Wednesday, September 26, 2018

finally, an xc lesson!

On one hand, I am often a little frustrated at not getting to school cross country as much as I'd like. There's always a reason, ya know? Ground too hard. Ground too soft. Scheduling conflicts. General yellow-bellied pansy-ness. You know how it goes. Excuses, excuses.

On the other hand, tho, in retrospect Charlie and I have actually gotten out a fair amount this year. Not as much as I'd like, but then again Charlie doesn't seem to need as much as I do in terms of repetition and regularity. So for his purposes, he's had a pretty good year of schooling.

the crew!!! complete with trainer P riding along bareback on lesson pony Pickles bc why not lol. (also you can see the front of the piano, pictured again below, in the top right corner)
We had our first outing of the year back in January, schooling the all-weather courses at Loch Moy. It was his first time seeing solid jumps since his surgery, and he easily rocked around the full BN course (in pieces tho, bc we were a little too wild to put it all together for the actual derby round).

Then we made it out in March to school at home for the first time all year on impressively good ground. This was... a very special day for me. Hard to explain why, but Charlie was excellent. We stuck to BN fences, but still found a few to add to our repertoire that had previously been a bit intimidating to me. Like a big log with a drop landing, and a substantial log table thingy.

Then in May, Brita and I headed out to Shawan Downs after their recognized HT to school the competition courses. I had walked the N course ahead of time (after finishing up my volunteer shift at the HT) and was determined: we would start laying the ground work for moving up. And? Charlie could not have been better.

hey, it's a log!
We only skipped the smaller early fences on course, but jumped all the important stuff. Including some of the biggest jumps he'd ever seen before (like the green table at the end of this post) and he never blinked - even despite some of my standard bobbles, mistakes, and under-riding.

There was a lull in our schooling sessions for a little bit while we were out actually, ya know, competing. But we got back to it in July for a laid back schooling session at home. This was Charlie's first schooling since our disastrous Plantation outing, and I had to be a little more focused on puffing him up vs just getting out and jumping all the things.

He was good tho, and happily tackled a mixture of BN and N jumps (and the deep dark scary T ditch!!), and his only struggles with the N line of roll tops were very honest issues -- leading to my decision to get him drilled and tapped for studs.

splash!!! also: the first time we almost died lol
Later in July, we did a pace clinic at Loch Moy that focused more on learning speeds across a 1,000m track than anything else, but we still stuck around after to jump one or two things. I honestly credit that pace clinic - and it's obvious focus on riding forward - with helping Charlie get his mojo back.

Then just a week or two later, we headed out to Boyd Martin's legendary Windurra for another fun schooling ride. The ride unfortunately began with a very unexpected ditch issue with my decidedly not ditchy horse, which blew through a lot of Charlie's emotional capital before we even really got started. Not ideal.... It was still a good ride tho. We got a little more practice with tricky terrain and more technically styled jumps (corners and skinnies) while mostly sticking to conservative N and BN sized fences.

Finally, our last schooling was during the Labor Day hunter pace at Tranquility, where we mostly played around but tackled a few N jumps all the same. Obvi nothing garnered a look from Charlie and it was all just for fun.

these chevrons have always been intimidating to me. they took charlie by surprise too but he gave it a good honest effort!
So ya know. We've had some good solid outings this year, and combined with Charlie's competition runs (BN at Loch Moy this past spring, then N at Loch MoyPlantationJenny Camp, and then Loch Moy again for their twilight event, where we also added in a massive T table!) it feels like Charlie's pretttttty damn schooled to all things BN and N at this point.

Also worth noting: despite our best efforts and intentions, we've also been without coaching for all of the above, with the exception of trainer P warming me up for xc at Plantation. To me, this is decidedly not ideal.

Like, sure, Charlie's doing just fine. I'm 100% confident that there's nothing at N or below that Charlie can't face (except maybe down bank combinations bc..... I'm a pansy and really haven't done my homework here like I ought to....). 

i also dislike this piano (called so bc the other side is actually built to look like a piano)
And despite a lack of formal training on cross country with Charlie... I've got literal reams of lesson notes from getting started at these levels with Isabel. Thanks to the blog, I've been able to study study study all those notes from Dan and Trainer P, plus the actual footage from those early lessons. It's helped a lot, and Charlie's benefited directly from that.

But the flip side is.... I'm really bad at pushing myself. And really good at rationalizing my way out of new challenges. Competitions are weirdly good for me tho, bc if you put a flagged obstacle on my course, then I will be all stoic like "Well I guess that jump is just gonna have to get jumped!" But give me a field full of the same jumps, but now unmarked, and yea. I'll totally just be like, "Eh it looks big tho. Not today."

Which is part of why the Shawan schooling was so useful for me. I had walked the course and knew which jumps were N. So even when we got there and they were unmarked, I couldn't talk myself into believing otherwise. I knew what was N, and knew that if I wanted to do the N stuff, that's what I had to jump. So I jumped it. And it was fine. Charlie was fine. And therefore, I was fine. Educational experience!

yep, we've seen this before
Kinda the same story when we school at home - I know which jumps are which without a shadow of a doubt. And can make choices accordingly. But take me to Windurra and.... yea. I really didn't go for it. When maybe I could have.

That's not a bad thing, per se. All experience is good experience for Charlie. Positive easy mileage is always worth it. Like when we did the Twilight at Loch Moy and I opted to not really school any of the T (except for that one haha). It's really great to feel like we're ready for a challenge, to feel like there's more there to push for, even if I'm a little shy about actually doing the pushing haha.

But that's what lessons are for, right? That's why it's so great to have a trainer there to dismiss any excuses, while also providing the guidance necessary to be successful with new challenges.

seen this before too! funny how this past spring, this table was the biggest thing i'd ever pointed charlie at. and now? it's old hat!
Unfortunately I ended up feeling a little disappointed with this particular lesson in that regard. We've had a ton of rain here (I believe record rainfall across the entire year in Maryland) and the ground is just... not good. Therefore we needed to be as judicious and protective of the ground as possible.

Meaning: some jumps were entirely out of the question (like the line of N rolltops that Charlie and I have struggled with). And otherwise trainer P wanted minimal repetitions to avoid tearing the ground up. So a couple jumps that we did a little funny (like the line through the water to the red coop) didn't get a second chance to smooth it out.

Also we had a bit of mixed group, including some folks who are totally capable but had never schooled xc before. So a lot of time was spent introducing them to the finer points, while Charlie and I felt a little bit like an after thought.

short helmet cam here!

So I ended up having to ask to jump bigger things than what trainer P directed me to - like asking to jump the chevrons and piano jumps (both of which have vaguely haunted me since 2015 haha) instead of doing the same BN jumps that Charlie's jumped a million times.

Obvi asking to jump other things is totally fine, and trainer P had no problem with it..... but it kinda undermined the hope for the ride: that I'd get a trainer to push me to go where I hadn't gone before. Like, there are other jumps out there that I want to jump. That I *know* Charlie can do, is maybe hungry to try. But.... time and again, when faced with the opportunity, I wuss out.

And even in this ride, even as I'm sitting there *knowing* that I should ask trainer P if we could try them.... I just... didn't. Again. Sigh.

So we really only just jumped a handful of things. All of which Charlie's seen a number of times before - with the exception one log at the beginning and the chevrons and piano that I asked to try. It was kinda boring, honestly. Tho let's be real: that's never the worst feeling when schooling haha!

Charlie answered every question, was clever where he needed to be (like when we almost fell down in the deep water but he still locked on to the jump anyway!), and basically just hopped around like a pro. I'm cool with it.

Hopefully tho, at some point it'll stop raining and we'll be able to get back out again sometime soon to try for more.


  1. I have this very same problem when schooling alone: even though I want to move up and push myself in order to get better, I tend to be more cautious and scaredy pants without a trainer there to confirm that we can *in fact* do it. This kind of bit me in the butt at my last event, where the only jump we had some issues with on course was one that I hadn't realized was on the starter course and had decided not to school because I thought it was too big for starter. Whoops.

    This is also why I find it very important to have regular discussions with my trainer about my goals, both long term and for a specific lesson. Especially if we're going to be riding with a mixed group, I want to make sure that she knows ahead of time what issues I'm struggling with or what I want to try to accomplish that day, so that she can make sure she includes those things in the lesson. It's not fair to expect her to just always know exactly what I need on any given day. I've had issues with feeling like I haven't gotten everything that I've needed from her before, but I realized that I wasn't exactly expressing to her where I wanted to be and how I needed her help getting there.

    1. oh man, what a bummer about being caught out by the one fence you hadn't schooled! i hate that! c'est la vie tho.

      and yea agreed 100% about having frank conversations with trainers. i'm all about that, and have been very communicative with my trainer about my goals - including discussing entry options for a recent clinic, that was unfortunately canceled, and actually i specifically requested/begged for this particular xc lesson. had a whole conversation ahead of the lesson about how it's been over a year since our last xc lesson, and expressed exactly what i wrote above about needing a trainer to give me the push to challenge myself and my horse. oh well. next time, i guess!

  2. Ugh the ground is downright unstable right now, at least down here. Like, walking to get the horses out of the pasture should be a sport in it's own right. I almost slipped and died about 30 times last night. Can't imagine xc in this.

    1. ugh seriously. it wasn't so bad in some places this past weekend, but now i'm sure everything is even more waterlogged!

  3. It's hard to know what to ask to push for. I find it easier this year because I've been able to have lessons on a much more regular schedule. Sometimes I ask to push things and sometimes I want to ask but don't. I don't know what the answer is, but we do what we do and the horses probably don't care.

    1. Ha ain’t that the truth - Charlie just likes being pointed at things!! For that, I’m grateful.

  4. It can be really hard with a group to get the help you need, especially with varying levels. At least you can use it as good feedback that you are on the right track, and gain confidence from that! I hope you get a reprieve from the rain soon so you can have more fun times!

    1. oh man, i hope we can get a break from the rain sometime soon too!!!

  5. I can relate so hard to wanting a trainer to push me harder. I push myself hard, then feel like I need to scale back to compensate for that drive. Then I hope that the 3rd party on the ground person will have some better insight, yes no go don't go for it. With the greener horses it is harder too, you know they're ready but part of you doesn't want to "break" what you've built in case you misjudge that push moment.
    I hope you get another crack at it soon. And WHEN I make it out that way, I can't wait to come cheer you on. 😁

    1. omg for sure -- when charlie was more green i was TERRIFIED of "breaking" his training somehow. turns out, tho, they're pretty hard to break haha, and i've come to believe that horses are a lot harder to "ruin" than many of us mere mortals may believe. so yea, the occasional push here and there is usually a good thing. hopefully we'll be out and about at some point soon for that!

      and YES PLZ VISIT!

  6. If it weren't for pushy trainers, I would never even. But it has to be that right amount. I have had a trainer push too far and it turned into a hard over-faced nope. But bopping around doing easy stuff isn't all bad either. The more easy stuff under your belt, the better your confidence right?

    1. yea for sure, it's definitely a tricky balance. if i don't fully trust my trainer not to over face me (or my horse) then it's just not going to be a successful situation bc.... yea. and agreed that the positive confidence building mileage is never a bad thing. i'm a big believer in confidence *building* not confidence *proving.* every now and then tho it's nice to see if we can actually do that next bump up.... hopefully one day haha

  7. I'm glad that everything aligned for your lesson XC! I think when you lay it all out like you did it's super hard to argue the point that you haven't done enough - like seriously where did the year go look at all the things you two have accomplished and slipped under your belt just going out cross country. The horse has certainly blossomed under your tuteluge - and certainly you have blossomed as well in the saddle on his back. (and seriously going back and refreshing through all my own notes on my blog is such a boon! Thank goodness for detailed notation).

    1. aw thanks <3 charlie is teaching me so much, it really kinda blows my mind. from a day to day perspective it can often feel like nothing is changing, but part of that is bc charlie's just been so smooth, so quiet that aside from major blips (like plantation or his surgery) he just keeps on truckin.

  8. I tend to actually push myself too hard, so I like having someone there that can watch me, help me think through what happened, and tell me when NOT to do something that would probably have been too difficult and would have been bad for me and my horse's confidence. I'm certainly a little smarter about it now haha and more conscious about how my decisions may affect the horse. But then I love having instructors there because if I am a bit unsure, they can help give me confidence! Hopefully it'll stop raining and you can get back into a regular lesson schedule again! Charlie looked psyched to be out on xc again :D

    1. oh man, i'm a huge lesson junkie and advocate for having a pro there to provide that guidance. and fwiw - we've been on a regular lesson schedule basically all summer. i post recaps of lessons almost every week haha. it's just specifically cross country lessons that have been hard to come by, for various reasons.

    2. Oh wow yeah you do. I have no idea why I blanked on that, but maybe I meant more regular xc outings? Haha I have no idea lol.

    3. alllll riding lessons all the time!!!! i'm hopeful that we can get more regular xc lessons but it doesn't seem super likely. it's gotta stop raining!


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