Wednesday, October 17, 2018

my favorite horse show volunteer jobs

Thanks in large part to Sara's 2018 Volunteer Challenge, I've been motivated to get out and about at local events as a volunteer more than ever before. This included everything from small low key stuff at Charlie's farm, to bigger recognized and championship USEA and USDF events.

jump judging the MCTA Jenny Camp training division back in 2015. this is Sally Cousins and Stravinsky
I've always enjoyed volunteering anyway, for a few main reasons:

1 - It's a plain old great way to pass a day outside watching horses and riders do cool things.

2 - Seeing horses and riders successfully tackle big obstacles has the definite advantage of making it look not quite so intimidating. BN will feel 1,000% more accessible after spending an hour jump judging the Prelim course!

3 - With horses, the best education comes from experience imo. You can read the books, watch the videos, have long chats with your trainers and friends, etc etc etc. But at the end of the day nothing beats that in-person experience. Spending the day at a horse show in any capacity will tell me LOADS more about how this sport operates than if I just read the rule book online.

4 - Plus it's an effective networking experience. Volunteering provides ample opportunities to meet and observe all the local pros, trainers, riders, barn owners, organizers, etc etc. Useful for finding clinicians you'd want to ride with, for instance. And it's never a bad thing to become a familiar face, recognized as someone who's happy to help out!

tools of the jump judging trade: clip board with score sheets + order of go, plus radio. plus a comfy shady seat ;)
So when Sara announced her challenge at the beginning of this year, I knew right away that it was something right up my alley.

To get started, I created a free account on the USEA's volunteer dashboard - and, no you don't have to be a USEA member to do this. Once logged in to my volunteer portal, I can browse all the upcoming events, or search for events by area (Maryland is in Area II, for instance).

This is still a newer tool available to events organizers, so not every event uses it. But many do, and to great effect. And it's not limited to recognized events either, or even USEA events. Loch Moy for example uses the volunteer portal for their schooling events and USDF shows too.

Generally speaking, the USEA calendar is finalized (with few exceptions) by spring time, and venues will start populating their events and volunteer positions in the portal shortly thereafter. Once you've opened an account, you'll receive email newsletters for upcoming volunteer opportunities in your area.

I found it useful to scroll through the entire year of events last spring, blocking off weekends on my calendar well in advance. The dual advantage is that, by signing up for positions so early, I was likelier to nab positions that looked really exciting or interesting.

So with that in mind, let's talk a little more about volunteer positions I've done this past year:

preferred xc jump judging set up: complete with friends and a cooler of beer haha
Cross Country Jump Judge

This is the quintessential introduction to volunteerism at events. Most lower level cross country courses have between 15-20 jumps spread across 1-1.5 miles, and each fence needs at least one but ideally two sets of eyes on it. Therefore each event needs a LOT of jump judges.

The role is relatively simple, tho. The technical delegate (TD) holds a meeting before the event starts to review all the rules and regulations with jump judges, and get everyone squared away with clip boards and radios, etc.

Jump judges are often paired up - so this is a fun thing to do with a friend, SO, or kiddo. And basically the role is to be the eyes on your particular assigned jump or jumps. You have a score sheet to mark down whether each rider was clear or had penalties at your fence, and a radio to call in the same.

While technically you're also there to be a first responder and communication point in the event of an accident, it's generally a quiet job spent mostly sitting. I tend to only sign up for this at our home events, when I know I'll be paired up with buddies Brita and Rachael. Otherwise, I find it a little boring. But I still end up doing it relatively often anyway, just bc sometimes events are short handed and will need more warm bodies out on course, even if I signed up for something else.

weather can't always be good at these things tho... i was impressed with how tough all these dressage riders were duringn the deluge at this USDF show. in the ring are my coach (far side) and barn mate (near), while i was stewarding the warm up. fun fact - austen is just out of frame to the right, handling bit check!
Bit Check

I've done Bit Check at both USDF and USEA events, and it's fascinating to me how different the two governing agencies run things. More on that below too haha.

At USEA events, every horse must get their bit checked, bonnets pulled, and spurs and whips measured. At USDF, there's more of a "random draw" to this process, with something like every 4th horse getting pulled for a check.

In this role, you obviously have to be comfortable and confident handling a strange horse's face and sticking your fingers in and around their mouths. You have to be comfortably assertive with riders too, especially as many riders in the heat of competition have 8,000 other things on their mind (including stress and anxiety) and are not always super compliant haha.

But generally, you're checking that the bit is legal for the level (you'll be provided pictures of all the various examples, but something like 90% of what you'll see are snaffles) by sliding it far enough out of the mouth to see it, opening the horses mouth to visually assess, or running a thumb over it to check for sharp edges.

At USEA events, riders can opt to have their checks done before or after their test, depending on their horse. Most are happy to get this out of the way, but some with nervous horses, for instance, or with bonnets, will wait to do the check after. It's up to you to keep track of who you've checked, tho it's up to the competitor to ensure they get checked.

It's a job spent mostly on your feet with a lot of interaction with competitors. These are aspects I personally like in a volunteer role, tho I tend to prefer warm up steward over this particular role.

dressage scribing is always fun!
Warm Up Steward

At almost any show in any discipline, my favorite role is warm up steward. Whether at the small fun shows at my home barn, or at big recognized events. I've done it for dressage, show jumping, and cross country. It's also often (esp at smaller shows) combined with running the "in gate."

As warm up steward, your job is essentially to impose order on the chaos haha. And for those of you who have competed before in wild and unruly warm up rings, you know what I mean. From my perspective, an effective steward can improve the experience for everyone.

As a competitor, I rely on the stewards to answer questions: Are things running on time, early, or behind? How many horses are ahead of me? What ring do I ride in? What's the optimum time? So as a steward, it's my business to have the answers.

Especially in jumping warm ups, this can keep things orderly in what is often a small space with limited jumps shared among all the riders. If a rider knows they have 15 minutes before their ride, they're more likely to stay out of the way of the rider who's on deck. Usually haha.

Most events ideally want to stay true to the order of go where possible, but usually it's more important to keep things moving, and keep getting riders out on course. It's up to the steward to have a sense of order and communicate that to the riders. As with any volunteer role, tho, the TD is only ever a radio call away if you have a question on rules or need help with a competitor.

It's also up to the steward to make sure everyone is safely sharing space in the warm up. Again, the difference in rules between USEA and USDF shows is fascinating to me. For instance: at USDF shows, nobody is allowed inside the warm up rings on foot. Out of concern for safety. Meanwhile, at USEA events - even in the xc warm up where horses are literally galloping and jumping - trainers and crew can be right next to the fences.

This position is also one spent mostly on your feet, tho I suppose it wouldn't be hard to do it seated as well. And you have a lot of interactions with the riders.

Personally I like this role a lot - esp in the jumping phases - bc the atmosphere and energy is always really cool. Obviously some riders are the businesslike pros on their client's rank novice horse or whatever. But for the most part it's a bunch of amateur riders just like you and me, experiencing all the jangling nerves and feelings of excitement/dread leading to those last few moments before GO TIME. Idk. It's a cool place to be at a show imo.

jump crew is a great way to get up close and personal with the action, without really having to pay a whole lot of attention other than grabbing rails when they fall. also great for seeing the local pros make the rounds, like Boyd here with one of his prelim horses
Jump Crew

Jump crew is a little bit of a different type of role, in my experience. It's another one best done with a buddy, and can offer a lot of down time between falling rails for just chatting and observing, so it's good to sign up with someone you like talking to haha.

It's also a bit more active than the roles I've already written about. The job is pretty simple: pick up dropped rails, and quick. And don't get run over while you're at it haha. Then be on hand to reset all the fences (also quickly!) in between divisions. The judge will ensure all the heights and spreads etc are within the limits, but the crew will at least getting everything roughly in place.

In this role, you won't spend a lot of time interacting with riders. But depending on where you position yourself around the ring, you might get to listen in on the judge's commentary haha. Overall, it's a kinda mindless job. You don't need to keep track of time, points, riders, or anything like that. It's active without requiring much attention - kinda the opposite of jump judging on xc.

Depending on your preferences, this is a pretty solid role. Definitely one I would do again (probably prefer it to jump judging, tbh, plus you see more action). It's also useful to get familiar with setting fences for different levels -- another way to show yourself that, "hm maybe that's not so big after all!"

moar scribing tho! this time for a Young Event Horse event during the jumping phases. would 100% do this again!

Scribing is another good introductory type role, especially at the lower levels. This is predominantly a role needed for dressage or the dressage phases at events, but I've also scribed in the jumping phase of Young Event Horse qualifiers and in the conformation phase of the Future Event Horse East Coast Championships.

As a scribe, your role is to write down the judge's scores and commentary on the appropriate test sheets. How intense or relaxed it is depends a bit on what level is being judged. From my experience, you really don't need any prior experience to scribe for dressage tests through first level, or eventing dressage tests through novice. As the levels go up, tho, the scores come faster and it's useful to have practice with common shorthand terms so you can keep up.

I've signed up to scribe a lot, thinking it's a great way to observe interesting classes. Like the YEH and FEH classes, for instance. Realistically, tho, the whole reason a scribe exists is so that the judge can observe haha. Meanwhile the scribe usually has their eyes on what they're writing.

Still tho, this can be a really educational role. Especially depending on your judge. Many judges like to provide additional commentary, or explain what they're seeing, or what they'd want to see. In this way, it can almost feel a little bit like a private mini-clinic with the judge haha. But then again some judges are kinda cranky crusty old fussbuckets so..... Yea haha.

But if you're comfortable writing extensively for long periods of time and appreciate volunteer roles that can be done seated and out of the elements, this is usually a pretty good bet. Legible handwriting preferred but not required lol.

it was cool helping out in the vet box - esp getting to meet some equine legends like Lauren Kieffer's Veronica!
Vet Box

The final volunteer role I want to mention is the vet box. This is a position that's only generally needed at FEI events -- it's required for CCI divisions and optional for CIC -- or at long format 3-day events, where competitors complete the roads and tracks and steeplechase endurance phases in addition to standard cross country.

I've only done this at an FEI event - MDHT's CIC 1/2* earlier this summer. The gist is that a whole bunch of volunteers are on hand in the "box" immediately after the cross country finish line to help facilitate the care and recovery of each horse. Particularly, horses get their temperature-pulse-respiration (TPR) checked at intervals until they're cleared to return to stabling.

Meanwhile, grooms and riders are stripping tack, sponging and scraping, taking out studs, and generally debriefing with their teams on how the ride went.

The event's main vet, who would have checked in all the horses when they arrived into stabling a few days prior, leads this team. Volunteers break into groups with a stethoscope, thermometer, and scribe to handle the barrage of incoming horses. While there are no prerequisites for this role, you should probably be comfortable with at least the idea of taking a horse's temp.

It's a nice active role, with a consistent rhythm to the day as horses come off course in a steady stream. It's also a really neat atmosphere - the exact opposite of the warm up ring haha. It felt like a "behind the scenes" look at how teams care for these FEI horses, and I loved being a fly on the wall listening to everyone recount their rides.

Personally, it wasn't actually my favorite role. Maybe I would feel different among the lower level amateur divisions at a long format event vs the FEI classes, but it felt like an environment ripe for "big fish"syndrome and lots of name dropping haha. I'm probably not likely to sign up for this role again at another FEI event, although I'm glad I experienced it at least once.


all the interaction with judges can be really interesting too, even if it's not always easy to watch all the action while scribing
There are also tons more volunteer opportunities beyond what I've mentioned above. Like running scores - either on the golf cart out on xc, or back and forth between the dressage judges and the office for instance. Or actually working in the office, tabulating scores or handling the paper work side of things.

Plus naturally there's a whole 'nother world of work that goes into getting these events off the ground well ahead of when any riders even set foot on the grounds, like painting jumps or setting up the rings or decorations etc etc. And some of that CAN be found on the USEA volunteer portal too, if you're interested in them.

Bc basically.... yea it takes a village to run an event haha. And most places are seriously grateful for volunteers, complete with providing meals and snacks, swag like t-shirts, or even "bucks" toward schooling or entries.

volunteering is a great way to sneak in some excellent spectating too!

Have you ever signed up for any of the positions written about above, or think you're likely to do so in the future? Do you prefer any one job over another? Why? Or are there any jobs you definitely don't like doing? Like personally I have exactly zero interest in managing the start or finish clocks haha, don't ask me why.

Do you think you'll spend more time volunteering next year? Or less? Or is it one of those things that's hard to make time for, or that you'd rather be riding yourself? Or maybe you only volunteer bc it's compulsory to be eligible for year end awards?? Lol no judgement here!

Friday, October 12, 2018

showdown at the kennett corral

Way back in 2014 when I first got serious about eventing in general and my training with Isabel in particular, I started catching the occasional lesson with local 4* pro Dan. A couple of my barn mates at the time had worked for him, so he was coming out semi regularly to teach them.

The lessons suited me well (fun fact: one of my earliest ever blog posts recapped my second lesson with him haha) and so I got into a weekly habit with them once Dan returned from Aiken in the spring of 2015.

yet another wet rainy morning in the maryland jungle....
Over time, I began to see these lessons as critical to my and Isabel's education as eventers. I had a lot to learn, and each ride offered plenty of red meat. At that time, it felt like I had the perfect combination of trainers to meet each of my and Isabel's varied needs - as explained in greater detail in this post.

We kept it up through 2016, until it became clear that Isabel would not continue on as my partner in competitions. So the lessons ended, except for the occasional trip up to Dan's farm in Kennett Square to ride one of his horses.

grooming this wet horse proved futile so we mostly just hung out eatin hay waiting for our chariot to arrive
My hope had been to get back into the program once Charlie really got going.... but logistically that hasn't proved to be the case. Neither my previous or current barn allows outside trainers except in special clinic situations. And those are extremely challenging to schedule, it turns out.

That leaves us with traveling up to Dan's farm for lessons. Which we managed to do exactly once last summer haha. And wow was it worth it. We didn't even end up jumping in that lesson, just dug into the flat work a la Dan Style. But it proved to be a breakthrough ride for Charlie, and I've been working on exactly those same teachings ever since.

tfw you try to look at least semi respectable for your big lesson, but your horse drenches you splashing through the paddock mud puddles....
And, naturally, I've been itching to get back there ever since too. Finally, the stars aligned and former barn mate Rachael and I made the pilgrimage to Hermitage Farm!

As might be expected, Dan's requirements for the flat work really haven't changed much over the years. He continues to want to see riders start with a very round slow purposeful walk. "Walking at almost Halt," he calls it. The idea is to feel like you're placing each foot purposefully, so slow it almost feels a little disjointed. All with the horse continuing to push into the contact.

Dan says that beginning with this very slow but purposeful rhythm is necessary before you can add more forward pace -- otherwise the horse will just lose his balance in the forward. THIS, he says, is how you build the strength to carry that balance.

"who, me? i would never be careless about these giant clodhoppers tho! must have been some other bronto ;)"
From this, we moved into a similarly purposeful trot. My feeling for that slow pushing trot was a little off - Dan wanted it slower still - but we were pretty close. We stayed mostly on a 20-30m circle, and finished the trot work with a little leg yielding.

Dan's instruction for Charlie was to be really clear that neither our rhythm nor my contact should change in the leg yield. Apparently I throw the contact away a little bit, and let Charlie start running.

diagram of the grid in its final form: all cavaletti except for the two wide oxers with fill
For canter, I got maybe the biggest insights for our flatwork homework (aside from, ya know, maybe go slower than I am thinking haha): Dan wanted me to really get a feel of leg yielding out on our canter circles. Almost exaggerated. Turning and bending in, while moving out. With the whole idea being to really sit on that inside hind leg.

This worked shockingly well for Charlie, and added a ton more balance to our canter. Like, obviously leg yielding at the canter isn't a new concept, but I really have not been applying it in this manner. Actually, honestly, I think my habit lately has been to overuse my outside leg on circles - esp at canter. And this exercise really helped put me back in the right place on the horse.

this farm is also super pretty - classic Pennsylvania horse country views in all directions!
Anyway. The flat work progressed pretty smoothly for us. It was validating to me to go through the exercises knowing that they're all so familiar to Charlie already. Even tho I haven't been coached by Dan regularly in two years, I've still really tried to practice what he's taught me. And this lesson was really reassuring that we're on the right track in that regard.

From the canter, we moved onto starting over cavalleti. First up was two cavalleti spaced at what might be considered a competition 3 distance, but that Dan wanted us to do in 4 even strides. First time through obvi Charlie and I were a little long, but after that Charlie was able to compress really well. Tho Dan wanted me to keep Charlie more "jazzed up" even in his shorter stride.

square turn between the cavaletti. intended to be ridden in 4-5, tho we almost always did 4
Next we came down over a raised cavalleti, 3 easy strides to a low wide square oxer, 2 strides to another low wide square oxer. With the striding being on the easy side, the key was being patient to the cavalleti - treating it like just another canter stride - and making each stride to the fence even.

Charlie and I were a little tight fitting in the first 3 once or twice, but again Charlie was just being super.

middle grid element. note the spike strips in the middle - who remembers when i almost died falling into them two summers ago?? (fun fact, that was also the same day i met charlie!!! ah memories...)
Then we added in a second cavaletti to create a square turn to the line. Actually - it was two square turns: one off the rail to the first cavaletti, then another square turn to the second cavalleti.

For this, Dan really wanted to see me pick Charlie's inside shoulder UP. Shorten the stride length, but increase the height of each stride, if that makes sense.

final grid element. charlie made it look easy!
The square turns were kinda easy to mess up - easy to sort of round off an edge or pull around the turn - but then the rest of the grid didn't ride quite as well. With Charlie, it was very clear the difference between when we had the right canter coming in, bc he would stay very steady and almost buoyant down the line, vs getting a little rushy.

We repeated this a few times off both leads, then put the jumps up and repeated again off both leads. The right lead had felt pretty easy when we did it the first time, but then after going left a few times, finishing on the right lead felt a little harder haha. Go figure.

cruisin the perimeter, trying to blend in haha
So. Ya know. Superficially it all sounds like really basic, straight forward stuff. But. ya know. This IS the stuff tho, right? Like the reason I like Dan's lessons so much is bc they're essentially just flat lessons with jumps thrown in the way. When the flat work is good, the jumps take care of themselves.

We hear that all the time, but putting it into action can be a whole 'nother story. But for whatever reason Dan's style works really well for helping me be more effective in getting the right feeling. Plus it was really cool hearing the same old instruction about quality of the canter but actually be able to act on it better with Charlie, whose canter is much stronger than Isabel's.

you're a good boy, chuck!
I was super proud of Charlie too bc he was definitely getting tired by the end. Verging on being a little grumpy with the repetitions and heightened expectations for being on the aids for every single moment. But.... He never lodged a formal complaint. Sure, some pinned ears -- but then he answered every question every time, and handled each exercises easily and well.

Hopefully it won't be another year before I can get another of these lessons.... But at least it's nice to know that we *are* building in the right direction even without them. Now if only I could remember to ride like this during my normal weekly jump lessons haha!

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

now boarding the struggle bus

I gotta say, if it weren't for Sunday's awesome hunter trials where we did the pairs and team classes, I might have walked away from this weekend feeling.... not great about things.

but first: we trot
For some reason, Charlie and I have been a little out of sync in our jumping lately. Luckily not so much the solid cross country stuff - that all seems fine. Just the arena work.

charlie isn't anybody's idea of a naturally talented dressage horse, but his trot is still light years ahead of where we started
The likeliest culprit is, obviously, yours truly. We've been working so hard on our dressage lately, but that's a sword that cuts both ways when I'm the one in the irons. The more I insist on being influential on the flat, the more naturally the horse becomes influenced by me over fences too. Right? Like isn't that the whole point of training?

i've always been a sucker for his canter, personally
But... The issue here is that I'm not always the most reliable pilot over fences. So it's not necessarily the greatest thing in the world to cultivate a feeling of reliance in the horse. Honestly, I'd much prefer the horse to be a bit of a packer. Which.... Let's be real, Charlie totally is.

ha. haha. but you knew the fails had to come sometime, right? look how mad he is at me lol....
And idk, I think my attitude going into this ride was not quite what it needed to be, too. I was thinking about keeping things low key, relaxed, laid back. Not really pushing for anything, just getting a couple easy reps over some fences ahead of the next day's fun outing.

even Riley dog is trying to figure out wtf is going on here lol
This attitude was further evidenced by deciding to ride Charlie in his hackamore, which I've noted on many occasions is not great for any sort of serious flat work. And so my warm up was as expected, quite low key. In my mind, this was on purpose and totally fine.

"ooh. fascinating." - charlie, probably
Realistically, tho, it was *not* actually fine haha. Like, at some point I'll learn that consistency really is key for horses. That I can't just act like contact and rhythm and balance and impulsion matter in 4 schooling rides out of 5, but that 5th schooling session becomes a gimme. Horses just don't think that deeply about it, they don't just flip on and off like that. Charlie will perform his best with clear consistent expectations.

this is what a 1,400lb behemoth looks like flinging himself over a 3' oxer with nothing but the grace of sweet baby jesus to help him out
So we warmed up like total space cadets, literally dragging our toes all across the arena stirring up lazy clouds of dust. Then when we started jumping, suddenly trainer P is taking me to task for letting Charlie get strung out, letting him kinda launch lurch over the fences instead of asking him to step up and push off from behind. She wanted to see me get him more balanced and moving to the base of the jump before rocking back to take off.

we never quite ironed out all the kinks, but it got better-ish. i can live with better-ish.
That's all well and fine and whatnot, but realistically with a horse like Charlie (and a rider like me, let's be real), you can't just manufacture that balance out of nowhere. Like.... Getting that feeling is basically the entire point of the warm up in the first place, right? So instead I ended up just kinda shutting Charlie's pace down and letting him get behind my leg. It *looked* like the compressed collected add stride, at least over the small warm up fences, right?

pictured: not dying over the out jump
But then the jumps suddenly went up 4 holes all at once and.... yea haha I got totally caught out with the backwards pace lacking impulsion. Whoops....

also not dying jumping into the treble
Poor Charlie. I think this ride was the first real time he's had an actual refusal in the arena. But... Well, you'll see it in the video. While a jumpable spot was right there if I had ridden him forward to it, I just.... didn't. And instead we got to a spot from which he legit could not jump. Ugh.

he's a saint guys. 1,000%.
As is my way, I sometimes need to get slapped upside the head to remember to do my job. And after that, Charlie and I mostly got back on the same page. Riding forward to the fences, plz Emma! Luckily this horse is incredibly generous and kept doing his best to jump the jumps!

phew, and made it out alive too!
The course itself isn't my favorite either. For some godforsaken reason it's still set up from the horse trial a week ago -- a course that didn't exactly do us any favors then either. Tho the triple was pretty fun I guess, at least after I stopped burying Charlie in it haha.... sigh.

yet another video example of "not our best"

In all seriousness tho, it really wasn't the worst lesson in the world. It bugs me to no end when I make stupid mistakes and Charlie pays the price. But... That's what it means to be an amateur rider sometimes. All I can do is just keep trying to be better, keep working. Which I'm doing.

yes sir. all of the pets. 
And until I somehow manage to get my shit back together again over the colorful sticks, I'm hereby deeming this "Horse Appreciation Month" lol.... Thanks Charlie for all that you do! Maybe we'll just stick to hunter trials and paper chases from here on out lol!!

Monday, October 8, 2018

Elkridge Harford Hunter Trials!

Happy Monday, everyone (and Happy Thanksgiving to the Canadian readers)!! We had a busy weekend over here in Charlieland, complete with FINALLY checking off an item that's been sitting on my bucket list since Nov 2014.

riding in pairs and teams is ridiculously fun guys omg
If you remember, way back when Isabel and I were first getting started as eventers, we hit up a local hunter trials at Tranquility to get a little more mileage over natural obstacles. It was a great time, but what really struck me was watching the pairs and teams classes - they looked like the absolute most fun omg. And ever since then I've been itching to get back to a similar style event.

looking like a field hunter, no? haha close enough, at least ;)
It only took four years lol, but FINALLY I got to go to another hunter trials! This time hosted by the Elkridge Harford Hunt Pony Club at a venue about 20min away from Charlie's barn. A couple other barn mates were also going - including some kiddos who are members of this pony club, and another friend who has done basically all the things with her superstar mare Cosmic.

charlie's got his priorities in order haha. also, do you recognize Noelle??
So we got to get all dressed up like fox hunters: conservative tack, fitted white saddle pads, conservative jackets, tan breeches, stock ties, the whole nine yards lol. My outfit wasn't exactly perfectly in style, with brown boots, hackamore, and skull cap (with helmet cam, natch) - but I wasn't the only one with each of those things haha.

atmosphere was really fun too
And honestly my plan for the day was just to straight up have fun. I only expected to do the course one or two times - really I just desperately wanted to do the pairs / teams rides haha.

first jump was immediately after a steep stream crossing
To add to the casual nature of the outing, we didn't even walk our courses in advance. Katie's been to the venue many times before, so just looking at a printed map was sufficient for her to know where we were supposed to go. And considering her mare prefers to lead and Charlie is always happy to follow, I honestly didn't worry about needing to know what lay ahead of us.

possibly my favorite jump on course bc of the major drop on landing haha
The way the course works is that there are low and high options for every fence, and you can jump whatever looks good to you. Technically riders are judged on style and form (the "hunters" part of this, vs eventing where all that matters is that you make it through the flags) and you get more points for high options. Realistically tho, the "judges" were mostly pony club parents so idk how serious it really was.

wheeee air time!!!
For pairs and teams, you are expected to stick together through the course. So if one rider has trouble somewhere, the rest are supposed to wait. Of particular note: the final fence must be jumped abreast.

rail road ties! Charlie loved following Cos around haha
Katie and I warmed up briefly in the outdoor polo ring (yea did I mention this venue is awesome?!) and right off the bat I let Charlie attach himself to Cos, which obvi he was happy to do. No pressure, no serious flat work. Just trotted and cantered around, and caught each of the jumps (cross, vertical, oxer) in a relaxed manner. Then it was time to head to the starting line!

red barns!
The course starts off by immediately crossing a small creek and then, bam, a set of jumps immediately on the other side. Definitely sets the tone for the horses haha!

lots o coops
Then it was off across the country side, with lots of up hill galloping over all manner of natural style obstacles. Mostly coops, lots of logs. A couple box and barn jumps, and rail road ties etc etc. 

these a-frame logs were pretty cool too
Nothing was particularly challenging or large, and while there was lots of terrain it was all extremely inviting to the horses.

small coop. fun fact - we almost died over this one!
Especially doing the pairs class, Charlie felt perfectly happy to keep chugging right on along no matter what cropped up in his path haha.

I was particularly pleased that even tho he was clearly following Cos, he was still looking at the jumps themselves too, and locking on and finding his stride. Perfect!

#feelings about going slow thru the stream crossings
Then after a brief jaunt through the woods, and another creek crossing, we emerged back into the main field where the trailers were parked to jump a couple more fences and finish abreast over the hay bales.

and another coop guys omg
All told, the course was a little shorter than maybe a standard BN course. After completing the pairs class, we reconvened with the other barn mates and picked up a third to get right back out there for another go with the teams class.

finishing abreast over the final line of hay bales
The second round was even more fun than the first - Charlie was totally in the zone and seemed to really love the whole idea of jumping with friends haha.

horses happy about the running and jomping haha
Tho after we finished that round, I was satisfied to be done for the day. Charlie's winter coat is really fuzzing out, but it was in the high 80s and super muggy out. Poor guy was covered in thick white lather!

charlie and cos were basically obsessed with each other too
Plus, from a schooling perspective I didn't necessarily see any real value in jumping everything again in a solo round. There wasn't necessarily anything I felt like needed work or would be reasonably improved from another shot.

he got to watch a lot of little ponies go too <3
The jumps were nbd for Charlie - nothing merited a look from him, nothing made him pause. The terrain and conditions were also fine with him - the streams didn't slow him down and neither did the mud. Tho obvi haha the studs helped...

quietly observing, as only a charlie can do
So after we finished the second course I opted to pull all his tack, scrub off all the foam and crusting sweat, and plug the pony full of carrots haha. And fortunately he was also very good about tanking up on  some water too, phew!

aww sweet tired pony <3
We stuck around for the rest of the day tho, since Katie wanted to do another solo round, plus the other barn mates were doing the fun hack classes and whatnot.

helmet cam from the team ride!

The event was really cool too for all levels - they also had an indoor arena course with smaller jumps, and a set of communicating outdoor grass rings that had full derby courses at small heights. The hack classes were held in that outdoor ring, as were some of the games classes. It was all super centrally located too, so it was easy to watch everyone go.

aw he's the most handsome tho
Definitely a fun style of event for riders of any discipline - from hunters to eventers. And definitely DEFINITELY just another reason why I'm DYING to take this horse fox hunting haha.

look we actually got a ribbon too!!! and it has a FOX on it!
So. Another item crossed off the bucket list! Hopefully not for the last time either lol, and ideally it won't be another 4 years before we get to do this again!!