Monday, July 26, 2021

Fair Hill Derby

Fair Hill is home to all manner of various equestrian events, including a summer series of derby crosses. These are increasingly popular schooling shows where you combine components from show jumping and cross country into one big fun run. 

dreamy pony
Every venue does it a little bit differently, so the rules and set ups tend to vary. At Fair Hill, they run the derbies very similar to what you might see at a Young Event Horse competition. Basically, you start with a mini show jumping round, then proceed directly to a small but representative selection of cross country jumps and features. 

actually bathed him before the show for once, tho obvi he rolled anyway
The courses tend to be low on combinations, but can include any of the three hallmarks of xc: ditches, banks and water. At Fair Hill, these rounds are untimed. And, actually, while competitors sign up for a specific level (choice of: Intro, BN or N), you can actually jump whatever xc fences you want. 

It ends up being like glorified schooling -- there are no judges, no scores, no ribbons, nada. You can skip fences, add fences, mix and match levels, repeat an effort if you want -- whatever. Essentially, so long as you don't forever or scare anybody, you can do as you wish! 

looking majestic at the trailer, watching all the bicyclists zoom past
Charlie and I did our first ever Fair Hill derby last summer after the disappointment of our final failed move up attempt at Training. And I gotta say --- that derby was exactly what the doctor ordered. I LOVED it, even tho we had mistakes and weren't perfect. And I vowed to return again, next time with friends!!

Finally, "next time" turned into this past weekend, and we returned with two other barn mates -- each with their own adorable green pony mares. One in Intro, one in BN, then me and Charlie in the Novice. So it ended up being a pretty fun chill day of hangin out at the show, supporting each other thru everyone's turns. 

you'd be forgiven for getting serious Isabel-vibes from our adorable welsh-arab trailer mate
Our BN trailer mate was the last BN rider, and Charlie and I were first to go in N. So it worked out that we rode over together. I got to watch her absolutely rocket around on her new young mare that has SERIOUS Isabel vibes (omg tho, I legit thought they might be related), then started my own warm up once she was wrapped and they reset the fence heights. 

they actually set the jumps to height this time! 
One thing to note:: These events are so casual that most people (our group included) don't even bother walking the course in advance. The xc is a pretty basic loop, again where you can more or less jump what you want, and show jumping was also very straight forward. 

I only mention this bc... you can kinda tell that I took pretty bad lines to some of the jumps -- like fence 4 in show jumping; or like the ditch on xc... (ahem *cough cough* -- that's foreshadowing, folks!). 

gave us a proper combination, too!!
Anyway, Charlie is such a pro, he knew what we were doing there. Warmed up pretty great, tho I could tell he wasn't exactly thrilled about having to leave his friends in warm up. He was great through the show jumping tho -- honestly really tried for me. 

I kinda kept him on a somewhat compressed stride all the way around, since I anticipated that we'd probably just keep building and building esp once we transitioned to xc.... But he did a good job getting up and over each fence. I was impressed that they actually put everything up to height too -- last year the fences were hella dinky lol.

we took this rail with a lazy hind, but overall felt pretty good
Anyway, we had one rail in show jumping -- which obvi doesn't matter bc there's no scoring or ribbons or anything lol. And then we moved right on along to the first xc fence, which was positioned basically right next to warm up. 

It had a bit of a fussy approach to get around the trakehners (that jump the opposite direction), and I expected Charlie to be thinking more about going back to warm up vs the jumps. So we rode to it carefully and with purpose, and he was good.

then proceed directly to xc! skinny rails to start, right next to warm up
Ditto the next xc jump -- a line of basic boxes you can see in the distance in the above pic. I'd seen a couple horses have surprise refusals there, probably bc it really felt like you were "leaving" base lol. Charlie obvi has a rich and tapestried history when it comes to his feelings about "leaving," so... again, I was ready for him when he started bulging every which way on approach lol and he jumped it fine. 

That bulging feeling continued as we went -- with Charlie feeling just a tad distracted about what, exactly, we were doing. It's been ages and ages since we've actually set out on any sort of proper lengthy course, ya know? Like, schooling always involves a lot of starting and stopping and standing with the group. 

charlie was honestly a little surprised by the change in gear, esp as we moved farther from warm up
Charlie was jumping great, tho, and I was working really really hard at keeping my reins short, hands forward, and one finger looped through the neck strap, no matter what (also foreshadowing, lol). So we continued onward. 

Tho, I opted to skip the mound option -- basically a big mound, then downhill to some logs. Charlie and I (ok, let's be real, it's just me, not the horse!) suck at jumping downhill. I don't like it, and tend to get too backwards in my riding and end up putting Charlie in unjumpable positions. So, eh, no mound for today, and Charlie was obvi aces over the log. 

The downhill run continued tho. Fair Hill is famous for its, uh, hills lol. And the Sawmill Field where these events occur is basically one big bowl. No matter what, at some point ya gotta go down. Incidentally, that's where the ditches are too. 

his face after i abruptly bounced the fuck out of the saddle, whoops lol
Charlie has jumped all these ditches before in competition (years ago), but for whatever reason we kinda had a hard time at last year's derby and then again this year. I'd be frustrated by this lingering issue of struggling with jumping downhill jumps, except... uh, I straight up never practice it haha. Bc... I don't really want to, bc I don't really like it. So we remain... kinda bad at it. 

Add in the fact that I took a hilariously shitty line to our ditch (bc, again, hadn't walked the course and only kinda knew generally where everything was) and... Yea. Charlie sorta suddenly spooked and propped at the ditch, abruptly popping me ass over tea kettle off his shoulder. Like, instantly lol... 

lol carrying on as if nothing happened. got an enormous goofy flier to this big ol' table, much like that time George Morris critiqued our attempt at the BN version back in 2017
Luckily, tho, he is the goodest of boys and just stood there while I clung to his neck like a monkey and got my feet sorted out underneath me. We're just gonna roll with it being a "mostly landed on my feet" situation haha. 

So I climbed back aboard using a nearby jump, and just.... continued with the course. Didn't even bother re-approaching the ditch. Charlie's not a ditchy horse. The mistake was a confluence of other issues, not just the ditch itself. My crooked line, stuffing him behind the leg coming down the hill bc I hate jumping down hill, his slight distraction, my too-far-forward position bc of trying to keep my godforsaken hands forward no matter what, etc etc etc. 

I preferred to just move on with life rather than make a big deal out of it. Bc... spoiler alert -- literally none of this matters for anything haha. Idk who needs to hear that, but, yea. It doesn't matter. I just wanted to have fun.

i LOVED this jump going into the water!!
Which, incidentally, there remained a TON of fun stuff ahead of us on the course! Charlie obviously clicked right back into cruising gear -- and actually continued on better than he had been before. Helped in no small part by us now going up the hill vs down (much preferred), AND, finally going more in the direction of "home" again. 

After a few more jumps coming up the hill, the course finished with a little romp through the water. And I LOVED this, really really loved it. There was a house positioned somewhat generously from, but still related to, the water. Then down into the water, and right back up again to another line of jumps. 

and jumps on the way out too!!! legit the most exciting water complex we've seen in competition in....years??
Idk if it's confirmation bias or what, but in recent years water combinations on Novice courses have felt more, er, watered down. So often, my N courses have just crossed through with literally zero jumps nearby. Meanwhile the T courses did all sorts of crazy things like jumping directly into or out of water, or even water to water, and usually jumps immediately before or after too. 

It always feels like a gaping chasm in the technical differences between N courses and T courses. Something I personally connect to a lot of my anxiety around trying to move up to T. 

So, anyway, slight tangent aside -- this water was SUPER exciting bc it felt like we really got to do stuff with it! Tho I slowed Charlie wayyy down coming in anyway, just to play it safe and make sure he had time to think through everything and not be distracted or surprised. 

finishing strong over the last!!
Obvi he was perfect, tho, dropping into a nice balanced trot for a couple steps before picking right back up again and neatly stepping over the ramp on his way out of the combination. Good boy!!

Then all that was left to do was.... finish. The last jump on course was an attractively beefy table, positioned on gently rising ground headed directly back to the trailers. Basically Charlie's idea of perfection. And guys, he flew over it <3 <3

skip to 2:40 if you only wanna see me get straight up bounced off the horse lol

And for once, I actually get a nice picture of me being right there with him for the effort haha. Bc, again, one of my major goals for the day was to keep my hands in the appropriate zip code, rather than always wanting to bring them up or back. Still always more work to do there (always and forever), but it felt overall like success. 

this horse, guys <3 <3 <3
Honestly, the whole experience was just great. What a fun ride!! Y'all might be a little confused at how I can square falling off with being a "great ride," but...  as hard as it is to explain, all my anxieties and feelings of existential dread really aren't about the horse or the ride, ya know? It's just... everything else in life haha. The uncontrollable chaos, etc. 

even with the mistakes, this is honest to god the stuff of dreams for me
For right now, for whatever reason, these super low key schooling outings have been just the ticket for enjoying my horse to the absolute fullest, while minimizing all the vague pressure and anxiety. 

Like, again, nothing about this ride really matters, ya know? There isn't any big schedule or date marked on the calendar, we're not working up to anything. The outcomes from any given ride or effort don't have any bearing on the future -- no long lines of dominos ready to tumble if I mess up or make a mistake. 

Instead, it's just.... One day at a time. One ride at a time. Charlie already knows basically everything there is to know about jumping 3' and below. We might not be super polished or perfectly practiced or anything, but it pretty much feels like we can go out and do just about whatever we want. It feels good! 


  1. Sounds like even with the minor hiccups it was absolutely what you needed

  2. Other than the unplanned dismount it sounds like such a fun day! Charlie was definitely having a great time!

  3. Ugh... the dreaded bounce to a halt! Phantom is really good at that. Usually my back pays for it.
    Sounds like fun otherwise! I kind of like the idea of "just do what you want"!

  4. How absolutely perfect <3 Who cares about a little spill like that if you can just bounce back on board and keep right on trucking? Charlie is legit the BEST boy!

  5. I'm sorry you've been not feeling 100% re: competing but I'm loving these fun day recaps. I wish more of us just went out to have a positive, low pressure day and celebrated it :)

  6. Glad you had another fun outing!


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