Thursday, May 27, 2021

xc clinic with Sally

Maryland's local combined training organization, the MCTA, is roaring back to life post-pandemic in a big way this year. Organizers launched the 2021 recognized event at Shawan Downs (cancelled in 2020) last weekend with renewed gusto, plus opened the facility for 3 (!!!) days of schooling (instead of the traditional 1 day) this week.

still loving this tail guard for keeping things clean on the way to adventures!
The opportunity to ride at this iconic venue is honestly pretty cool, even just to school. BUT!! They've also brought back the unrecognized event this year, after a three year hiatus. Obviously pretty pumped about that -- but more to come later. 

In the meantime, tho, if you're local and have any interest whatsoever in volunteering at that event this coming Saturday (no prior experience needed!), they're desperate for your help. Sign up here!

charlie's favorite activity: chasing golf carts
Today, tho, let's talk about the schooling days. And, specifically, the lesson Charlie and I did with Sally Cousins!! Woot woot, our first time seeing her since the before times

hey-o, it's a log-o!
Shawan Downs is an interesting place bc it hosts a wide variety of equestrian events, including timber and flat races. Horse Trials are the least common, so most of the cross country jumps are trucked in from other venues (including Charlie's farm) for just this two week period. 

The MCTA has used the same course designer for their recognized courses the last few years too -- meaning, the jump placement and combinations are more or less identical each year. So you might be forgiven if this all looks startlingly familiar to that time we schooled here in 2018 right before Charlie moved up to Novice.  

d'aww we jumped the jumps i painted!!
sally advises: this jump can feel a bit aggressive for greener horses as Jump 2 -- the brush, flowers and width are all asking for the horse to get up in the air. charlie obvi is not a green horse haha, but damn he jumped the shit out of it lol <3
For some reason, getting out to this lesson was massively stressful for me. Probably just the logistics of wrapping up work calls on time (true story: did my last zoom while fully dressed in breeches, boots and spurs so I could bolt out the door immediately upon x-ing out...); getting the horses fed and trailer prepped on time; then driving thru rush hour cross town traffic to arrive in time to stud and tack etc etc... 

Luckily it worked out, tho, and we were the first riders on of our group of 5. Whew!

spookin hard at the observation tower lol. jumped the jump anyway tho
sally advises: this BN brush jump is *not* a complicated fence. but the positioning next to the tower can and will be distracting to many horses. charlie was obvi no exception.
I still felt pretty tense and tight, as is my habit... But obvi Charlie seemed to feel just fine. We did a fairly light warm up on the flat before basically getting right into the thick of things with Jump 1 on course: the logs. 

Sally felt like I was riding with my hands way too low, but honestly I just wanted to be quiet and hold mane like Martin Douzant told me to. I figured that was preferable to any wonky nervous pearl-clutching moments, ya know? 

For real tho... Charlie just... cantered right on up to those logs and jumped each (BN then N) perfectly out of a nice relaxed forward canter stride. Bingo, buddy!
oh hey lookie, it's our favorite log table from home!
I don't know why I still get so surprised when Charlie just like... jumps these fences like he's been jumping them for 3 full years. Bc. Uh. Yea, he's been jumping these exact fences and combinations for 3 full years LOL, and has only gotten more seasoned and experienced at the game. 

The horse knows what he's doing, knows how to read a fence and the terrain. Wants to jump the fences, and while he's not above throwing in a little extra style with a big long spot... He's just an entirely predictable rideable and easy horse. Maybe one day my mental state will catch up to that fact LOL!

familiar corner is nice corner.
sally advises: whenever possible, approach a corner on the lead of the angle. right hand corner? right lead. left side corner? left lead. this is especially crucial if you're in the unfortunate position of re-approaching after a refusal. remember, tho: at N the entirety of the jump must be within the allowed jumpable dimensions for the level. meaning, even at its widest part, an N corner is still just an N table. don't overthink or overcomplicate it. 
Anyway, we sorta worked through the entire course piecemeal -- something I don't think I've ever done in schooling before. Like, I've seen other bloggers in other areas write about getting to school a complete cross country course ahead of an event, but that's just not super common around here. In fact, at most places the courses close for schooling leading up to an event. 

So honestly this was a treat. Obviously a lot of the single fences were kinda boring to us (esp those that live at our home farm that we've jumped literally a million times). And I did end up skipping some of them bc... eh, hard ground. But I was pretty happy to just keep be-bopping around, doing all the BN and N combinations. 

who owns the banks? charlie owns the banks <3
sally advises: snug up to a close distance to the bank when possible to help the horse keep his legs under him to push forward for the B element
For me, the most telling part of the ride was this combination up a bank, two strides to a hanging log. We jumped this exact same combo in 2018 (and there were even pictures from it), and... It's kinda interesting how much has changed. 

Like, obviously Charlie has always been a good boy. And he was very good in 2018 -- executed the combination correctly on the first try. But back then, our read on the bank was a little off, then we had to work hard to get to the log in 2, and I still got left behind. This time, tho? I feel like there's just an enormous difference in Charlie's canter and balance. 

nice chevrons in a surprisingly tricky location
sally advises: for a fence like this with a tricky landing (see the driveway not far out?) and tricky approach (steep climb up with rapidly changing views through the cutouts), try to basically just hop over the fence almost like show jumping, vs blasting at it. this will help the horse from feeling surprised at by everything else around the jump.
Plus I'm gonna give myself a little credit for finally riding him more forward now that we both know the balance is there. So I was able to keep my leg on and commit to the combination in a way that wasn't really possible in 2018. Thus, Charlie was basically text book through it. Crazy what a couple years experience can do for ya, LOL! 

N haff caff
Same story with the half coffin. We've jumped it before, we'll probably jump it again. And Charlie was, is, always will be: superb. Gosh this horse guys <3 

One super exciting thing about this ride was that it didn't feel like we dialed up to the highest gear then had to stay there. Meaning: I fully expected to start getting runaway with once we really got going, but actually that really did not happen. We never lost the adjustability. 

Like, for a couple of the 'bigger' jumps -- like the novice steeplechase and table -- we had a bit more gallop with bigger, more scopey efforts. But then Charlie could turn right back around again and execute some of the smaller BN stuff from more of a school canter -- while still remaining firmly in front of my leg. It was nice! 

roll top into the water pit!
sally advises: try to keep track of your left v right hand approaches throughout a schooling, and keep things reasonably even. sometimes the terrain, jump, or line may make one choice more optimal than another, but overall seek symmetry 
Obvi it's always a little easier when we're not at home, so Charlie's barn sourness is not quite so apparent. And it also helped that Charlie was pretty tuned in to sticking with our group -- as opposed to being drawn back to the trailers. 

So ya know. It could mean that some elements that were easier during this stop-and-go style ride might prove more elusive when we're actually set free to do the full course in one run. But. Eh. That's a problem for Future Emma, lol. Present Emma is perfectly satisfied to be very pleased with Charlie's performance. 

And honestly, while I caught myself eyeing up a couple T fences (like that house we jumped a couple weeks ago), it was nice sticking with our N stuff. I've let my mind and confidence and anxiety get so twisted over the last year that it kinda just takes a lot of work to even sign up for this stuff, to even just go forth and do it, even tho I know we can

Right now I just need to get over that hump. Not get so bent out of shape by stress etc., or worrying about whether the ground is too hard, or will it be too hot, or did Charlie get all the prep rides he needs (dear lord, emma, the horse is prepped and ready to go, chill the F out!)....

happy tired pony
Luckily, tho, so far this year -- no matter how worked up I get, or how pretzeled my mental state.... Charlie's always just right there for me. Steady, consistent, predictable and good. Right now, that's enough. More than enough, really. And I'm so grateful for it! 


  1. That looks like a blast! What gorgeous photos.

    1. this venue really is stunning, it's such a treat to ride there

  2. So excited you're back out! Sounds like a really fun way to do a xc lesson too over the whole course!

    1. super fun! sally actually mentioned you and scout during the lesson too -- i missed the first part of what she said so idk the context for how it came up, but she said you guys were doing great!

  3. Charlie is such a good egg! That sounds like a delightful day.

  4. Sounds like a really good outing! And such a good boy, Charles <3

    1. definitely feels really good to go do these things (after the fact, haha, bc before hand i'm still a straight up hot mess LOL. in time, tho, in time!)

  5. Sounds like a blast! I hope I'm not out of line, but I feel like you are not giving yourself enough credit in being the one to create the horse that knows how to read the terrain, the jump, etc.

    1. aw ha that's very nice :) in some ways, i've felt like more of a "guide" than "trainer" when it comes to charlie's cross country skills, if that makes any sense. like i introduced him to xc and showed him all the stuff, but he honestly started off with pretty great instincts for it!! true story, while i was writing this post i went back and reread (and watched the videos) my post on charlie's first ever xc school, and it's honestly pretty easy to see the horse he is today even in those very early first efforts <3

  6. I liked your sally advice under the photos - I've only jumped corners in an arena and the advice is interesting, I definitely struggled one way versus the other and I bet if I review the video it's because Ramone was on the wrong lead for the actual corner part (oh that dinosaur). It may take a while for your brain to unravel the stress and anxiety as you say, but at least Charlie is such a swell dude and he's in your corner.

    1. dude it's always amazing to me when a trainer can bust out such simple but important little maxims like that on how to execute certain types of exercises. like, once you hear it, it almost seems like it should be obvious... but then again sometimes it feels like NOTHING in horses is that intuitive lol. and thanks, i'm so grateful to have a horse like chuck at this particular moment in my life!!

  7. But its HARD to chill the F out!!

  8. There's definitely some controversy out here about schooling full courses before an event. While I don't really know of any facility that just doesn't really move fence locations from year to year (maybe you weren't implying that?), most of the venues out here don't move fences significantly between events within a year. So once you've gone to the first show and/or seen the first course, you can easily school the whole thing before the second event.

    A couple of organizers are super hardcore about it, and will strip their fields of all fences between events or move them around to different locations. But that's... a lot of work.

    Sounds like a super schooling and Charlie is handsome as ever.

    1. lol not sure i was implying anything tbh haha. i've just never really gone to a course and schooled it from first to last jump before. most of the schooling i've done has either been at home; at schooling facilities like windurra, where everything is kinda clustered together; or at courses where i've kinda just schooled myself over whatever jumps and combos seem interesting vs any consideration for the complete course itself. it was definitely a different sort of experience bc had i been schooling myself instead of doing the lesson, i probably would have jumped way fewer fences lol

  9. Imagine if our horses also blogged and were comparing notes on how to get their humans to chill the f*ck out ��
    "First I tried giving her a self-help book, but it really looks like I'm going to have to send her to the therapist..."

    1. omggggggg haha. tbh i'd actually be kinda curious to hear charlie's thoughts. probably would be something along the lines of, "geez just grab mane and hang on, lady, i got this!!"

      meanwhile, i always had a VERY distinct sense that i absolutely DID NOT NEED TO KNOW whatever isabel may or may not have been thinking about me.... lolololol poor long-suffering princess ;)

  10. What a great schooling! What a great Charlie! AND great job getting out there and having fun while remembering to ride Emma!

    1. hey, type II fun is still basically fun, right??

  11. You are so much braver than I am and I love watching you do your thing. The helmet cam footage is AWESOME.

  12. Sounds like a really wonderful school! So happy for you and Charlie getting out there, doing things, and doing them well!

  13. You are awesome!! It's so nice riding a horse that you can actually trust. It's definitely hard to realize you can *actually* trust them though, when we know what they did a few years ago when they were greener lol. Sounds like such a great day, way to go!

  14. Good boy Charlie (and well done Emma!) Love that you're always out there participating and supporting your amazing local venues and organizations too.


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