Catalpa Corner Charity Horse Trial had a fairly tough training level xc course over the weekend. I had entered my developing horse, Sammy, in his first horse trial there, and walking the course I felt like we probably were prepared, but that it would take some riding to get it done. Sammy and I had done a lot of foxhunting together, which always makes me feel confident. I really get to know horses when I foxhunt them for a season or two. They say foxhunting is like war, but with only half the danger. The experience of going through the excitement and the tedium of live foxhunting bonds us like men who spent time in foxholes together-we’d never ask the other to do anything we wouldn’t do for them and we’ve got each other’s backs.
We’d also taken care of the technical side of things, with dressage, xc and showjumping schooling of course. We’d done a schooling horse trial at another park at training level and done very well. So, I thought we were prepared and didn’t lose any sleep on Friday night.
Saturday morning’s dressage went fine and after a few hours’ break we were warming up for xc. Sammy’s not much for show nerves, and galloping all over God’s creation on a hunt with 30 of his closest horse pals all winter makes the xc warmup chaos feel like old home week. So, having warmed up, we trotted down to the start box. Since this was only his second horse trial (the first being the schooling horse trial a few weeks before), he stood in the start box without much of a clue as to what was coming next. So I enjoyed the quiet time, which I know won’t last. When he has a few more horse trials under his belt, he will know exactly what a start box means and start revving up the engine there. I enjoyed the peace while I had it.
3, 2, 1 go! Have a good ride! And off we went. Sammy picked up a very nice hand gallop, taking in the scenery, and I got the feeling he was thinking there might be hounds to follow nearby. When I mentioned to him that there was a nice log jump ahead, he switched his focus to it and, though we were 10 strides out, he threw all his legs forward for exactly one stride, (it would have gotten a nice reining score I think) then immediately continued cantering. I heard a rapid conversation from his head, “What? There’s no fenceline, what’s with the jump? Oh, yep, I can do that.” He went down and popped over the log pile.
On to fence two, a shiny maximum height pheasant feeder. He cantered hesitantly down to it, felt extra wobbly at the second to last instant and exercised his right to wobble decisively left. I could have stuffed him over it, I think, but I didn’t want him to have an awkward jump and scare himself. I exercised my right to tap him on the butt once with the crop, gave him a second to reset his mind, re-presented to the fence and hopped right over the pheasant feeder on try 2. Next, through the small creek (an easy deal for a foxhunter) and on to the barn jump. He cantered on down to that and sailed it. He’d seen this fence’s identical twin on the course 2 weeks ago, so he was good with that. Canter up the hill and up the bank. This was more like it for him. Terrain issues are a foxhunter’s forte’. He took that bank like a professional and now he was getting in a bit of a rhythm.
Canter down the hill and up the next and on to the skinny chevron. I had wondered how this one was going to go when I walked the course because some horses don’t think they will fit between trees like this. I had one horse who actually jumped a 5′ showjumping standard in a clinic when the clinician set a skinny showjump. The horse was sure he would not fit between them, but didn’t like to stop or runout, so, very logically, he jumped the standard. His rider managed to stay in the tack by sheer benevolence of the Universe and the horse staying straight upon landing. Had he done any minor squiggle in the first two strides after the fence, I’d have been a lawn dart. Good man. So I cantered down to the skinny chevron with a leg on, but wondering how this might go. Sammy jumped it straight and true, no muss no fuss. Yay Sammy, because the next fence was a bending line two stride log combination in the woods. There was a lot of talk about the combination on course walks. There was walking and rewalking the center distance, the inside distance, the outside distance. As for me, I loved the combination, nice round logs, good footing, nice distance right down the middle, nice size. And voi la! Sammy agreed. Smoked on over that combination. Good man.
Next a let-up coop that rode easily and then down to the trakehner. He’s done trakehners before, but still he was a little rattled early in the course and, though he was doing really well, trakehners are still funny things to horses. He cantered down to it and at the last minute turned left exclaiming, “Camie, did you know there is a ditch under there? I’ve got a solution for us. Let’s go this way instead! Look, no ditch!” I think I actually giggled a little. I know he can jump the height and I know he learns quickly, so I took a breath, gave him a pet, walked a few steps away, picked up a canter and asked him to have a try again. He jumped it perfectly.
That was a turning point. I think I heard an audible “click”. He figured out that the easiest and most fun thing is to go over whatever is in front of him. “Ohhhhhh. I get the game.” It was really cool. In that instant, I knew the rest of the course was going to be pure fun. He dropped into the water like a star. Did the barrels in perfect stride, the combination felt like a gymnastic and we went down the down steps, both grinning like crazies.
The steeplechase fence rode just like a real steeplechase fence, forward and confident. The corner was easy and then on to the coffin complex.
On the course walk, I was a little concerned about the coffin. I jump judged it last year and I’d seen some inexperienced horses come up to the first element, start to jump, see the water on the other side, stop jumping and slither on their front legs back down the jump. Faced with that, a few riders stayed on and a few ejected. No lasting harm to anyone.
So now I was cantering down to the same complex. But I was not on the same horse I’d started the course with. I was on One Who Got the Game. Even cantering down to it, I knew it would go well. He sailed over that table, took the creek in stride and actually locked on to the prelim C element. I had to pull him off and send him to the training C, which he sailed easily.
Next a coop. I giggled to myself coming down to it since a foxhunting friend of ours had remarked to herself about a coop on her course at a different horse trial. “It’s just a coop. We jump them all the time. No problem.” And promptly got eliminated at it on xc day. So I rode the coop properly and with respect and it went well.
The new bench was a lark and it was great fun to jump the birdhouse, which had spent a few weeks being born in our garage a few winters ago and was delivered to the park in our horse trailer. And GREAT fun to jump. Then a nice big table, and pet and praise the horse through the finish flags.
The 10th place ribbon is a very pretty cornflower blue. And it was the Best. 52.8 penalty-ride. Ever.