Banks

The first time I went down a bank it was on my first horse, Sheena. I had trailered in to a friend’s barn to go trail riding. Instead, being young and stupid, we went to play on their XC course without permission. (I know. I know.) They had a bank complex and Sheena, who was not willing over anything higher than 2’6, dropped down a huge training bank with no questions.

The second time I rode a bank it was with Dandy. It was his first XC school and I wasn’t just asking him to go down his first bank, I asked him to go don’t his first bank into water (granted, a small bank). Dandy was a very brave horse but he went cautiously down the bank his first time. Dipping his foot in cautiously which led to one of my favorite pictures.

So when I started working with Gus, I didn’t give a second thought to going down banks. I had had two horses who didn’t think twice about it, why would Gus? Oh but Gus did think twice and thrice and even a fourth time about going down banks.

We would school it one weekend and be fine but the next time we saw a down bank it would be like he had never seen it before, even if it was the exact same bank. So I think it’s a little understandable that I started developing a complex about them. I just didn’t know what I was going to get at any one time.

Then at our XC schooling before Full Gallop we came across a small bank complex. While getting Gus to move out of the way I asked him to step down the most baby of baby banks there ever was. It was basically a pole with an extra two inches on one side. He balked. And continued to do so until we got a lead over with another horse.

What. The. Hell.

So we schooled it. Over and over again. Moving up to the next size as Gus got more confident and was willing to go down at a trot and then at a canter. And I got schooled too for not leaning far enough back and not keeping my legs on. All very fair criticisms but I was just more frustrated at Gus more than anything. Why do we constantly have to redo this? We have no problems going up banks. (Or, at least, Gus has no problems, I’m a mess and can’t coordinate myself, but he takes care of me.) But with down banks I feel like we start over at stage one every single time. It’s frustrating and it certainly puts a dent in my confidence.

At least when Gus does get to the going down part he at least jumps down nicely instead of launching himself. Small victories?

Eventually we were going down the Novice size bank and LT moved everyone over to do a Novice size Training Question: downhill to a brush fence and then three strides to a down bank. She told me I didn’t have to do it unless I wanted to and I did not want to, did I? I mean it looked kind of fun but it was a down bank after a downhill jump. Oh, what the heck, I told myself. Worst case scenario is that he stops again.

But he didn’t! Because I actually rode the fences Gus quietly hopped over and then down for me.

I was pretty pleased with myself. We can ride banks! At least for now.

Full Gallop January 2018 HT

The only thing I regret about Full Gallop’s January HT is that I have almost no media. Especially considering we kicked butt and took names. But between me allowing my wonderful husband to skip the show and the rain, well… pictures were hard to come by.

After having such beautiful weather for our XC schooling on Friday and our Ride a Test on Saturday, it was a little disappointing to watch the rain clouds come in for Sunday. But come they did and it started raining steadily by the time we were pulling into Full Gallop. Thankfully we didn’t have super early ride times for dressage and were able to relax a little bit. Gus was not thrilled about waiting on the trailer but I wasn’t thrilled about having a completely soaked horse before we even rode.

I don’t want to jinx it, but I think we are finally starting to get a hold of this whole dressage thing. If you count the ride a test we did on Saturday, we had two beautiful, quiet, and obedient tests. Gus maybe wasn’t brilliant or overly bold but they led to my best test yet. We got three 8s including one for our entry and one for our halt. I was thrilled when I got the scores. I was expecting to score somewhere in the 34 range but instead we got a 31! I may have let out a little squeal. If we can just clean up a few more things (like the canter) I could definitely be scoring in the high 20s.

After dressage it was time for our XC walk. I already knew there was a ditch on course and I was nervous. Until Pine Top, I’ve never had a real problem with ditches. Down banks? Yes. Oh lordy, yes. But honestly, I never thought we were ditchy which is why I just cantered straight towards the ditch in Pine Top’s warm-up and expected Gus to soar over. He didn’t and I ended up on the ground. That issue carried forward into our XC schooling on Friday and, while I got over everything, I was just a little bit nervous. LT told me to lean back, leg on, and let him trot it. I said okay and tried not to think about it too hard.

The rest of the course was fairly straight forward and not terribly big. At least it didn’t feel big since we had been jumping training size fences just a few days ago. The only other thing besides the ditch that I had to take a second glance at was the corner option for jump 14. We had the option of a fairly straight forward corner or a big upright bench thing. LT had us walk the corner. Gus and I have done all of one corner. Granted, we had no issue, but still… ONE corner! But since there was a very real possibility that we wouldn’t even get that far, I really wasn’t worried.

But first was stadium.

I was really happy with this stadium round. It wasn’t hunter pretty by any means but I felt like it wasn’t scary crazy either. Instead of getting crazy to the fences I was able to ride with more leg and more adjustability. There’s still a lot to work on with my posture but I think it’s starting to come together. The best part about it all was that we left all the bars up this time.

It’s the little things right?

We went straight to XC where I had time to jump a handful of fences before we headed out on course. LT wanted me riding really forward to the fences as Gus was still a little backed off. But once we were out on XC, Gus kicked into another gear. He was flying.

Gus ate up the ground and jumped boldly over everything. He did peak at the ditch but didn’t hesitate. By the time we hit the water, I knew we were going to come home clean and on time. It was just one of those rides. Even the corner felt like we jumped those all the time (though I’ll admit I didn’t get a good life and we ended up jumping the widest part of the fence). I don’t think I could have been happier crossing the finish line.

This was the perfect start to our 2018 season and it was just what we needed as a confidence boost after Pine Top. As a bonus, we finished on our dressage score and came in third out of eleven.

2017 Pine Top Thanksgiving HT – Day 2

You all already know how XC day started at Pine Top so I won’t go into detail but it was horrible and definitely left me feeling like I didn’t want to go out on XC at all. I spoke with Hillary a bit, my husband a bit, and LT a bit and ultimately decided that I would go out there and finish the weekend. It was not an easy to decision to make.

It was a completely different decision then when I was having a panic attack at FENCE. There I was honestly terrified of almost every single fence on course. I really believed I had moved up too soon. This time, while I was very nervous about two fences (a maxed table WITH MAXED BRUSH and a huge trakehner), I really thought we were more than capable of handling the course. I just didn’t know if I was in the mindset to do so.

The hold time had pushed everyone back about an hour and left things hectic and out of order. I didn’t really mind because even though I had tacked up and decided I was going to ride, I didn’t really feel like it. Combined with my nerves about the big brush table, I was starting to get a little weak. My trainer came back to warm-up after her ride and began putting me through the jumps. I had decided to ride confidently so that I could have a quick warm-up and get out on course and get it over with. And my plan was working. Everything was going great.

Then LT told me to pop over the ditch (it is both awesome and horrible that Pine Top has a ditch in warm-up). We just did a for real coffin at Poplar a few weeks earlier and I’ve never had a major problem with ditches so I wasn’t worried. LT told me to slow down and walk/trot it if I didn’t feel like we were getting a good approach to it but I thought we were so I cantered on. Gus promptly came to screeching halt at the base and I flew right into it.

I won’t get into my feelings about the stop because my trainer and I disagree a bit but I will say that she was 100% right that I wasn’t really riding. I got in front of him, I was weak in my leg, I was looking down into the ditch. It was my own fault I came off. But I was honestly too upset to really care at that point. I had landed weird on my ankle and twisted an old injury, so that was throbbing. I had fallen backwards into the poles (had even knocked the flag out of its holder) and my lower back was aching. I had tears streaming down my cheeks. Frankly, I was embarrassed.

But I got back on. I schooled that ditch until we were cantering over it like NBD. Then I told LT I was scratching. My head and my heart were not in the game. She was fine with that but she said I had to keep schooling until I was feeling confident about the jumps. And before I could trot over to the gate crew and let them know I wouldn’t be going out, she set me to work. We went back and jumped all of the tables and the coops and the log piles and the ditch. Pine Top has a lot of jumps in their warm-up. A LOT! By then there was no one really in the warm-up so I was really able to let go. I kept my heels down, my shoulders back, and my eyes up. When we came to a fence and he backed off, I used my leg and pony clubbed him up to the fence.

Then, sneaky trainer that she is, LT told me that I was going to go into that box and I was going to go out of the box and I was going to jump the first fence. It was just a little pile of logs. I could stop right after if I wanted. But I was feeling a little more confident and so I wanted to go out too. I wanted to prove to myself I could get over that stupid brush table (I was trying very hard not to think about the trakehner). As a little extra insurance, LT switched my little nub of a spur out for her 1 ¼ inch Prince of Wales, told me I got this, and out of the start box I went.

First fence, no problem. It was simple, it was inviting. But the second fence was a big roll top with brush and it was now completely in the shadows. Gus backed off when he saw it but I put my leg in and galloped him up to it. It wasn’t super smooth, but it got the job done.

Fence 3 was our first real test: the big brush table. Again, we galloped up to it. Again, Gus backed off his pace, hesitating as we approached. I pushed my heels down and forward, dug my spurs in and tapped him with the whip. We were going over that fence.

And when we did, I was so incredibly excited and happy with my horse.

But there wasn’t really a lot of time for celebrating yet, we still had 12 more jumps! While Gus spooked at a hay bale on the fourth jump, jumps four through 6 actually rode very smoothly and we didn’t have a problem. I was happy that those fences were more straight forward and allowed us to build on the confidence of going over the biggest fence on course.

Fence 7 was a little house/coop thing going from a wooded lane into a big field. Because of the tightness and the dark/light issue, Gus was a little unsure but he was game to pop over. The problem was though, that because of where it was situated, there was a bit of a drop on the far end. LT had mentioned this on our course walk but it hadn’t looked like much to me so I didn’t give it as much thought as I should have. Gus didn’t care about the drop, but since I wasn’t riding for it, I almost came off over his neck. Oops. Learned my lesson! Listen to your trainer when she tells you to sit back in the seat down a drop.

I managed to regain my seat and stirrups and rode fences 8 – 11 fairly well. We had a bit of a pukey distance to fence 9 but thankfully it was little and Gus recovered. The combo at 10 rode well too.

Then, it was into the woods for the trakehner. I remember riding to it, thinking, eyes up, eyes up, eyes up but if you watch the helmet cam video, I definitely looked down. Tattle tale! That is probably why Gus was riding so boldly to the fence and then, at the very last second, saw the ditch and hesitated. I popped him with my spurs and we jumped over. I screamed YES so loudly that you can hear it in the video someone was taking of me. That wouldn’t be so surprising except they were standing 100 yds. away at the water complex.

Which thankfully ended up not being an issue, even with the colored water.

The second to last fence was the last real big effort, a table between the fences. After getting over everything else in that course, I wasn’t worried but I still had to make sure I was riding him to the fence. It was probably our best effort of the day. We hit it in stride and sailed over. I checked my watch before going over the last fence and thought I was coming in a little fast. This wasn’t surprising to me because it was a very gallopy course and Gus is a thoroughbred. His natural pace is just not made for BN/N speeds. But, you know, I was already in ninth place and I had it in my head that they were only doing ribbons to sixth. So who cared if we came in a few seconds too fast?

And when we did go over that last fence, a huge smile broke out on my face. And tears of relief, I’m sorry to say. This wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had going XC but I still feel proud that I got back on, I started, and I finished.

2017 Tryon Riding & Hunt Club HT – XC

I had just about two hours between dressage and when I had to be on for XC. Two hours to cool down, switch up my gear and get back on. 

Two hours to work myself into a panic. 

As I tacked up Gus, I could feel my stomach tying into knots. My hands were clammy and slipped on the zipper when I pulled on my vest. By the time I made my way to warm up I was shaking and pale and the only reason I wasn’t throwing up was because there was nothing in my stomach. 

I think LT was actually a little worried when she finally saw me. I rode up to her, sucking in deep breaths to try to calm my panic and told her I didn’t think I could do this, that I was having a panic attack. 

We talked for a few minutes but I honestly couldn’t remember what was said and then I started warming up. It was not a good warm up. Gus was fine. I was not. I couldn’t make myself ride boldly and the fences weren’t even that high. Before I knew it, they were calling me on deck and I hadn’t even gone over the oxer. Great. 

I rode back to LT and she said, “Just go out of the start box. Just go over the first fence.” I nodded, my heart in my throat and trotted off. 

The starter counted us down and we came out of the box boldly towards the first fence. And over we went. 

Then we went over fence two. 
Then fence three. 

And all of a sudden, I realized I wasn’t afraid anymore. I was having fun and Gus was having fun. Somehow LT had known. 

Gus flew over the big brush jump without blinking and we soared over the weird horse fence.

And then before I knew it we were through the water and up the hill to the ditch. Gus looked at the ditch so hard he almost didn’t realize we had another fence. But he pulled himself together and gave me a huge leap over it to continue on. 

Gus was flying over these fences like they were little logs on the ground. His ears were pricked and he was having a blast. I was even doing well enough on time that I could open him up and let him gallop through the end of the course.

When we crossed the finish I let out a little whoop of delight and threw my arms around Gus’ neck.  And then I let the tears come. That had, without a doubt, been a test of courage and my emotions were shot. 

Gus didn’t have a care in the world and he strutted back to the barn like he had just won the Kentucky Derby. He didn’t know how hard getting out of the start box had been for me. 

This go around XC taught me more about me and my horse than I had thought possible. It taught me how to find my courage and taught me to trust in Gus. 

And really, I was thrilled I hadn’t packed up my ball and gone home the night before. 

A XC Perspective

It was so awesome to go XC schooling at Poplar. It’s the very first place that Gus and I ran XC at a schooling show. We’ve come a very long way since then. If you’ll remember, I was terrified of a itty bitty little tadpole table. And, okay, they use that table for the BN course all the time but still. It is tiny. Now I see that table out on course and think, what was I scared of?

It’s all perspective, right?

And now that I’ll be running Novice my trainer has to find a way to push my limits and still maintain my confidence. It’s not an easy task but she’s pretty amazing. She has complete faith that Gus and I can do this and that helps give me faith that we can do it too.

For example, once through our warm up there is no easing into higher fences, we start riding the Novice fences right off the bat. It’s almost like she’s not even giving me a chance to over think. Don’t worry. Just do it. And so that’s what I did.

The questions started easy. Single fences, long distances. Slowly we added related distances, tighter turns, more terrain and little courses. I was thrilled that Gus didn’t even peak at the ditch or the drop, even though I was slightly terrified of the later. Each fence and combo under us made me a bit more confident.

A lot of it really is time and the right frame of mind. And, of course, the right horse. Gus is becoming confident too and is much braver than he used to be. He might look at a new or scary jump but he’s also willing now.

So one new fence after another. We’re on our way!