He’s a cross-country beast with the right rider.
Remember when I wasn’t so sure he liked cross-country? Well, if he’s ridden correctly, he damn sure does.
He was a bit sticky to the first 2 jumps, but I can’t really blame him- we were heading right for the barns, where he had a fan and 2 buckets of cold water in his stall. It was 94 degrees at 1:30 PM and we had just jumped SJ. But as soon as we were over jump 2? He clicked into a whole ‘nother gear.
Jump 4 was a jump where I had no idea how he’d react. This has been his only experience climbing a hill, jumping, and going straight downhill:
I was so impressed with him in the water. This is the same horse I used to have to drag through every puddle I could find because he was aversive to getting his delicate tootsies wet.
The next 2 jumps were ones I was definitely hesitant about. Jump 7 we had to weave in between two scary looking jumps, and it landed downhill. Didn’t know what P would think about the drop off, but man, he flew.
I did have to slow him down a bit to make the U-turn, and I was sort of dreading jump #8. It’s in the middle of nowhere, it’s uphill, and P historically has not been a fan of things with cutouts. So imagine my surprise when he charged at it.
The other one I was a bit concerned about was the table. Not for P, because P doesn’t seem to mind those types of jumps. But I was worried that I would do something to mess him up or convey that I thought it was a bit large. So I made sure to keep my hands forward and while it took every ounce of mental strength I had not to mess with him, I let him figure out his own stride. He definitely spooked a tiny bit at the carts/people walking directly behind the jump, but was a champ.
The last bending line I was slightly concerned I wouldn’t be able to turn him and the last thing I wanted was a run out at the final jump. So I took him to the right of this and we met it slightly awkward.
He made the line easily, though, and made the feeder look like a Green as Grass jump.
Now at this point I got a bit choked up, and was so ready to jump off and throw my arms around this big guy. P had other ideas- get through the finish flags as fast as he could.
I was happy with how I rode on XC.
Trainer B said, “If you feel a little out of control, go with it,” and I did. I feel like I steered and stayed out of his way, which is key for him. I was also told that if I didn’t feel him accelerate 10 strides out, to use leg and the crop. I only had to do that to fences 1, 2, and 4.
While we were walking the course, Trainer B told me that when I try to set him up before I fence, P listens, so if I don’t then follow the setup with clear directions, it confuses him and he shuts down. Which makes sense. When I kicked on towards a fence, or tapped him with my crop, he responded immediately. Even when I felt uncertain about a distance or our stride, I just stayed out of his way and he figured it all out, as long as he knew I wanted him to go.
The bit change was necessary.
I don’t think I brought it up before, but Trainer B changed up his bit for XC when we went to Virginia. P gets low and flat while galloping, and will blow you right off in rubber bits/snaffles. When we first changed him into a rubber bit, the hope was that it would give P confidence to the jumps. Well, it worked a little too well. 2 days before we left for VA, Trainer B jumped him around his XC jumps at his place in the Nathe and said nope, that he’d bring something for him. He ended up putting P in a full cheek, rubber gag for VHT.
And I think we can all agree P was great there.
My concern was for when I took back over. I’m clearly not the same rider as Trainer B, and didn’t want to do anything that would hurt P and thus back him off from XC even more. But I also know how P is on XC, and the tugging match isn’t fun. When you’re flying around, hauling on the reins and getting no response, you tend to not enjoy XC very much.
Before we left for CHP, we had an XC lesson in the gag, and I was seriously afraid to canter, lest I hit him in the mouth. But I was overreacting- P was fine, and he was definitely fine on XC at CHP. It’s not a harsh mouthpiece, but it does allow him to go around in his own frame where he’s comfortable, while still giving me the control to get his head up before a fence. I always felt like I HAD brakes…I just obviously didn’t use them, hence the speed faults. But I knew they were there. So a win for everyone.
-We’re at the level we should be at.
After the competition, I asked Trainer B if I should enter at BN for the next competition, which is recognized.
B: “Why? So you can ride like a slug around SJ and get away with it?”
Honestly, the whole day before, as well as the day of the competition, I felt like I shouldn’t have been there. I had no idea what possessed me to enter at Novice, and why I thought it would work out considering we had such little experience at BN.
But Trainer B said that sure, it was technically unrecognized, but the course was a legit Novice course. It wasn’t a “guaranteed success” course. The War Horse series is a big one around these parts. They bring in real course designers and use the same jumps that they use for recognized competitions. So ok, maybe we won’t look like idiots the next time.
-The “T word” resurfaces.
While neither Trainer B or I were upset by the speed faults, I asked him if I should do something different next time. Pull him down to the trot at some point in the course? He said no, P needs to get going from right out of the start box and stay forward. His confidence obviously increases the further he gets in the course, so messing with his rhythm wouldn’t be a good idea.
Then I got, “Hate to break it to you, but you’re going to get speed faults until you go Training.”