Monday, June 10, 2019

XC Lesson @ Windurra FTW

We've had a busy few days over here at 'Fraidy Cat Eventing. Lots (and lots!) to catch up on, so let's dive in, shall we? Late last week, the stars finally aligned, the gods finally smiled on me, the universe FINALLY gave in to my persistent pleas.....


surveying all that Windurra has to offer!
Not just any lesson, either. It was basically like Christmas and my birthday and Cinco de Mayo all wrapped up into one epic day haha. The lesson was a semi private with my good riding buddy Rachael, taught by 5* rider Sally Cousins, at Boyd Martin's legendary Windurra USA schooling facility.

It was early morning, before it got too warm. And we had the whole place entirely to ourselves, with Boyd & crew up at Bromont, and the rest of the thronging crowds not pulling in until we were already finished.

And? It was perfect. Boom. Fuck yes.

***Per my usual style, the helmet cam video is linked below. HOWEVER. My mom is my #1 YouTube fan, so I keep trying to make my videos more understandable for her haha. Meaning, I tried adding captions describing what's happening and why in the video itself. So if you don't feel like reading all the nitty gritty details, feel free to skip right on ahead LOL. Let me know if you like the captions too!***

well thank the lort, we brought a trainer along with us haha
On the off chance you don't remember every single graphic detail of my horse's training schedule over the last two years, I'll remind you of the background. Which is basically a pretty short story, bc damn I've had a nearly impossible time getting cross country lessons. At all.

Charlie and I have had exactly two cross country lessons since I moved the horse up to BN in 2017. That's woefully inadequate, imo. We got along more or less well enough through N bc it's still mostly just single jumps and the horse is very very (very) brave. But it's been very clear for a very long time that we're gonna need a bit more hand-holding to take the next steps.

slightly tame jump into water compared to what we've been schooling. charlie aced it <3
Honestly, in some ways it's been really good for me to gain back some independence and self-direction in my program with Charlie. I've kinda in some ways relished the challenge of sacking up and jumping the bigger jumps on my own. Our first proper schooling session over T cross country fences remains one of my absolute favorite rides with Charlie.

But.... I was also so so so relieved to shrug off that degree of responsibility in this lesson too haha. To walk in and basically lay myself at Sally's feet, to have her do with us what she saw fit. To just be able to nod and say "OK" instead of having to come up with my own plan or agenda. It's nice, ya know? Instead of having to look around me and figure out what and how to go about it, I could just await instruction.

this size and style of T fence now looks pretty much A-Ok to me
This did mean, as you might expect, that Sally started us off pretty small. She's only see us go once before - that February lesson at Kealani. But I had also told her that T is on my radar and that Charlie is fairly experienced at N, tho he's trained by an amateur and I know we have gaps, particularly as they relate to technique.

So I expected her to zero in quickly on appropriate exercises, and she did not disappoint. It's pretty clear with a horse like Charlie that size of fence isn't really necessarily a factor (tho the same can not always be said for his rider...). But details like terrain and, uh, ahem, cough cough, steering, are sometimes a little rough around the edges.

tables are getting better too, tho this is still not quite the largest the level has to offer
So Sally worked us in a very effective manner through a quick warm up. She identified immediately my apparent inability to corral Charlie's shoulders (esp that L shoulder), and my tendency to under-cook the canter. Honestly just having someone there shouting "More canter!" at me was so so so useful haha.

Our first few exercises included jumping up out of a basin, with a couple small jumps lined up on the rim. It's hard to assess the terrain in the footage from the fish-eye lens of my helmet cam, but trust me that it was steep. Charlie was very good for it tho, actually way better than I expected, esp since we had gotten there too late to have time to stud up.

who remembers when charlie had his (one and only) ditch meltdown here last year?!? ahhh memories...
Next we moved over to Windurra's new water feature. Looping in and out, integrating a small bank and BN brush table thingy, jumping in and out of the water. Again, Charlie didn't put a hoof wrong, and only wanted me to keep riding him more forward.

And this is really the greatest thing about a schooling venue like Windurra. It's basically like the bike park of eventing haha. Bc yea, that jump was technically BN in terms of dimensions. But it was 100% not BN in how it was placed against the edge of the water. Honestly, you're not even super likely to see many N fences that close to water (tho there are exceptions). So it's asking a big question of the horse, but in a very inviting manner.

The entire schooling facility is littered with the same type of examples. Advanced questions with prelim jumps. Training questions with BN or N jumps. Etc etc etc. Really, it just creates such a nice environment for getting comfortable with technicality.

oooookie dokie, fellas, i'm pretty sure this is getting much much closer to the biggest T has to offer haha. #nailedit
Anyway, after the water we moved on to more standard course work. Less technical, so the jumps got bigger. And I'm proud of myself and my mindset through this portion of the ride. Being 100% honest, even tho Charlie was being totally perfect and I knew things were going well, I still felt a bit sick. Bc.... That's just kinda how I roll, I guess.

Sally may have picked up on this bc she asked me to walk Charlie over to the white-roofed house and cut-out table that we were going to do next, to assess if I felt ok about the size. It should be noted, that cut-out table was the one and same I had looked at last year when I was so frustrated with myself. Knowing that I *should* be jumping it, but not able to make myself do it.

This time tho? As Sally encouraged me to go over and check them out, I could reasonably confidently say, "Nah, not necessary, those should be fine." And? They were totally fine.

steps up!!! we got a lot of practice here this time around, and much more convincingly 
Charlie jumped those pretty well (tho a bit disconnected, my own error, and something we addressed a little later) then we had a brief ditch practice. I was honest with Sally about our totally inexplicable ditch meltdown here last year. Charlie had never been ditchy a day in his life before then, and has never been ditchy since. But on that day? Hoooo boy, we had problems.

So Sally had us introduce them quietly and slowly. I walked parallel to the edges of the ditches, letting Charlie cross through the gravel tracks and puddles. Then trotted the small one. Non issue. Cantered the next one. Same story, no story. Good 'nuff!

From there we did a couple more passes over another white-roofed house. This time Sally really wanted me focusing on keeping Charlie connected even as I worked on that forward stride. I love the feeling of just adding leg, but am not supporting enough with a forward contact. You'll see in the video but it makes a big difference in the efforts. Something important for me to keep in mind.

foot perfect over the corner
Next up on the docket would be the bank complexes, but first Sally asked us if we wanted a shot at that little massive hanging table hammock-y type thing. Which like, duh haha. I'm about 93% sure it's still technically a T jump, but it's definitely the biggest thing I've ever jumped haha. And oh but Charlie soared!

We tackled the steps up last year, but like.... poorly haha. Which obvi I told Sally too. They're small banks set at a short one stride distance, and it took me a couple tries. Even after I got the banks on their own, when I put it into course work (table to corner line in 5, get it Charlie!!!) I still wasn't quite getting the right feel.

Needed more engagement, more connection. More "bounce per ounce" haha, not just a slower canter. This practice I think was very good for us tho. Bc even tho we biffed it a couple times, Charlie honestly felt very committed and relaxed about the banks, whereas last year he was looking for the run out.

so..... that is not a small drop, ladies and gentlemen. human being and 17h horse for scale... if you're super curious, check out 0:35 of this higher quality video to see Boyd riding the portion closest to the right edge of the frame above
Obviously tho, what comes up must come down. Sally asked how Charlie was about down banks... to which I somewhat sheepishly admitted that they scare me so I don't practice them very often.

Nbd, tho. She sent us down a small one first, trotting in. She says that trotting in is easier for the horse bc they can get right to where they need to be, and can have an easier time using their head and neck. She says if you can come in on a quiet and calm canter where you can still let go so that the horse can get his head down, that's fine. But if you're going to have to be pulling and whoa-ing to the bank, thus raising the horse's head, you're likelier to get a launch.

obvi this picture shows nothing haha. but we did it!!
Charlie was obvi fine over the small drop, so apparently that meant we got to do the, uh, not so small drop next. Dear god. I'm pretty sure I've done something this size with Isabel, but definitely NEVER with Charlie....

But guys -- he didn't even blink!! Didn't hesitate. Didn't do literally anything outside of approach the bank, take a look and assess, then just dropped right on down and locked on immediately to the next thing. Wat!? Good boy Charlie!!!

finishing with a little drop into water <3
After that, I was basically done haha. Like, c'mon, what more can you ask for, right? Like obviously this horse is made out of solid gold lol. Tho Sally did have us go down one more little drop into the other water. Which was another non-event since that's actually something Charlie's done a ton of at our home farm (our smallest bank is into the water so that's what I do the most).

Part of me wasn't sure it was quite time to throw in the towel, bc there were still other things we hadn't done. A jump inside the water..... The trakehner.... I wasn't sure if we should just try to keep the feeling going and capitalize.

But Sally agreed with my gut feeling. Said she prefers to do lots of little schoolings, vs "everything must get done today!" type rides. There's always time for more later.

She pointed out that Charlie had been so good, had kept trying the whole time even tho he was definitely getting tired. Answered every question. Was extremely obedient but also generous and bold. What more did we want from him?

Nothing. That's the answer, there's nothing more I could want. So we finished with that and Charlie strutted back to the trailer like a champion haha.

definitely keeping him, even if he has nerd hair
From my end, there are a few really important nuggets to take away:

First and foremost: More Canter but With Contact. Developing my feel for that forward contact will be key for helping Charlie rev up his engine without getting too long and strung out in his frame.

Second: Charlie can definitely be a cool customer about down banks. I need to get my own comfort level up to his speed haha!

Third: I definitely noticed the lack of studs and believe we both would have been more comfortable with them. It's my responsibility to make sure we've got that prep time for future rides.

does he look proud?
So. All in all, this lesson was a total win in my book. Very reaffirming. It doesn't necessarily change our current trajectory - I remain pretty zen about the prospect of capitalizing on my and Charlie's soaring confidence at N vs rushing to take the plunge.

But finally, tho, it feels like real movement forward. I continue to be so excited about this horse and our future partnership.

A huge component of that excitement, tho? The fact that I'm already super behind on telling you all about our bananas weekend, plus we already have a ton of stuff coming up this week too!! Yesssss more to come soon ;)


  1. Oh my gosh - what an awesome lesson! You definitely need to get out with Sally again!

  2. Sounds like a great outing for both of you! Hopefully you can get those "little XC schooling" sessions more often. They get quotes because some of those jumps look HUGE to me hahaha

    1. lol yea for sure, i'm not sure if i would have chosen to jump quite all of them had we been going solo, tbh. and yea the little sessions are totally my jam. we've actually schooled a TON this year, just a little bit at a time, and it's definitely my preference. having the trainer around as part of the mix is key tho!

  3. If you could swing it (DAMN I MISS SALLY) I would try to get a cc lesson in once a month with Sally! She is worth every penny is she not? Glad you had a great ride with Charlie. Sounds like a very encouraging ride.

    Windurra is so damn gorgeous anyway I could just sightsee there and be happy :)

    1. it is so pretty there. and yea i mean, i've been trying like hell to make things happen all year. we rode with her in feb, then charlie stepped on a nail in march. tried to ride with her at fair hill in april, but had a frustrating missed connection. thought i had her pinned down for shawan in may, but she had to cancel at the last minute. but here we are now in june and it finally happened. and it was good haha. hopefully it won't be another four months to the next!!

  4. Yasss!!! XC lesson!!!!! So glad it went and Charlie are such a super team. Can't wait to hear the rest of the news and fun stuff going on!

    1. thanks, he's just the absolute best haha, i'm so happy to have him as my partner for all this. more to come on the other fun weekend outings soon too ;)

  5. What a great lesson. So glad you got a lesson in! The more I read about Sally the more I want to clinic with her. When she heads to Aiken next winter, I'll be contacting her to get in some time.

    1. you definitely should!! i haven't had the easiest time locking down times on the calendar with her bc obvi she's pretty busy and in pretty high demand.... but the rides have been worth it!

  6. I sight see at Windurra regularly much to the disgust of whoever is driving behind me on 41... I'm so disappointed that the old Broadmare Associates across the street sold as now I can't buy it... I'm mean, yes, I'm thrilled it's still a farm, but didn't they know I WANTED IT? I mean, I probably needed to win the lottery first and considering a buy a ticket every 2-6 years, my odds were really against me, but still...

    Anyway, sound like a fabulous lesson! Hope you get to do another one will Sally soon!

    1. ha i hope so too! and yea it's so freakin pretty out there, i'm kinda jealous that you live near enough to drive past so often!! i've only really been out there three times, i think, tho it's actually not too bad of a drive from charlie's farm.

  7. Way to go! You two look fabulous! So jealous - I so want to ride at some place like Windurra! That sounds like such an amazing time. I'm glad you were able to get some good one on one with Sally! She sounds awesome, and you and Charlie were just tackling that whole course! Woot!

    1. dude windurra is incredible haha, it's like an eventing playground, completely unlike almost any other schooling venue i've been to. in some ways it actually was not so great for us last year when we were a little more green, bc so many of the jumps that looked "right sized" then were in too-technical positions for us. but now, those same jumps look small so the technicality is more welcome and it worked out really well for us.

      there is actually another schooling venue closer to home that's kinda similar, but focused more on all the lowest levels from 12" through N, with tons of fun stuff to do. i really tend to like these venues that are set up for schooling options instead of just coursework!

  8. Um, well. Sounds like the best lesson pretty much ever. I'm so happy for you to finally get this lesson!

    1. ha yea it was definitely a good one. worth the wait, i suppose ;)

  9. So glad you had a wonderful XC lesson!!
    Charlie looks like he's in his happy place!

    1. doesn't he tho?!? if only we could just do xc all the time!! lol...

  10. I am so happy that you had such a fabulous lesson. Also, I like the captions.

    1. yay, glad you like the captions!! i've toyed with some ideas for how to pack more information and narrative into those videos to make them more accessible, but not sure i've quite got it all figured out yet haha -- i guess that's what i use the blog for!

  11. Oh my goodness, you kind of have the best life! :) So happy you were able to nail down a lesson (and rock it, too)

    1. aw thanks haha!! i was super happy to nail down the lesson too, and have such an awesome ride!! ;)

      it's worth pointing out (and i think you and all other bloggers certainly know this inside and out lol) that this blog has pretty extreme selection bias toward the positive side of things - toward the things i want to remember and celebrate, or the things i want to document for future reference etc. so it kinda naturally paints a white-washed, sanitized version of my real life.

      i wish every day was as awesome as the one above, but of course we all know that for every epic day where everything finally comes together, there are countless more spent in the endless drudgery, stress, banality, and heartbreak of real life haha... gotta love the moments when it all feels worth it, tho, right?

  12. Yay, what an awesome, positive outing. So pleased you finally got a XC lesson. They are the best

  13. Hooray for FINALLY getting an XC lesson- and such a kickass one like that!

  14. This lesson just makes me so happy! Plus, so great to have that done ditch witch moment behind you! Lol

  15. Yay! I am so happy that this happened for you! :D Sounds like Sally really helped to push your comfort level and therefore you and Charlie's breadth. When I took Dante XC schooling the trainer lady had me introduce Dante to the ditch the same way - he was still highly skeptical though and not a Pro like Charlie so he was very ditchy haha luckily we won't come across that in the H/J ring anytime soon.

    Looking forward to reading more about your bananas weekend lol

  16. It looks like you guys had so much fun!!! I wish se had a facility like that here.

  17. OMG this: The lesson was a semi private with my good riding buddy Rachael, taught by 5* rider Sally Cousins, at Boyd Martin's legendary Windurra USA schooling facility.
    You've basically described heaven to me :)


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