Tuesday, August 7, 2018

xc schooling @ Windurra

My riding buddies Brita and Rachael have all been to Windurra a number of times, but not yet this year. I've had pretty serious FOMO about it, and have basically been plotting our next outing here ever since touring the facilities last summer.

beautiful, albeit hot, day for cross country schooling at Boyd Martin's storied farm Windurra
Finally, the stars aligned and we planned our day. Sunday was supposed to be the USEA recognized show at our home farm, but it got cancelled due to the insane amounts of rain we've been having. The tracks (esp T and M) were supposed to run through the woods which was absolutely not going to work, plus some of the main cross country fields don't have the best drainage and can become boggy.

This all meant, tho, that we all suddenly found ourselves with a Sunday free from obligations! So finally: to Windurra we went!

somewhat amazingly, we had the place almost entirely to ourselves on a sunny sunday morning
Honestly I expected a couple things from the day: that the ground would be muddy and probably very very cut up from heavy usage, and that it would be crowded and potentially a little chaotic.

Turned out tho, we had the place almost entirely to ourselves except for a few folks using the galloping track for conditioning, and a Windurra-based group of riders quietly moving through the course for their own lesson. Plus the ground was fantastic. Excellent conditions and not at all super cut up. Honestly it was pretty close to perfect, except for the somewhat oppressive heat. Luckily we had opted to go in the morning to avoid the worst of the heat.

didn't catch our earliest warm up logs, but we started pretty quickly over a small house
It was a net positive day for me and Charlie too. Very much a learning experience, tho. Charlie's such a good boy, so honest, and so generally unimpressed by things, that I kinda have it in my mind that it should be reasonably easy to just hit the road and jump giant jumps and generally gallivant around like the easiest thing in the world.

That is..... Not realistic tho. Especially not for where Charlie is in his training right now, and for what I am as a rider (read: mediocre).

to a simple table
So I ended up making a series of poor choices in presenting Charlie with obstacles, and then had to do a little bit of clean up. Not necessarily a bad thing, we both learned a lot. But not really ideal either. And it meant that we spent the day working through different sorts of challenges vs just galloping big fences.

and roll top. all easy peasy
For starters, I made a critical error in judgement during our preliminary warm up circuit of the property. I casually pointed Charlie at a baby ditch while on the buckle and without a lot of support, fully expecting him to fart along over it like he has with literally every single ditch ever that he's ever seen. And...... Yea. Critical error in judgement.

We had our first ever ditch meltdown. And it was extensive. I had regrets, realized too late that I could have done literally anything differently leading up to that moment. Alas tho, experience is that thing you get right after you needed it, and so we ended up working through a serious meltdown of my own creation.

cruised through the water a couple times, then caught this little feeder bc nothing else looked super good for where we were
It ended fine, and with the help of Brita and Rachael providing leads etc, we worked through it and Charlie resumed his previous attitude of "No Shits Given" re: ditches. But..... We ended up blowing through a not-insignificant chunk of emotional capital before the ride even really began, and Charlie had already begun lathering up with the stress sweats. Not... Not ideal.

Oh well, next time I'll do things differently.

water water everywhere!
After that, tho, the ride more or less got back on the right track. I opted to tackle some itsy bitsy logs first and Charlie gamely trotted the first, then cantered the second. Then I looped around to a small house with not enough leg or commitment to riding Charlie straight (another theme for the day) and we kinda futzed it a little the first time. Represented and he was great, and cruised right on around in a nice circuit to a reasonably sized table to N roll top, both beautifully out of stride. Bingo.

nice N corner to work over. skinnier and more technical with the tree than what charlie's seen before
We moved on to the water next (partly so Charlie could get a drink) and I kinda just had a little bit of a mental block about the complex.

What I was learning about the way jumps were set on this particular day at Windurra is that there were either jumps a tad too small for us (BN and below) scattered around on flat ground as singles. Or the jumps that looked about right size-wise were positioned with higher degrees of technicality than I felt we were ready to tackle. Especially after the ditch debacle. 

he was a very genuine boy our first time over when i changed my mind at the last second
So while the water had plenty of reasonable jumps around it, they were mostly right at the edge of the water. Not something I really felt ready to do with Charlie, considering he just did his first little cross rail into water the week before and was feeling a little green in general.

Instead we kinda just cantered around through the water, and caught a little BN feeder a couple strides out from the water. Again, first time over the feeder I was wishy washy with my leg but the second time we jumped it much more nicely.

second time was better
There was a great N corner right in the same area tho, and considering Charlie's actually jumped a fair number of corners already, I felt eager to try it. Again tho, the technicality was maybe a titch higher than he's seen with the tree right there creating a visually narrower jumping space, and we kinda squirreled over it the first time. Second time was, again (say it with me) better. 

lots of time spent watching friends and trying to catch our breath in the heat too
By this point, even tho we hadn't really jumped much at all, Charlie was HOT. It was pretty abundantly clear that I've been a bit absent in recent weeks. Being a thoroughbred, Charlie can put fitness on pretty quickly. But he can lose it just as quickly. And where just a couple weeks ago he was extremely fit - on this day he was .... not.

green dotted line reflects terrain - this was a large mound down to a skinny
Plus it took me a minute to realize that the terrain of Windurra would naturally take a toll. Again tho, it was all good stuff. The work on terrain was much-needed for both of us. But I was just a little slow to recognize that we possibly needed to break things down into smaller incremental pieces given how our ride was going, vs just throwing Charlie in.

mayyyyyyybe i should have given charlie a chance to practice the mound on its own first before putting together the line to the skinny..... #noted
Perfect example was our next attempted combination. Windurra is FULL of mounds of various shapes, sizes, and steepness. One in particular looked pretty good for us: with an N brush table positioned on top, dropping down the mound to a small but very skinny brush roll top.

I had it in my mind that we would do just the mound to the skinny first, then maybe add in the table. But... probably I needed to make it simpler than that to start, since Charlie has very little experience with mounds. What I should have done was go up and down the mound alone, and maybe tackle the skinny alone, then put it together.

so then we just practiced the mound by itself and the skinny by itself
Instead I tried the direct line first and Charlie bless his heart jumped the skinny, but jumped it pretty badly and with a bit of confusion and surprise. So we repeated just the skinny by itself, and just the mound by itself (in the video) then put the line together and he nailed it. Attacked the mound and was very positive to the skinny. Good boy, we both learned something there.

Tho yea.... I opted to save adding in the table for another day.

then charlie put it together well
Next up was a combination that probably should have come before the mound to skinny. In fact I kinda went through the entire day a little bit backwards - starting out a little too ambitiously then by the end being a little more practical and pragmatic in what I asked of the horse.

realistically, we probably should have practiced this baby roller coaster *before* the mound to skinny...
Bc jumping up and down hills is very new to Charlie, and he's not super confident about it (tho I fully believe the studs are helping and this ride ultimately I believe gave him more confidence). So next we went through a long line of very small jumps, set on a "roller coaster" section of terrain with a gravel basin in between.

he handled it well tho, with some extra leg
Charlie eyeballed the black pipe that was set on the down hill, but cruised right on along through the gravel to the small house. And even tho I got him there a little bit long and under powered, he made a very good executive decision and left the ground well. Again, good boy.

Part of my problem is that I see these exercises as somewhat simplistic. Except, ya know, they have to be practiced. The horse has to be introduced to questions like jumping up and down hills in a way that he can easily understand and figure out how to arrive at the correct answer himself. Which he did in this case. So I'm happy with it.

double banks up! with bonus puddle lol
Finally we hit up the last element of cross country's holy trinity: banks (having already looked at ditches and water earlier in the ride). We had gone up and down a couple little banks already in the ride, but this tiny double bank up looked perfect. I cantered Charlie up the second half first on its own, then put it all together.

aaaaaand a little bit of fuckery lol, still made it up tho
....Probably, again, with too little support and commitment. On this day, Charlie just plain old needed me to ride him. And with the hackamore my steering is not quite as good and I tend to ride a little too casually with my contact. Plus. Ya know. The horse has never seen a double bank before and even tho it was small it was maybe overwhelming. Nbd tho, he still went up the second bank even if it was very crookedly.

second time, again, was better. twas the theme of the day
And again, as always, the second time was better (plus we trotted in this time). Sigh. Emma. This is very much a "Me" problem. I need to take the way I ride the second time and just make it my first instinct. Like, at some point I should stop needing to make mistakes in order to whip me into shape. Should just... Ya know. Ride the first time haha. Maybe one day lol. #goals

finishing with a little confidence boosting spin over the same N roll top from earlier
Regardless, tho, I was still pretty happy with Charlie. Aside from the ditch meltdown, he was very honest and genuine to everything even when I put him in bad spots. He stayed present and went forward (when I bothered to put my leg on) and honestly made a lot of good choices, or seemed to learn from some of the lesser choices. 

We finished up with one last gallop over a simple N roll top just to reaffirm that confidence and let him attack a fence. Which he did just fine, despite being very very hot, very very sweaty (true story, he was lathered up his entire face underneath the hackamore plates lol) and being kinda generally ready to be done for the day lol.

well-deserved naptime on the trailer
We rode for just over an hour, with much of that spent watching Brita and Rachael tackle their own more advanced jumps and combinations. So a pretty reasonable ride time - Charlie just needs more fitness work.

All in all, it took some work to sort through my takeaways from this ride. On one hand it would be easy to be disappointed in myself for making some bad choices or maybe having some expectations that weren't in line with where Charlie is in his training.

Ultimately tho, I'm not disappointed. Quite the opposite: I'm pretty happy. I would love to just gallop around and take endless pictures of us jumping impressive things. But.... That's really not where Charlie is right now and not at all what we need to work on. We need to be working on all the little pieces in between: Riding forward (and straight) to each fence, and maintaining balance and pace on changeable terrain.

except for busy busy Bird, who apparently never naps lol
With that in mind, I think it was a really productive ride. Charlie got a TON more experience on terrain, and felt more confident with every pass. Especially that last time down the mound to the skinny was excellent, and he was fully locked on even as he descended the mound. Perfect.

Plus, even tho I was uneven in my focus on riding forward to everything and keeping Charlie on a more ground-covering stride, when I *did* ask for it, Charlie answered every time. That's another biggie for us.

So that's another schooling experience under out belts. Another net positive, chock full of learning moments. And it felt very much like the horse also walked away knowing more than he did when we started. Hopefully we can both retain some of the lessons learned during this ride lol.

It's all good tho bc with my renewed focus on the "now" vs the "long term plan," nothing relied on the outcome of this ride and it's becoming easier for me to just take each outcome as it arrives without worrying about what happens next. It's especially easy now bc we just have a lot of schooling opportunities coming up: like next weekend at home, and then again at the end of the month at a low key twilight schooling event. Should be good times.

In the meantime, am I the only one that has to go through some mental acrobatics after a ride to figure out how to find the silver linings and positives? It's so easy sometimes to want to feel down about a ride, or feel like the small details take forever to work through when we just want so badly to be there already, wherever "there" is.... But in my experience, it usually is possible to find some good from every ride. Usually lol. What do you think?


  1. I love your attitude. I tend to be like you- thinking it should be fine (last weekend for example) but Carmen is teaching me that I can’t just let he4 figure it out. Maybe some day. On the other side, if you micromanage all the time then you will never know what they can do so it’s good to offer them the question to see if they know the answer.

    1. Yea that was basically exactly Brita’s point too - that the point of schooling is to just get out there and work on things and challenge ourselves and see what happens. And usually it’s ok! Sometimes tho it’s just work lol

  2. Do you guys ever go out XC schooling with a good pro on the ground for guidance? Seems like that could help, with where Charlie is at right now in his career. I know that for me at least, having good experienced eyes on the ground that know me/my horse has been so invaluable when it comes to making steady progress and building confidence. Mine has definitely helped avoid some of those situations where my own judgment could have done more harm than good to the overall experience, and helped me ride the questions correctly the first time, or build up the questions appropriately in ways that I might not have considered. And on the flip side, she's helped pushed me to try things I might not have on my own, and been INVALUABLE in helping me figure out correct pacing for certain fences. Just a thought. It seems like you guys are close to having things "click", and having good eyes on the ground might be just the ticket to help with that last little push.

    1. Wait did you just ask if I ever take lessons?!?!? LOL

    2. Glad you had fun at Windurra it is an amazing property for sure. I do agree with Amanda re eyes on the ground at CC Schooling.....I went once or twice on my own and made BAD choices. LOL (Not terrible ones but still and I also talk myself out of jumping things) and ever since then when I go I have someone (whether a pro I am paying or a friend who is just coming to support me) on the ground to help me out. It just makes for a better experience for me and Remus. I know you had your friends with you as well on their horses but for some reason it helps to have someone on the ground telling me what to jump. I am glad you all had a good time (esp with the tire debacle!). I love the galloping track there I just dont have a horse that gallops so we trotted it LOL You really should try to fit a Sally cc lesson in one day this Summer/Fall it is SO worth it (as i have told you before!)

    3. if i could have a trainer with me literally every second i spend in the saddle, i would. sometimes it just doesn't work out like that but we still ride anyway because we want to and it's fun lol

    4. yep i agree I don't think every time you have to have a pro but thought it might help is all since I know Sally goes to Windurra a lot (I think she is there today in fact not that you are going back today LOL)so it might be fun to jump in one of her lessons sometime soon. Was all I was saying.....i know a few of your friends ride with her. I miss going cc schooling and riding with Sally!

    5. she's definitely on my bucket list

  3. It sounds like a really great morning minus the heat. The facility is gorgeous! And I agree with Teresa - I love your attitude about everything and your ability to find the positives. I also do my very best to find positives in my rides - it really helps me keep my wits about me in the long run and not get worn down by inevitable rough spots.

    1. Windurra is an incredible facility. I have been dying to go for actual YEARS lol and am so happy it finally worked out! And yea staying positive can be an effort in the short term sometimes but definitely easier in the long run!

  4. Sounds like it was a good learning experience. Hopefully next time things go great the first time around!

    1. Lol the day that happens I’m quitting bc it’s nevee gonna get better than that! Haha

  5. What a gorgeous facility and perfect day to be out with friends. All your take aways sound very positive.

    1. It was a great day with friends for sure. Hot but we never really remember the heat after the fact, right?

  6. Awesome learning experience for you both! What a cool opportunity to ride there!! :)

    1. it was super cool riding there - i seriously could not believe we had the place all to ourselves too!!

  7. I think sometimes we give pros a lot of credit for knowing when to ask what questions... but I also think that they get there by having days you had with Charlie. not a bad day, but a day where you learned how to build a program a bit better for that horse. Either way, I think Charlie looked like he was really getting "into the game" of XC!

    1. thanks! and oh yea, definitely not a bad day lol. progress is slow and incremental, esp when we are doing the work ourselves as merely humble one-horse adult ammies. but i'm cool with it. i like that feeling of learning with my horse. obvi anything with horses could be easier and/or faster with pros doing more of the work - i mean god just imagine how much further along charlie could be if he was restarted by a pro? or got regular training rides, or was even in full training? but ya know. with horses, there's a balance in everything. and i'm cool with making mistakes in low-stakes environments where we can both walk away having learned something good.

  8. I drive by windrurra several times a week and then drive off the road because I spend too much time gazing at the farm vs the road... Not saying that's not safe or anything... How many $$$$$ ponies from pony finals would we have to, er, borrow to buy Windurra? Asking for a friend.

    1. omg seriously, right?!? it's such a cool place! i'd only ever been there the one time for the tour and have been DYING to ride there ever since! would definitely go back too - so much fun stuff!

  9. He definitely looks more "on it" this time! The light is certainly starting to click, and I love how he was absolutely locked onto that skinny! Also love how his ear flicked back when you patted him and he was like "yes me? I certainly is a good boy" lol.
    We've all been there struggling with the right decisions for sure. Even for training reining. I would be too timid with something, or just blasé about how I rode the horses and I would make bad decisions - be they in spins or stops or even just loping circles. It certainly takes A LOT of repetition and consistently chipping away at it before it begins to be instinct - so don't worry! I feel you and you'll get there! I feel that's how all pros arrived where they are - by making all these same mistakes that we do lol. It's been an interesting learning curve for me because I've gotten used to certain things being instinct for me for western that I feel a bit aimless and useless going into jumping because while my muscles remember from way long ago, my brain is like ".....huh??" lol. So glad that your schooling was really productive though!

    1. Yea he definitely feels better each time we get out there. Like he was good a couple weeks ago at home but at windurra everything was generally much smoother. And even when we made mistakes he was clearly thinking about getting over the fence vs .... any other alternatives lol. We both learned a lot and it felt pretty good!

  10. It sounds like a productive day out, even with a few mishaps. At least you know where you need to improve and what steps you can take.

    It is hard not having eyes on the ground all the time. It's good you have friends to support you though!

    That course looks amazing and I have serious envy.

    1. it's a super fun course! and always productive - especially with the mishaps. one thing i've learned with horses is that progress doesn't usually happen without the occasional bump lol

  11. How awesome to ride there, and while Charlie may not have jumped everything perfectly the first time, it sounds like a fabulous learning experience. Eventually he will learn how to tackle things he is unsure of when he sees them the first time and then figure out the learning part of it when represented. That is one of the best things about our event horses, they learn how to be self sufficient and the scrappier they learn to be, the better they are!

    1. yep i was thrilled with his attitude through the ride. even when things weren't perfect he still felt very much like he was going to the jumps (uh, except for that double bank lol) and like there wasn't really a question of him noping out of anything. so he's definitely learning how to be scrappy, and how to be a little more accountable and responsible for his own limbs. it's a good feeling!

  12. Great job, even if things didn't go perfectly- that's when the learning occurs!

    I would've DIED if I was schooling there and Boyd Martin came out to work his horses. DIED.

    1. lol it was a good weekend for that, then, since boyd (and almost all the other local pros) were all up at millbrook. the place was a ghost town!

  13. We are definitely the same person. I also sometimes have to take a step back and force myself to stop being so negative and explore the silver linings. I think we both can really get in ours heads, and maybe aren't the most positive people ever LOL. But I love that about your posts.

    Fyi, I think you are being too hard on yourself about putting in the perfect ride the first time. You are NOT a professional. You are there to school and to learn, which is exactly what you did. The fact that you ran into some trouble and were able to successfully work through it says way more about you as a rider then having smooth sailing to whole way through!!

  14. That sounds like a fantastic outing to me!
    I hear you on the negative talk. I bet even if I had a perfect ride, I'd be beating myself up for not making it more challenging or something. And that's just dumb :)
    You schooled everything out there and ended on a great note for all of it - very inspiring! My coach would love you!

  15. I'm glad despite the foibles you and Charlie were able to work as a team to complete what you set out to do. Learn! And no you aren't the only one I am currently doing that (different reasons) right now and years ago tried to intentionally set out everyday to be more positive about situations and things. I am naturally a pessimist and a cynic. Life can be tough as a pessimist and a cynic lol


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