Friday, July 19, 2019

windurra xc: charlie's on fire and it ain't just the weather

Legendary (and local!) 5* event rider Sally Cousins travels quite a bit for lessons, and is pretty good about posting her schedule / locations well in advance. So, weeks ago we signed up for another cross country lesson at Windurra!

Of course, plot twist, it got scheduled for 2pm right smack in the middle of what happens to be a bit of a heat wave. Perhaps you've heard the news ---- it's HOT, yo. And mid-afternoon is.... well. That's basically when temps reach their daily highs. In other words: not ideal.

this was our final fence of the day, but it's just so cool it seems like a quintessential windurra thumbnail haha
pictured from 5:14 in the video
This was.... not music to my ears. But, ya know, I didn't even consider cancelling. Bc let's be real, if you never ride your horse above 85*F then yea, a cross country lesson in 95* temps is probably inappropriate. But.... If you condition your horse to the weather and take proper care of details like hydration and electrolytes and whatnot, then ya know. The horse is probably fine.**

My horse doesn't ever live in air conditioning, ya know? He's exposed to ambient outdoor temperatures full time. But he gets shade and a fan. Lots of water. Soaked feed. Daily electrolytes. And, ya know, daily rides. Not just "Well it's kinda hot so we'll just walk today" rides either. We ride. Every day. And he's fine.

**Obvious exceptions to this include horses with illnesses, ailments, compromised respiratory systems, metabolic issues, etc. You will always be your horse's best advocate so if you feel your horse struggles in the heat despite your best efforts, there's nothing wrong in taking it easy in bad conditions! Or like, if YOU don't do well in the heat, that's fine too! 

this little area of ground is kinda like a bowl / crater
pictured from beginning of video
I... personally require a little more attention since I do spend a large part of my day in air conditioning and am thus a little likelier to wilt if I'm not careful. But I am careful. Hydration, sunscreen, breathable clothing, enough nutrition to help my system (bananas yo!) but not enough to make me barf lol. Oooh and electrolytes for me too.

I've actually been stealing my horse's electrolytes, to be honest. I just sprinkle some into my water bottles and have been feeling great. Tho on this particular day I learned that there IS such a thing as TOO MUCH electrolytes lol. I probably could have put a quarter-to-half scoop spread out across all 3liters of my water bottles, instead of putting about a quarter scoop in each.

I felt fucking fantastic even after the ride, and the rest of that evening. Not woozy or fatigued or anything. But.... I also felt like maybe I had somehow accidentally ended up on one of those formerly-fad-ish cleanse diets LOL. TMI? Sorry not sorry, learn from my mistakes, yo.

our warm up put us immediately into coursework - you can see the next log oxer directly ahead too
pictured from the beginning of the video
Anyway. The lesson!! I brought a junior rider and her spicy little nugget of a pony from my farm with me - all the better to have company, amirite? And it ended up being just the two of us in the lesson. This is the third time I've ridden at Windurra, and also the third time that we've basically had the ENTIRE schooling course to ourselves.

Not sure if that's a function of luck or like, being the only ones crazy enough to get out there lol, but it sure is nice! Bc by all reports this place is usually BUMPIN. And like, if you have the misfortune of falling in your ride, like Rachael did with that ill-fated savage stud situation, you might have a little salt rubbed in your wounds when your loose horse bolts smack into the middle of Dom Schramm's lesson with Phillip Dutton. Whoops haha.

Ahem, cough cough. Anyway. For this lesson, again, we had the run of the place.

this is the newer water complex - lots to do here!
I kept my flat work reeeeeally basic. Like, didn't even put Charlie on the bit, to be honest. Probably not the best course of action, but whatever. He was fine. Actually felt really lazy, and I hoped I wouldn't have to keep pushing for forward the whole ride. Turned out, tho, I realized after the ride that I had forgotten my spurs. Tooootally thought the whole ride that I was wearing them. So maybe that's actually a good sign?? LOL

Bc once we started jumping he was just right there, clicked into gear again. Sally started us off with actually a seriously awesome warm up: it was almost a full mini course - tiny log, tight right turn to bigger roll top to log oxer to small house, tight left turn into the water and up out a bank.

Boom boom boom, talk about economical haha!

wasted no time getting to the ditch. also pay attention to that trakehner ;)
1:00 in the video
I liked that in our very first set of jumps for the day, we hit 2 of the holy trinity elements of cross country riding: water and banks. Our very next circuit hit that 3rd element too: ditches.

We swung around to catch the ditch then turned toward this neat section of terrain at Windurra. The facility itself is more or less pretty flat tho set on a very gentle slope front to back. But Boyd's gotten around this by creating all manner of earthworks all over the property - banks and berms and mounds galore.

jumping up out of the bowl / crater!
1:00 in the video
This one little bowl / crater has all manner of jumps lining its rim, most of which can be jumped both directions. So far, Charlie and I have only tackled jumping up and out over the berm, as opposed to turning it around to jump downhill.

Tho after two lessons I'm starting to see some method to Sally's lesson design madness. As, later in the ride, we did in fact tackle a jump that was much more mound like - with a steep incline to the jump, then an immediate descent afterward.

Anyway tho I kinda LOVE riding Charlie over jumps like this bc the uphill approach forces me to keep my leg on, which then obviously helps Charlie find the jump for himself out of stride. And he tends to get some serious airtime over them haha!

oooh hey-o, charlie's first trakehner!!
1:40 in the video
It was kinda nice being a lesson of just two of us, bc we got lots of breaks in between runs, but also didn't really hang around dawdling unnecessarily in the heat.

So we moved quickly to the next exercise: Charlie's first trakehner!!! OMG!!! Sally had me walk up to it first for a look, then come around and jump it. Obviously Charlie cared not and jumped it like the log it is. Then just carried right on along to the bright white coop. Gooooood boy!!

Tho in the interest of honesty I was having a fairly difficult time getting us properly straight through the shoulders. Eh, one thing at a time, I guess!

also quintessential windurra: a fairly technical exercise with extremely inviting individual elements. we did this out of and into the water
2:33 in the video
From there we went back to the water to continue building on technical skills. That was a theme for the lesson: we didn't do a ton of giant fences (or really, like, any) but we DID do a ton more work with combinations. Something I've wanted for a long time.

Charlie's already demonstrated that he can jump a big single T fence. It's the technical stuff that I've been reluctant to try on my own. But moving up isn't just about big fences, it's also about combinations and adjustability and all that good stuff.

So our next little circuit was great - we first came through the water up a small bank, one stride to a small pipe. Then turned right around to repeat the exercise in reverse: small pipe then one stride to the drop into water.

This is my favorite thing about Windurra. That combination of elements is highly technical. You won't see a configuration set at those distances at BN or even N. Actually a combination like that wouldn't be out of place on a Prelim course. But each individual element here is so very inviting. Putting it all together felt like the easiest thing in the world for Charlie, even tho he's literally never done anything quite like it before.

definitely the most challenging half coffin charlie's seen to date
3:30 in the video
I actually thought we could have been done with that, to be honest. But I'm notorious for quitting too early lol. Plus Sally felt like my lesson mate definitely had more to do, so more we did! Charlie, for his purposes, felt happy to keep going. Those ears were pricked from start to finish <3

Next we moved to another section of ditches. I gave our lesson mate a lead over the small one first -  just to ensure it went well, tho she ended up beasting it all on her own anyway haha. Then Charlie and I moved over to the biggest ditch set as a half coffin.

The approach here was a little tricky (#excuses) bc there was a third element set up for the line coming the opposite way, and Charlie and I had to sorta angle around that other jump. You'll see it in the video, but Charlie was a little bit squirrely going past that other jump -- he actually kept popping a lead change and bulging a bit.

Plus the rolltop doesn't appear from behind the bushes until you're nearly at the ditch. So it was hard to get him locked on early. The first time we allllllllmost ran out. Honestly, a more supple beast would have definitely run out lol. But 2x4 bronto Charlie ain't that flexible so we managed to hold the line well enough to get over the rolltop.

Second time was much much better - we did it in a clean 2 strides instead of a garbled mishmash - and convincing enough to be done with it. But still kinda a dicey challenging exercise lol.

lots of turning featured in this lesson's exercises
4:03 in the video
Anyway, after that we went back to a familiar element from our last Sally lesson: the steps up. Tho we added a jump before hand that necessitated another bit of sharp turning. That was another theme for this ride - not just combinations, but turning exercises.

It's so easy when we school alone to get into the habit of doing just long straight runs to everything. But... in real life, you have to be able to jump, gallop, and turn haha.

we finally nailed the steps up!
4:03 in the video
Sally instructed that we do this entire exercise on a collected canter - esp since the one stride up the bank necessitated it. And you might remember that last time it took us (multiple) tries to get those steps right.

This time tho we totally nailed it. Charlie jumped the rolltop thingy nicely out of a more collected stride, turned easily, and came right back to me to get a nice clean line up the stairs. Yessss, good boy!! It definitely felt like he remembered this exercise.

got a couple more reps over this monster drop down, this time powering up the hill to a skinny brush thing
4:25 in the video
Same story to the down banks. We did this same massive drop last time -- and it remains the largest bank I've ever dropped down with Charlie. It's kinda daunting bc it's really hard to see the edge until you're right up on top of it.

I ended up trotting in bc that's what Sally had us do last time. This time around she said I could canter if I wanted but... Eh. Trotting was fine. We would land in the bowl then shoot up that hill dead ahead to the skinny brush thing that you basically can't see above bc it blends in with the tall pine tree just up above and to the right of Charlie's right ear.

uphill to said skinny brush thing
4:25 in the video
The first time I didn't have quite enough leg up to it, and we kinda added a stride and cork-screwed a bit over the skinny. So we repeated the same exercise, but this time with my eye up earlier and leg on sooner up the hill, and Charlie nailed it.

This was also pretty satisfying, bc again - a skinny fence is not something you see at lower levels. Fences just aren't allowed to be that narrow. But the height of this fence couldn't have been more than BN, making it much more inviting and a great introduction to skinny xc fences.

Plus -- this fence had a not-insubstantial drop on the back side. Lots of interesting questions all packed into one element, but again in such a way as to be forgiving for the learning horse.

another easy fence in a technical position. yesssssss!
4:55 in the video
From there we were basically finished, bc honestly what more could I ask? We just did a little more with the water - a small BN house perched right on the edge of the water line. And a super cool keyhole-esque brush fence between two trees (top picture).

Both of which Charlie obviously aced. Because he is the best horse in the world 100%.

i tried to talk a little more in real-time to help make it more clear what we were doing etc. 

After that, we were done and dusted. Tho actually, not totally pooped. I'd been lucky to park the trailer in the shade, and we were quick to get the horses settled: watered untacked and sponged off immediately. Plus obviously plugged full of carrots haha. Both horses were fine tho, breathing easily and munching on hay.

Charlie got his legs iced while I worked on getting the studs out, then my lesson mate and I sat and chilled for a few. At which point I chugged no less than 2 liters of elyte-laced water haha. We were very sweaty and smelly, but not much worse for the wear. By the time we loaded up to leave, both horses were completely dry and looking quite satisfied with themselves lol.

All in all, aside from the heat, it was basically everything I could have hoped for in a lesson. It feels really exciting to start working on these types of combinations with Charlie. He's the kind of horse who really likes a puzzle -- but only when he already knows the answer. Introducing this stuff at small inviting heights really helped him recognize the questions as essentially glorified grid work, but with different elements and more terrain.

Hopefully we'll be able to keep up the trend of more frequent lessons going forward!! In the meantime, TGIF everyone - and stay safe during this weekend's continued heat wave!


  1. what a solid lesson - I'm so happy to see you getting more XC lessons with Sally. every time you posted about him I was like UGH sally would know what to do with this animal. Almost all her horses are big giant honking TBs. You should ask her about Michelle sometime - she thinks she's hilarious. She also thinks it's hilarious all the bloggers know each other.

    1. Lol she doesn’t believe me when I tell her about Charlie’s past issues. He’s been on his A game for every lesson lol, so I guess we more or less muddled thru the slog ourselves

    2. hahahahha she loves Remus, Sally does. And I think I am the only person who ever refused to jump something with Sally who wanted me too. The whole group just stared (Obv no one else says no HA) she just laughs and laughs at me. DAMN I MISS HER UGH I love living thru recaps from lessons with her. HA HA HA Glad you had a great lesson Emma even if it was hot as fire!!

    3. omgosh haha i still haven't come clean to sally about my weird secret internet life.... i need to tell her tho that i know you guys!!

    4. I'm sure all the pizza post lesson was a perfectly good idea to go with those electrolytes, right? LOL. That pizza was really good. So was that crab soup... We need to do that again...

      I'm seriously glad the horse blogger internet community is small. You guys are saving my butt right now. Well Liz is, but still thanks to blogland!

      And better too much electrolytes than too little hydration says she who gets dehydrated too often... my migraine meds also react with the sun so that combo is really really bad...

    5. oh man dinner with you and S was PERFECT after a day outside haha - so glad we were able to do that!! and obvi the leftover pizza the next day was like my holy grail LOL. let's definitely do that again. you should come to town more often! ;)

      and yea, agreed completely on too much vs not enough elytes. honestly i felt great, which says something since i tend to be pretty sensitive and vulnerable to heat and sun stroke. and ya know. that whole "ounce of prevention" thing makes all the difference!

  2. Damn! Sounds like one hell of a lesson. Thanks for bringing us along! Charlie is really coming into his own it seems. I cant wait to see how your fall show season goes!

    Also lol to the electrolyte mishap 😂 But yay for feeling good in the moment.

    1. thanks for reading! charlie is doing so so so well, even as much as i'm excited for the future i'm really just LOVING the now. i feel like he's having as much fun as me -- hopefully we can hang on to this feeling! and the elytes... omg lol

  3. Nice lesson! How cool to ride there with such a well renowned coach! And Charlie is a hunk, let's face it. ;-)

    Too bad about the elyte totally understandable how it would happen.

    1. dude it's almost surreal to be riding in these lessons at that facility. i gotta be honest. i think the only reason i haven't had to totally pinch myself is bc we've always been basically alone at the venue. other friends have told me all about having to dodge boyd's own lessons with like, erik duvander etc... which i feel like if i knew those kinds of people were around and riding i'd be WAY MORE nervous / self conscious / etc. but when we're alone it's easier to just let my freak flag fly hahaha

    2. yeah it would be totally nerve-wracking if a bunch of well known riders were schooling at the same time! hahaha So happy that you get the place to yourself once in a while!

    3. Lol yea plus it’s just plain old hard to deal with a lot of traffic and galloping horses

  4. Sounds like an awesome lesson! Charlie is turning into such a pro! (And you too!)

    1. thanks lol - i'm so stinkin proud of this horse <3

  5. Ugh...I need to up my own care majorly. I left the xc school last weekend with a migraine and felt like crap the rest of the day. More elytes for me! What doe you use for Charlie that you steal for yourself too?

    As for the lesson -yay!!! You sound so confident in him and that shows through with tackling all the hard questions. He seems to be in peak form these days too.

    1. i just buy Farnam Apple Elite Electrolytes (5lbs) from amazon. i don't know how much the type matters, unless you maybe have a metabolic horse who shouldn't have much sugar or something like that. these seem to do the trick just fine, and for me too!

      and yes, i just have so much confidence in charlie right now, he feels amazing. it honestly wasn't until i was editing some of the video that it occurred to me how narrow some of the fences were (even that half coffin rolltop!) and how i never really had to work or worry about getting charlie to the fence. he just goes!

  6. Windurra and Sally Cousins? This is like a fairytale!
    So glad you didn’t melt and had such a fun outing!!

    1. Definitely the type of ride I dreamed about as a kid ;) in a way it’s really gratifying to be in a position to bring a junior along on some of these adventures bc I would have KILLED for that kind of opportunity at her age

  7. What an awesome resource to have access to! There's a really nice course up by me now that I'm itching to get out to with my trainer. Not nearly like this, but one of the better things in the area without heading up into the mountain pass.

    1. that's great that you've got new places near you too! windurra is incredible -- it's definitely unlike just about anything else i've seen, but also boyd pours a TON of time and resources into it, and uses it as his primary resource for training his young and upper level horses alike. he's also constantly moving things around - i was there just last month and everything was different haha

  8. That's so amazing! You two killed it! I also LOL'd at the electrolytes haha! I've totally done that before. But what an awesome day!

  9. Thanks for the tip about the electrolytes, lol. It sounds fabulous- I bet others weren’t going to school in that heat.

  10. What a very technical, but super cool ride!! Glad you were able to knock some technical questions down. Charlie looks fantastic.

  11. Yay sounds like an amazing school (minus the heat) but a little sweat never hurt anyone! How warm do you think the water elements get on cross country? Like would it be a refreshing dip? lol

  12. OK I am SO jealous that you schooled at Windurra... #goals for real.
    Also, I have been training in the heat too. It SUCKS. Especially because Jack *does* have some respiratory issues. But I am trying to challenge him a little more over time to do more, both fitness wise and with heat in mind so we won't collapse should KY be hot.


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