harder than usual, but not really hard by most standards. Because I DO value my life. But whatever, it worked. And by the end of the session we were doing many walk to canter transitions, leg yielding in the canter down centerline (first time!) with flying changes at the end.
Needless to say, I was pretty excited for dressage the next day, if only slightly disappointed that we were only doing BN. Fairly certain those flying changes were Rolex-worthy.
To make the weekend even better, my husband dropped the kids off at the babysitter for the night and drove to Aiken a few hours after I arrived to stay overnight and be there for the competition on Sunday. And at dinner I finally got him to admit…
Then we went to the hotel that I had booked the day before, where we were told that since we checked in so late, there was only one room left and it was on the first floor. Um, ok, I couldn’t see what the big deal was until we got in our room, and heard the barking. Hell no.
Matt went out and apparently there had been 3 separate complaints but no one was in the room with the 4 barking dogs (yes, 4), so “there was nothing they could do.” So Matt said ok, well it’s 9:30 PM and we have a 5 AM wakeup call for a horse show so we’re going to get a room at the hotel next door. Please and thank you for the refund. To which the response was, “Here are the keys to a suite on the 3rd floor.”
Getting things done, people.
After a sleepless night (for me), tossing and turning and worrying about everything from how warmup was going to go, to what the XC fences would look like, to HOW was I going to get P to jump the stadium jump that looked like a train, it was finally time to go feed P and wait for any little bit of light so I could walk XC.
Of course my husband discovered Trainer L’s sheep and I couldn’t tear him away…
So then it was time to head to the HT venue and walk XC. After attempting to check in and then being told that my packet would not be released to me until the correct signature page was signed and returned (she had emailed me the wrong one), but I’d have to wait because she ran out of said signature pages and needed to print more, we decided to venture out on XC and find our way on our own because pressing Print was too difficult to do at that particular moment.
So we headed to the start box and set off. Jump 1 looked pretty fair, even if it was pretty wide for being the first jump on course, then went to jump 2. The footing at the takeoff and landing spots were pretty rough so I made a mental note to aim P for the left of the jump. Jump 3 was a table and in the center of the landing there was a big tree root so again, aim for the left. Jump 4 was fine, then jump 5’s takeoff spot was destroyed, so again, aim for the left. Jump 6 I was going to aim for the right. 6 was a small up bank then we had to turn right and go through an opening in the fence to jump 7. The path through the opening was full of loose stones, sticks and roots, which concerned me because P is a little tender footed, even with 4 shoes on. Then came the water. The area has had a ton of rain and when I stepped into the water complex, I sank about 8″ deep (it was almost to the top of my boot), and my boots were getting stuck in the mud. At the other end of the complex, I slipped on some rocks. But we would have to take the direct route that I walked because there was a jump shortly after coming out of the water.
As the course I went on, I found there was more dread than excitement about running this course. I was having to quiz myself on what part of each jump I should take and noting where to avoid holes, uneven ground hidden by grass, and tree roots sticking out. The jumps all looked fine and doable, except maybe the very last effort, which was labeled as “Big Table” and certainly lived up to its name. Like, big enough that I wished I’d had a tape measure so that I could prove it wasn’t actually BN. But the footing was absolutely terrible.
Maybe P and I have been spoiled- most of our XC outings have been at Kingfisher Park and Paradise Farm. Both places invest a ton of time and money into their footing and it’s always in fantastic shape. This place, despite having a lot of HTs and other shows, appeared as if it invested $0.
So we went back to Paradise and loaded P on the trailer, then found Trainer L and made a plan to meet about an hour later to be there for dressage warmup. On the drive over, I mentioned to Matt that I was most concerned about the footing, and he said, “I haven’t been on many XC courses, but that seemed pretty bad.” So we pulled in, parked for about 2 minutes, then I decided to scratch and we drove the 75 seconds back to Paradise. Yes, it’s only BN and most likely we would have been fine. But the most important thing to me that day was for P to have a confidence building go at a bigger course. And steering him around roots, and trashed footing and through stones and deep, shoe-sucking water was not what I had planned for. Apparently 9 others scratched that day as well. Whether or not for the same reasons, I don’t know. But 10 scratches before 9:15AM? That seems to be quite a lot.
So I told Trainer L my decision and she said I made the right one, which made me feel better, because I was hoping she wasn’t going to see me as a wimp. Then I got on P and we proceeded to have an SJ lesson then onto XC. Where we jumped some big stuff, had some great moments and some pretty ugly bloopers. I will share it all with you.
This was also the first time my husband has met Trainer L. Those two got along like a house on fire and by the end she was requesting that I call her Master Sgt (my husband was a Marine and taught her all the lingo…smh), and was saying things like, “Ooh-Rah” and all that. He showed her how to use his combat knife and she taught him a thing or two about the correct jump position. This best sums up spending the day with them:
Trainer L is Major Payne, with my dear husband being the little bald assistant.
Anyways, back to the good stuff. I got him going forward on the flat, with Trainer L accepting no less than a “Rambo trot”, no “fairy trot” that I tend to allow from him. Then she had me practice jumping in the backseat to counteract my jumping ahead of him.
Then she started shaking up the fences because P hates change.
Then onto this blue/yellow contraption, which turned out to the bane of my existence.
So she had to practically disassemble the jump for him.
Because for some reason, I kept dropping him and he refused like half a dozen times, before this awkward jump:
Then we finally got our groove back again:
And then lost it. Because new jump, you know. You can hear my husband sigh heavily at this one.
We did end up jumping that one successfully, then on to XC!
We started with the BN coop, which was successful. Have I mentioned my trainer is HILARIOUS? I think I was whining that I wasn’t happy with my riding that day. I didn’t hear her response until I watched the video later, but it’s got to be my favorite clip of the day.
Then we went over this Novice contraption. P said that was a negative, at first. There was a lot to look at, I suppose.
But went over it the next time:
Then we did a few more that were not caught on camera, which is probably a good thing. I think it was a combination of me being really tired from no sleep, plus I hadn’t eaten a thing all day. I just felt like my reaction times were getting slower and slower. And P is usually not worked THIS much, and while he seemed just fine physically, I think he was getting to be slightly burned out. So we had a few refusals at this next fence, which really did look humongous and scary in the front, then ended on this:
There was a third fence, a BN rolltop that was equally as successful, but out of sight.
All in all, it was a successful day and definitely a smarter decision than had I went ahead to run the HT. I wasn’t happy with my riding in the slightest and see a lot of room for improvement, but P was a total champ WHEN I rode correctly. He seriously is the biggest tattletale.
I had a little talk with Trainer L afterward because she always asks what her students have learned, the takeaways, what made sense, what didn’t, etc. And when I told her I wished I rode him better, she really hit the nail on the head with this one:
“It’s hard when you have an extremely nice horse like him. There’s more pressure to be perfect and it feels worse when you don’t think you’ve live up to that perfection.”
She then went on to tell me about an UL jumper that she knows who rides 2 particular horses that are extremely tough to ride, but you wouldn’t know it by watching them because she rides so well. Apparently this rider throws up nearly everytime before her rounds because the pressure to perform on these expensive, fancy horses is so great. She’s afraid that if she makes a mistake, it means that she’s not good enough to ride them.
And that really stood out to me. Because everywhere I go, I’m told how special P is and how he would make an excellent UL eventer/hunter/jumper. I’ve had offers to buy him from 2 UL riders, he was almost sold to an UL eventer (who inquired about him right after I scheduled his PPE), my dressage trainer says she wants first dibs on him if I do sell him…the list goes on. So when I mess up on him, or he refuses, or whatever…I can’t help but think that he deserves someone else. Then I remember he’s a horse and really doesn’t care, but still, there’s definitely some pressure there, and it was good to hear that I’m not alone.
One thing that frustrates me the most of jumping is my leg. Not to sound totally egotistical, but my legs are in fantastic shape, courtesy of crossfit. And by in shape I mean they’re really strong. But no matter what I try, they swing back. Opening my knees to an exaggerated angle, pushing them forward, not jumping ahead, shortening my stirrups…I feel like I’ve tried it all. So I started doing what I do best- researching, and found a lot of people with this particular issue had saddle fit problems. Not saddle fit for the horse, but for the rider. And my heart just SANK. Because I’ve gone through so many saddles, it’s ridiculous. And P is so hard to fit that I just don’t wanna rock the boat. But after so many lessons and riding for years, trying everything and not seeing an improvement in this particular area, I’m thinking it may be time to try a different jump saddle.