Wednesday, December 30, 2020

last hurrah: arena XC

Guys! OMG! A couple weeks ago I was cleaning out my car (trying to get a head start on those new year's resolutions, amirite?) and found TWO volunteer schooling passes to Loch Moy Farm!!!

setting off on our adventure! also possibly my beloved truck's last :'(
And unlike virtually every other schooling pass I've earned over the years, these hadn't actually expired yet --- in fact, I had until 12/31 to cash in. Yessss!!

two intrepid TBs ready to go!
As with all things 2020, I'm essentially basing every single decision on a gut check. And in this case, my gut said, "Hell Yes, let's use those passes!" My barn mate Amy's gut likewise agreed, so we checked the forecast, picked a date and headed out!!

my lord this google satellite map is years out of date. lower ring is double this width now, and features a water complex (circled in blue), two sets of banks going uphill to the middle arena, plus a brand new irish bank near the water, pictured below. there's also some ditches near the water, plus a ditch in the driveway path from SJ to the middle arena, marked in yellow
For those uninitiated with the amazing Loch Moy Farm facility -- this place is eventing mecca. It hosts an FEI event, multiple nationally recognized horse trials (including the area's only BN3DE), multiple more unrecognized events (through M), PLUS recognized and unrecognized dressage, hunter and jumper shows, AND a wintertime series of cross derbies.

This is all supported by some absurd amount of acreage surfaced with all-weather footing - as pictured above, and extensive cross country grounds. 

warm up ground logs!!
After the final horse trial of the year (usually November), the venue pulls all the portable fences into the interconnected network of {massive} arenas and stays open for schooling all winter long.

little roll next to the ivy wall in the SJ arena!
Historically we've managed to get out at least once (but often twice) per winter, and it's just so so worth it. Jumping XC fences on flat groomed surfaces is somehow an entirely different ballgame haha.

moar little rolls! fun fact: we almost died over this one <3
Usually, we use it as an opportunity to kinda stretch and challenge ourselves a little bit -- working on navigating larger fences without the complicating factor of terrain etc. And in fact, Charlie jumped some of his first T fences in this setting. 

slightly bigger little roll -- still in the SJ ring (warm up ring is that white fence uphill to the right)
This time around, tho, our goals were a little different. Obvi Charlie's had time off jumping -- and hasn't even schooled anything even approximating xc since our last hunter pace on Labor Day Weekend. And more recently, the horses have been in much lighter work following the ice / snow storm. 

familiar ark, and a Punky in the distance!
Plus, let's be real here -- 2020 has been plenty challenging enough already, thankyouverymuch. It's been a stressful, trying year and I know I'm not alone in feeling seriously worn down by the constant low grade anxiety grind. 

driveway ditch!
So we headed out with low expectations and an agenda revolving 100% around having FUN. Both of these horses have been to this venue multiple times, including for the arena eventing. And both have seen virtually all the fences. Charlie's jumped literally everything from N down, and most of the T jumps too for that matter. 

entering the big middle arena from the driveway!!
So it honestly felt pretty perfect. We started in the upper arena that's usually set up for show jumping, and warmed up over a little circuit of logs that were essentially ground poles. Charlie was aces on the left lead, but was kinda off our rhythm on the right. Kinda getting a little too gung ho and then running a little past his distance. 

down in the lowest ring -- new 3-sided bank! and water to the right
Which naturally led to him simply leaving it out over a small little roll top, and we almost died, lol whoops! 

I had obsessed in the days leading up about what bridle to bring.... The loose ring snaffle we wear in lessons? The hackamore we use for hunter paces and trail riding? Or the elevator we usually use for xc? 

still nearly collided with Punky repeatedly despite the enormous amount of space lol
I opted for the snaffle.... and.... this was probably a mistake haha. After nearly dying leaving a stride out over the little roll, we got back on the same page about rhythm and balance on approaching the fences. 

In fact -- other than that blip, Charlie was incredible to the fences. He felt like he was in that perfect sweet spot up in front of my leg and steady in the bridle contact where we always get to a perfect distance. But..... As has been our way for a very long time, we just weren't landing in the same canter haha. 

tootsie roll!! can sorta see one of the banks uphill in the background directly above that left side red jump
Actually, it was super reminiscent of our catastrophe of a horse show last August, whoops, and I may or may not have gotten run away with once or twice -- with Charlie charging clear across the entire arena before I could get him pulled up. 

I'd say it's embarrassing... except, lol, it totally wasn't. Charlie was having fun, I was having fun, and nothing else matters even a little bit right now. So... whatevskis lol!

boat by the water! and gorgeous sugarloaf mountain
We mostly just looped around -- jumping mainly the N and BN options. Plus occasionally shifting down to trot some of the itsy bitsies out there too, to remind Charlie that he *can* actually be a sensible civilized creature lol. 

slightly bigger boat near the water!
And for my part, I wanted to focus on two main rider aspects: 1) keeping my hands forward come hell or high water, and grabbing mane as needed (per the xc clinic with Martin Douzant last year); and 2) working on my upper body position per the resistance band lessons we've done lately.

Punky won today's blue ribbon
And that was basically it, lol. The whole "keep my hands forward" thing is such a game changer -- it makes seeing distances to the fences and holding a good balance so so SO much easier. But my pearl-clutching habit is so deeply ingrained, it honestly takes constant brain power (and handfuls of mane) to keep me honest about it. 

narrow house ain't so narrow when it's blocked in like this lol
But I was really proud that we didn't have a single pearl clutching fence the entire ride -- even when we went crazy long to the tiny warm up fence lol. So ya know, that counts as progress haha. 

itsy bitsy bending line! whoa, charlie!
I also felt reasonably stable and secure in my jumping position too despite not jumping much at all this fall. Obvi it's easier when the horse is getting to all the fences as nicely as Charlie was, but it was still reassuring to not feel all that rusty after all.

and finishing over this little roll table again <3
To be perfectly honest, it felt really nice to get out there with zero expectations. I'm trying to be less hard on myself, and trying to be better at enjoying this incredible horse who is so extremely capable and reliable. 

And the proof is in the pudding, right? Often times, in a ride where I'm constantly pushing myself, I'll end up wanting to finish sooner. Almost like I'm worried that if I try to jump too many challenging fences or combinations, I'll somehow find a way to mess everything up. So there are all these past schooling rides where I'll look back in retrospect and wonder why I didn't jump more. 

This ride, tho, was nothing like that. I felt like we got to jump a lot of stuff -- getting our money's worth but without over doing anything. Definitely a good feeling haha -- and makes for a more fun (and slightly lengthier) helmet cam video IMO. 

I'm really hoping we'll get back to this venue again at least once more this winter (maybe for a derby?). It's really not all that far distance-wise (about 1.5hrs drive), but it involves going alllllll the way across the Baltimore beltway. Which.... is a fucking nightmare with a trailer (especially the inner loop, ugh). 

My truck was also acting up the entire way there and back this trip -- to the point where I had a friend on standby in case we needed rescuing. I'm hoping it's a simple fix but with an older high mileage truck, the end always feels right around the corner haha. 

So we'll see what happens, I guess. For now I'm just grateful to have gotten in this one last big happy bright spot to finish out the clusterfuck that was 2020 ;)


  1. So cool to get out and school some fun jumps with zero pressure! Sounds like a great day - minus the truck acting up - fingers crossed it is a mechanical fix that helps get more time before a replacement is needed!

    1. Definitely super fun - I srsly wish the drive to this place wasn’t across such nasty traffic bc damn we would be there allll the time !!

  2. How fun! Big win on finding the passes buried. Hell yeah. All of this media makes me wanna come out there even more.

    Fingers crossed the truck is something simple and dumb like wiring or a spark plug or two. I never underestimate how simple shit like that can fuck a vehicle up after my 4Runner in college went through some truly terrifying herky-jerky motions coupled with terrifying noises....annnnnd it was all because two spark plugs needed replaced. Fricken voodoo.

    1. I couldn’t believe it when I found those passes haha - and honestly for a hot second was almost like, eh probably won’t use them... and then when the weather turned nasty it seemed even less likely. But somehow it worked out!

      And re: the truck, yea I’m hopeful for simple. It’s maybe a busted thermostat and possibly a botched oil change? Idk. Fingers crossed....

  3. Ugh, sorry about the truck but otherwise it sounds like a great day. a nice little present to find in the truck!!

    1. definitely a great day <3 rides like this are what makes the day to day grind of cold dark evening schooling rides worth it too haha -- this is the payoff, right?

  4. First off - how fortuitous that you were able to find those passes in time, hell yeah!

    And ugh... vehicle problems. I hope for your sanity and pocket book it is so simple, easy, cheap!


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