Thursday, September 14, 2017

Fall Fair Hill: Cross Country

Cross country time!!!! Everyone's favorite, right?? :D

Michele walked the course the evening prior and was kind enough to send me and Alli pictures of the course maps. I had a fairly clear idea in mind of what the course might look like, having ridden the BN tracks at this venue multiple times over the past couple years. But actually, the course kinda looked..... decidedly meh.

circling at the start gate
photo courtesy of Megan Kiessling
It was flagged as only 13 jumps (14 efforts if you count the entrance to the water which... maybe doesn't count). No banks, or even that little log on the mound that's been a hallmark of the BN and Intro courses. Instead, Novice got that mound jump and both banks. Greedy N course!

Nor was there a jump anywhere close to the ditch. At least the course had an A-B combo at the water, with A being the entrance and a roll top leaving the water for B.

Also slightly annoying, the only "big" fence on course - the red table - was very early at #3. I dunno about y'all, but typically I'm still kinda in the "establishing rhythm" phase at jump 3 so it was kinda a bummer to meet our biggest fence so soon.

charlie's first "canter" out of the start gate was a bit of a fizzle
photo courtesy of Megan Kiessling
At least there were a couple N elements that looked like they might be easily interwoven with my own track. Including one of the N bank combinations. Tho after stadium where Charlie felt tired and perhaps a bit behind my leg, I was less certain about giving that a go. Esp since it was also quite early on course - would be the 4th effort.

I asked Brita her opinion (since she had already cruised around the full N course like no big thang!!!) and she pragmatically suggested that I'd know whether to try it or not based on how the first three fences went. Makes sense to me!

hey-o, it's a log!
So after a brief warm up over two height variations of Fair Hill's blue produce stand (would have been the other "big" jump on course had it actually been on course), we headed to the start box.

I decided this would be Charlie's first time cantering out of the start box and he..... kinda almost declined lol. Dammit. He napped a bit -- see those pinned ears in the above picture? -- but eventually picked up a lope to hop over the log nbd.

lookin good over the log
photo courtesy of Megan Kiessling
That accomplished, we cruised toward fence 2. At which point Charlie gave me a goddamn heart attack bc he started napping even more. Ughhh. I panicked a bit bc like, c'mon Charlie, this is supposed to be the fun part!!! Please please please do not get sour on cross country buddy!! :(

In my mind, the horse getting sour and nappy on course is like my absolute worst case scenario and I legit worried we'd get a refusal. But thank god a couple strides from the coop his ears swiveled forward again and he locked on to the jump, softening his back and carrying me forward to it. Phew! Crisis averted!

harsh morning light but this is a reasonable coop
I was worried tho. As I've mentioned a number of times, Charlie is gonna do the thing bc it's fun and interesting to him. If he ever decides that cross country is not fun tho? I'm honestly not sure I'll be able to convince him otherwise.

So at this point on course, I really just wanted to leave him alone and let him settle himself into his canter. Complete with loopy rein and leg off. Which.... well. Logically I understand why I did that. But I also logically understand that being a "soft" rider is not necessarily the same as being an "effective" rider. Ideally I should be both -- but ultimately I must be effective first.

more harsh light - but this is actually quite a generously sized table with a ramp face
And my lack of contact and leg support to get the horse up in front of my leg definitely bit me in the ass for fence 3 - where we just sorta cantered on up to a decidedly nothing stride. Like. Nothing. There was nothing there. It was exactly the type of stride that leaves the door wiiiiide open for a refusal. 

Luckily Charlie made the executive decision to jump from where he was - good boy sir. But it was a heinous disaster of a jump with legs and body parts and reins going everywhere. Not a confidence inspiring experience! Sigh. 

novice hogging the up bank all to itself with an inviting two stride line; bn stuck with that little log on the left
I was disappointed in myself for failing to be there for the horse, but also immensely grateful that he's such an honest boy. 

Beginner novice fences are legitimately so easy for Charlie that I let myself get lulled into a false sense of security, forgetting that, uh, sure it might be easy esp when everything goes the way it's supposed to.... But he's still a green horse and he's still gonna make mistakes. It's my job to help him out when that happens. Noted. 

Anyway, we made such a shit show spectacle of jump 3 that it would have been downright foolish to aim Charlie for that two stride cabin to up bank N combination as I had planned to do. It was an inviting enough combination and one I think Charlie could do... But we're all about confidence building, not confidence proving. So the combination will be saved for a future date. Sigh. 

but um.... yea. logs. apparently still sometimes kinda messy. whoops.
photo courtesy of Megan Kiessling
Instead I pointed him at the little BN log, which we proceeded to eat shit over again ugh. Cantering up to a nothing stride again bc the horse was still behind my leg. This time chipping in ridiculously instead of taking a flyer.

Like, look at that picture haha - I swear the horse is actually jumping a log there. Really truly. it just looks.... Idk. It was special. Blargh.

trying to pull our shit together
photo courtesy of Megan Kiessling
Luckily we had a nice little downhill stretch to canter on along for a minute before our next fence. Wherein I reminded myself to put leg on and take a contact. Charlie was also settling into the whole "this is fun" zone thankfully, tho I knew our issues stemmed in large part from his tiredness.

it's a bench!
We cruised along to the bench more or less ok. It wasn't our best jump in the world but it wasn't as heinous as the preceding two.

you say "bench", charlie says "droppin into head of the lake, yo!"
photo courtesy of Megan Kiessling
Tho you can tell from my position that I was taking no chances haha. The urge to sit back and be defensive is so strong with me, esp after a couple rough jumps. I really need to retrain myself tho to think about getting the horse in front of me instead of wanting to get behind the horse.

still trying to pull our shit together
photo courtesy of Megan Kiessling
Small distinction maybe, but possibly a difference maker. Anyway. We kept cantering on along - notably with Charlie not rushing or pulling AT ALL. Just.... cruisin.

simple ramp from which to launch into flight down the back stretch
Next up was a tree line fence - this time a ramp, wherein last time the red table was here. Also last time, Charlie landed from this fence galloping away across the next field so I kinda naturally expected him to do this same this time too.

or, ya know, just kinda pop over and lope away. either way works!
photo courtesy of Megan Kiessling
He totally didn't tho. Got to a slightly snug distance to the ramp and just.... kept right on cantering. Go figure.

choo choo train!
Another big change in this course from literally every single other course I've jumped at Fair Hill ever was that the train which typically marks the final fence on course was actually out in the back field. I guess they wanted to switch it up?

turns out when i USE MY LEG we actually get a nice jump!
I didn't expect any issues from our BN train car tho - but actually Charlie took a little peek at it and stood slightly off from it. Which was perfect bc it reminded me (again) to put my leg ON. And whadya know, he jumped it beautifully. Maybe his nicest jump since the coop at #2.

roll top schmoll top
We continued loping on down the track to a simple roll top, by which point things were coming together much better for us and Charlie hopped over easily out of stride.

Then over to the water, where I planned to again take a moment to bring Charlie through the unflagged section first to get his feet wet. Charlie also opted to take a little drink break lol.... The jump judge was laughing like, "wow I've never seen that before" haha but I had kinda expected he might want to tank up. Like I said... he felt tired.

oh hey look - two more roll tops! with some wada in between! better believe we jumped this N fence into the water!
But I wanted him to feel a little refreshed bc I was determined to fit in at least one N schooling opportunity during this course - and the likeliest option was this roll top going into the water. N had the A-B going in, and BN had the A-B going out - so I wanted to just thread the needle right on across all three elements.

definitely the highlight of the course right here!
Again, Charlie took a little leg to the first roll top - something I should consider a good feeling - but mostly just cantered right on along. Distances weren't perfect and he kinda hopped into the water somewhat awkwardly. But he did it nbd. I'll call that a win!

ditch is alllll byyyy itsellfff. also, brita and rachael cameo!
Then another easy lope down hill to the stand-alone ditch. Charlie hopped it a little awkwardly but fine enough for our purposes.

barrels!
Then uphill to the barrels and our final stretch toward the finish line.

cruisin toward the finish
Charlie jumped the barrels quite well actually, then finally found his rocket burners and started running lol. I mean, it had to happen eventually, right?

such a good boy <3
photo courtesy of Megan Kiessling
It's kinda such a tricky balance bc he went from sluggish and behind my leg to fast and behind my leg - neither of which are ideal and both of which are perhaps symptoms of his lack of schooling.

lil house
But I figured it would be ok for the purposes of finishing this course. Obviously we have some work to do in general schooling, but with two efforts left I figured we'd just roll with it.

homeboy was flyin!
photo nabbed from After the Races facebook page
And that's about how that went. Charlie zoomed on up to a very going distance to the cabin. And for once I actually more or less managed to stay with him.

another house to finish
Then continued racing on along to the final fence, another simple house coop type thing.

wheeeee!!! it mayyyy or may not have taken a little while to pull him up after this haha
photo courtesy of Megan Kiessling
I had tried slowing him down a little on approach, but it was a futile effort lol. He leaped over it, and then took the better part of ten full seconds to pull up after crossing the finish line lol.

gosh i just love his expression <3
photo courtesy of Megan Kiessling
So. Ya know. Haha. We made it! The first third of this course was somewhat disastrous - and definitely showed just how south things can go when you take for granted that a green horse will just do the thing all of its own accord.

But at least it felt like we cleaned it up a bit by the middle portion. And despite slipping back into that "racing" gear for the end, it at least felt like a positive way to finish.


Generally speaking, it was an educational course for me. A reminder that it's still my responsibility to set this green horse up for success, and not get complacent by just expecting everything to be so easy for him. In doing a little bit of post-ride analysis, I've found maybe three areas that can be improved upon for next time:

-   Fitness. There's no doubt about it, Charlie was tired on this day. The whole day. All of it. I knew that his baseline fitness wasn't where I needed or wanted it to be going into the event. But I need to take real steps to ensure that we can improve upon that to the best of our ability. Because if Charlie gets tired, he's that much more likely to get a case of the "I Don't Wanna's" and that's not fun for anybody.

-   Rider Accountability. I must not get complacent. Must not confuse softness for effectiveness. A more proactive rider would have created a better canter earlier on to avoid the types of confidence-busting jumps we had at #s 3 & 4. In the same vein, rider must be more accountable for her own position and not be so loose in the tack!

-   Boots. The fronts of our new set of Le Mieux xc boots rotated pretty early on and by the end of the day there was a quarter sized bloody rub on one of Charlie's fetlocks. While there's no saying whether this caused Charlie's nappiness, he's been known to go into full-on dinosaur mode when he's uncomfortable. Our first leather girth that apparently pinched him is the perfect example of this. So. Back to the drawing board for front boots (tho the hinds worked perfectly!).

he may be green but he's such a good boy
photo courtesy of Megan Kiessling
 All in all, even tho it wasn't the perfect conclusion to our event - esp after the high we felt from dressage - I'm still just so proud of this horse.

I believe Charlie has a lot of potential and will be able to do all the things I could possibly hope for, and maybe more. It'll just be up to me to help keep him on track. To keep it fun and interesting to him, while also making sure I hold my own self accountable in our schooling so that we develop the tools needed when things go a little sideways or when he needs more support.

all the treats for sir!!!!
photo courtesy of Megan Kissling
Ultimately I honestly kind of expect Charlie to become a packer. Crazy as it sounds, he's actually already kinda close in some regards even a year into his training. But he's not there yet. So I just gotta be ready to step in as needed.

This is all good stuff to have figured out during the first event of our fall season. Now we look forward to a small at-home starter trial in a couple weeks, then the last two events in Loch Moy's fall series. Very exciting!

31 comments:

  1. ha who would thought CHARLIE would look like REMUS out of the start box HA glad he found his speed later. it was warmer than I thought it would be actually so i think they were all a bit sleepy. He looks great though and great job going BN with him. Charlie is the best. You guys are such a pair too I have to smile you look so good on him! Sorry about the boots that sucks. I didnt even GET Time to put Remus' on. With the course he had i was like ehh..he will be fine :) HA Great job on FH across the board.

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    1. lol charlie definitely has that nappiness well established in his repertoire! i call it his "dinosaur stuck in tar pit" haha. he's a good boy tho and so much fun to ride even when he's feeling a little blah. so good seeing you there too and getting to watch you and Remus eat that course up!!

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  2. I love reading how BN seems so meh to you! I can see N in you near future :) Horses gain fitness back so quickly and this event should have gone a ways to help. I'm sure you'll have more horse under you in two weeks.

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    1. lol thanks! in fairness tho, BN is probably the level i've got the most experience riding since beginning to event - but it helps that i ride a giant thoroughbred!!! also this course was definitely soft for the level. and even being 'soft' - it still exposed some issues in our training. so i'm thinking we probably shouldn't rush ahead (even tho maybe i want to!) since it's still kinda easy for us to get tripped up on BN level technicality. we'll see tho! agreed on your points re: fitness -- that's exactly my hope too! i never had to worry much about it with arab izzy, esp with her personality. charlie apparently will need a little more purposeful work tho!

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  3. he was so not interested to start but at the end you had to pully rein to be like hey... that was all the jumps bro!!!!

    i thought the courses were REALLY soft which kinda surprised me. it was fun to see you guys out there!!

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    1. yea i was honestly kinda disappointed in the course. even had to go back and watch the helmet cam video from my last BN run there (sadly my last full run with isabel, video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8rwTj-H7uh0) bc i remember that course being AWESOME. and, uh, it totally was. 17 efforts, bank and water combinations, and a related distance to the ditch.

      this year's course pales a little bit in comparison. i'm not sure if maybe they had complaints about it being too hard before? or, this was also the biggest fair hill starter trial in my memory (215 entries) so maybe they kept it simple to help keep riders moving along to stay on schedule? idk. at least the jumps themselves were mostly all pretty well sized! and fun terrain!

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  4. Ahhh eventing.. an eternal learning experience! I agree that Charles is WELL on his way to becoming a super duper XC packer, and I looooove how you sorted things out by the middle of the course and finished like a champ after those first few fences! SO great to see you there and cheer you on, as always! :D

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    1. thanks girl!! i still have a lot to learn about managing charlie's propensity toward moodiness lol but each event teaches me more and more! i'm glad we got it sorted out from the beginning too bc those first couple jumps were WAY dicier than i'd like to see from what ought to be a fun-loving xc horse! in time tho!! so good seeing you too and congrats on such a strong finish!

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  5. That was so fun to watch! Despite the "eh, I don't wanna--ooh look jompies!" at the beginning, you two still did great out there. Many of those jumps are looking REAL, yo! That cabin looks huge!

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    1. haha yay glad it was fun! and yea, i'm still very much in the zone of needing to specifically not get very close to any of the jumps while walking bc my eye hasn't really adjusted to them when i'm on ground level - but they look totally different from charlie's back! it's bizarre but i'm rollin' with it!

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  6. That looked like so much fun! And while YOU may have thought BN looked boring, that looked perfect for me:) I should haul up there for their events! You guys will get that balance soon enough, having a fast horse behind the leg sucks!

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    1. ha yea you should definitely come up here! we've got all kinds of fun options galore! lots to pick and choose from and plenty of cool courses! which is perfect for us bc like you say, all the pieces will come together with practice!

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  7. Funny how they can be like that to start and then around the course gain confidence and momentum. I bet he will be that much more confident leaving the box next time!

    Sucky about the boots, Boogaloos are awesome boots for xc if you don't want to spend too much and they last forever.

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    1. luckily charlie doesn't actually have much of a confidence issue - the jumping part he's almost too blase about haha. it's that whole piece of me "driving him forward" that he can dislike and resist. usually the jumps are exciting enough to him that he doesn't fuss with me, but at this event when he was kinda tired and lazy, it was more of a problem to start. luckily he forgot about it soon enough!

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  8. Hey - you guys still did the thing and did it pretty well!! A huge win for Sir Chuckles!

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    1. oh sure - i hope nothing above would suggest that i think this was a bad experience for charlie! i'm thrilled with him and he's a good boy. that sentiment can exist simultaneously with my feeling like i can do more to ensure that things go better next time too, it doesn't have to be a zero sum game!

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  9. Ooo I liked the helmet cam a lot - I was worn out by the end watching it so I feel for Charlie. I treat my very green horse the same way and then act surprised when she dodges a jump. Lesson learned, right?

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    1. ha if only some lessons would stay learned!

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  10. So weird about the napping... maybe he didn't realize he'd finally made it to the fun part? ;)

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    1. yea i think so... he's just such a funny horse. it really is like a switch flips. i still don't think it'll be a permanent problem... but also don't really want to take any chances with it either, ya know?

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  11. So odd he was nappy for the fun part. Maybe it was the boots. It sounds like he still carried through and got it done. Such a nice boy.

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    1. yea definitely happy that he snapped out of it in time to actually get the course done in good order!

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  12. Absolutely love that last fence picture! Glad he woke up (eventually) and you guys had a good run!

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  13. Shows are so good at showing us what we need to work on and what we're good at. You are doing such a good job with him.

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    1. agreed completely - i love using shows to figure out my current weaknesses since despite my best efforts, the show atmosphere and environment and pressure and whatnot is always most likely to expose them!

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  14. He is SUCH a good boy <3 I love him, glad to see you having a good learning experience!

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    1. aw thanks, i pretty much adore him too!!

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  15. Such a good soul. Still playing the game, even when he is tired. You two have moved right along this year and I just love it.

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    1. he's just doing so well, it's hard to believe. just makes me want to keep helping him get better and better!

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  16. He's such an honest boy and trier! He just had to get his second wind lol But it looked like a good round still, and he handled that water combo like a pro! Good boy Charlie!

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