The prize list for this event was not lying: it was NOT a starter cross country course. The course included some very odd turns and approaches, quite a few fences shared with BN, and some obstacles that Isabel and I had never schooled before (helloooo there, ditch!).
But it was a beautiful day and the ground felt good (if a tad soft). And the first two fences were very VERY inviting ( < 2' ), with lots of space to establish a strong rhythm.
Isabel had just finished stadium beautifully, and felt extremely relaxed while simultaneously ready for anything. She looked around a little bit when we left the box (and got a tap on the shoulder asking for focus), but took a very confident distance to fence 1.
Fence 2 was a little looky also. We were going straight into the sun, and at about 4pm, it was somewhat blinding with dark long shadows everywhere. But she jumped it well anyway, then we had a long gallop around some other BIG obstacles (I think maybe a corner?) to get to fence 3 - the farthest point on course.
Fence 3 was a faux ditch (the middle was filled with mulch, rather than dug out) - something we haven't schooled. But it didn't really look like much, and Isabel jumped it nicely without hesitation. Maybe actual ditches will pose more of a problem, but this faux one was fine.
I am SO SAD we didn't get that one on video, but the footage starts pretty soon after that, tho, and you can see that Isabel's settled into a really lovely (yet alert) canter.
Then came the water. The approach for this was all kinds of weird. The flags were set wayyyyy far apart - you can sorta see the right one in the above picture, and the left flag below - and not at the actual edge of the water.
So if you're a horse like Isabel - ie, allergic to water - you can actually make it *through* the flags, but still not touch the water.
"i am a desert horse. A DESERT HORSE. we do not dooo waterrrr!!!!" - isabel
Isabel took one look at the water, proceeded to run sideways up a gravelly hill, nearly trampling our spectators, just to get around it. It's kinda funny actually. And all captured on video for your viewing pleasure lol. (never mind that she bombs through streams in the woods at home like no big deal on a weekly basis. never mind that at all...)
Anyways, the map made the line from the water flags to fence 6 look fairly straight, but it wasn't at ALL. It was a hard 90 degree left turn to a short approach to the biggest up bank we'd ever faced - also shared with BN. I could step up this bank - but barely. The only banks I've done with Isabel have been in the 12" - 18" range. This was easily max height (2'3").
But Isabel was perfect for it. She locked on to a very precise distance, and effortlessly hopped up. I couldn't have been happier. Very pleased to have this on video too.
please enjoy Isabel's sideways scurrying, and also her total domination of that bank
Next was a narrow break in the fence that they called a 'mandatory crossing' - not an actual obstacle, but flagged anyway. Isabel looked a little bit, but cantered right through.
You can see in the above picture that there's a sorta natural 'basin' area in the terrain. We'd be running around this after 7 on our approach to 8.
Fence 7 was also shared with BN, but was super inviting. We have done hay bales before, and the height was definitely easy. Isabel was looking a little bit (she was actually a little looky the whole time on course) but it had zero effect on her jumping effort - which was lovely.
After 7 we hugged the fence line at a slow trot to get around the basin and approach 8 - a steep downhill slide that I planned to attack at a walk. Isabel spooked a little bit at some stuff leaning on the fence, and then dumped me at a random mud puddle well before the actual obstacle. Boo. We were going so well!!!
I think this highlights my greenness at course walking and rider awareness. When I walked the course, I noticed the cattails but not the mud. I *should* notice mud tho, bc I ride a horse that dislikes it. Then when I was actually riding, I saw all kinds of other things that I hadn't noticed when walking (like the stuff leaning on the fence that worried Isabel). So I will be talking to my trainer about the finer points of course walking, and hopefully get some guided tours. (plus, ya know, schooling changes of terrain. that's kind of a biggie.... lol)
But anyway, here's the rest of the course just for kicks. The above picture is taken from the bottom of the slide looking back up - so you can see it's pretty steep. The ground was soft too (obvi, if there was mud everywhere...), so the plan was to walk this so that we didn't lose control for the short approach to 9.
Fence 9 was SUPER inviting - the only question here was the short approach from a steep downhill. I had zero worries about this fence.
Then it was a quick bend to 10 and then the finish. 10 was a biggish log, but certainly not the biggest thing on course. And you'll notice that the flag actually allows for people who want to squeeze through that little gap (not that I intended to do it). So again, I wasn't very worried about getting over this had we made it this far.
But again - Isabel was absolutely owning this course - including some tougher questions that we hadn't seen before. I need to work on water and changes of terrain, but everything else was really foot-perfect.
This was definitely our strongest xc outing to date (including schooling), and Isabel felt safe and positive and forward. It was downright easy for her. So despite the elimination, I think we gained a lot from the outing, and I feel super confident about how it all went.