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.