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We Are Flying Solo

February 27, 2012

It Was A Dark And Windy Night

Well, actually it was a chilly and windy day, but close enough.  I'm short on time, but I'm going to give the rundown of our very, hmm, interesting horse trial on Saturday.

There were some time hiccups and some OMG, the XC course is 47 miles from my trailer and I only have an hour before dressage moments.  But it was the first time this HT has been run, so one expects some speed bumps until the process gets sorted out.  I tried to take deep breaths and everything worked out fine in the end.

Since the HT was situated at a farm where we regularly XC school, I had not bothered to read the direction on the bottom of the omnibus listing.  After all, I've been there heaps of times.  You smell an ominus turn coming in this story, can't you?

Oh yes, I get there, driveway is blocked and sign says go around to the back.  Which means turning the trailer around and going back to a different road and it's a few miles around.  I finally find the correct entrance and it felt so familiar....oh, because we are parking on the Moss Foundation, a massive property where lifehighway and I have ridden many times, as it is managed for longleaf pine habitat and trail riding.  So the XC course IS actually about 47 miles from my trailer.

Uh oh.

I had an hour and a half before my dressage time, so I hiked as quickly as humanly possible to do my course walk.  I was lucky enough to have bribed asked a friend to come help and I must say to her THANK YOU, CINDY, I COULD NOT HAVE DONE IT WITHOUT YOU

I left the trailer at 9:30, leaving her in charge of Encore and told her I planned to be back by 10:00.  At 10:00 I was on jump four of my XC course and I called her and said if I'm not back by 10:10, please tack up my horse.  I actually arrived sweatily (it was hilly!) back to the trailer at 10:20.  My dressage ride time was 10:43 and I still had to put on boots, helmet, gloves, spurs and GET to the dressage ring, which was only 20 miles away, instead of 47.  I was on my horse by 10:32 and I took off at a trot, reins in one hand and eating a Powerbar with the other.  Keep in mind, it was 50 degrees with 15 mph winds.

In brief, we arrived, steward said ring was running 20 minutes late.  After I restrained my from leaping off my horse and hugging her, we warmed up.  Encore was good, I got him round and reaching for the bit and as  supple as I could get in that situation.  My plan was to only walk and trot in warmup so he would not be anticipating the canter in the test.

This was not us.
That was a horrible plan.

He went in the ring and decided to go the confused llama route.  He did not understand the little white chain that made the arena in the grass and he did not understand what his job was supposed to be because it didn't look right.  I think had we been in the other arena (covered with footing) he would have been much better.  At best I would describe the test as....apocalyptic.  You know you're good when you (eventually) halt in the general vicinity of the required location and you salute, then look up to the judge cracking up laughing.

Oh well, I patted him and told him, good try, buddy, but not quite what we were looking for.

Next time, there will be much cantering in warmup to take that edge off!  Note: find a place with a grass dressage arena with chains to practice.

I didn't worry -- I was at the HT primarily for jumping mileage for Encore, so I was satisfied he stayed in the ring and we were on course (approximately).

We then ripped off tack, threw on jumping gear (XC gear too, they were back to back) and Cindy was literally stuffing Powerbar in my mouth as I was buckling my bridle.  Show jumping warmup was small and crowded but Encore warmed up well again, although that wind had him ready to GO!  But he listened when I said whoa and jumped well, so that was good enough.  Result:

You can't really tell, but I am about half in control and Encore is going at a great pace...for Prelim.  I really thought we had that brush box, even though my steering was a wee bit off.  He made it TO the takeoff spot, then did this amazing tango twist around the standard.  We were so close to the jump, I saw top of standard about a foot from my face.  I almost lost it; if my saddle had been slippery, I would have been a goner.  But this situation is why I REQUIRE horses I ride learn the one-rein stop.  Encore's only thought was RUN LIKE THE WIND, AHHHHH!!!!!  I had no stirrups and just kept my body centered and pulled his head right around.  The key was not to rush now, I needed his brain back.  I got my stirrups back, took my time, walked calmly to the edge and resumed our course.

It was then straight to cross country from there.  The course would be a bit of a new challenge.  Designed by Gina Fiore, when I walked it, I felt it the BN course was really a Novice course with some smaller logs thrown in.  There were some challenging questions and use of terrain and I felt fortunate that we had jumped many of the complex jumps before (and my horse remembered).

Want to ride it?  5...4...3...2...1...Have a great ride. 

The circle mid-course where we slowed down was where Encore took a flying leap of the house and I had NO brakes anymore (someone is going to meet Mr. Elevator bit for jumping at competitions, we must balance, my dear).  The next line was a hard right turn and down a steep hill to a suspended log and then a hard 90-degree turn to a bank line.  It was not going to happen at Mach 10 on the forehand without a chance of killing us both.  I pulled his head hard around uphill and he quickly broke to trot.  I said, honey, I need your brain back.  We then went downhill at the trot, picked up a much more balanced canter in front of the log, and pulled off a beautiful turn to our bank.

The last three or so years of eventing have taught me, forget the clock, when you lose your horse's brain, you will get in trouble in a big hurry.  Stop everything you are doing and get him back.  You may get a few penalty points, but they are very low and continuing in a crazed fashion will only end with someone getting hurt.  It is critical in this sport to think on your feet and make quick decisions no matter where you are.  It just good safety practice and good horsemanship -- your horse learns nothing bolting around unbalanced, every moment you are on his back, you are teaching him something, even if you don't mean to.

In summary, a crazy day, but very educational for horse and rider.  I learned what young-OTTB-on-a-windy-day feels like.  We achieved our goal of good jumping miles, even the runout taught me something (aim for the middle of the jump, doofus).  We kept the rails up and were completely clear XC.

I've already painted one of our brush boxes at home bright white (yesterday) and Encore will be jumping it until he's sick of it.  Southern Pines HT is in two weeks and I know what I need to work on, so I better get busy getting busy!


  1. Yay Encore! You did it! With personality!
    And at the end of the xc video when you guys pass the pretty pony with white boots and white pad and perfectly pulled tail, Encore's ear flip their direction and it looks like he is rolling his eyes at the 'fashionistas' lol!

  2. "every moment you are on his back, you are teaching him something, even if you don't mean to." So true!

    Well done Encore! Thanks for letting us ride along. You weren't kidding about the wind. way to keep it together. :)

  3. Yeah, you can see the trees swaying like crazy, I think!

    LOL, Alana! I did not even notice that pony. Oh well, I guess I will have to watch it again. ;-)

  4. What an adventure! And that was a seriously athletic run-out in the SJ. I haven't had time to watch the XC, but sounds like it mostly went well. Yay you guys!

  5. Congrats, that's awesome! My mare's first event (out of two) she spooked massively at a green shed just outside of the stadium ring, and refused to go near it. Unfortunately, there were some jumps near that shed... so after standing stalk still and snorting for 2o minutes we were eliminated. Her second event saw her spook at a bright red bench (great jump choice for intro level...) 60ft out and refuse to move in that general direction. Eventually we got to about 40 feet before wheeling around and heading the other direction. Oops! She rarely has an issue with the jumps, but she's got one serious vendetta against out buildings.
    The XC course looked pretty standard for an early season Entry (Canadian BN equivalent) course. Encore tackled it like a pro though!

  6. Up until that refusal I thought it was awesome! He has a really balanced canter for an OTTB and he got all his leads from what I could see :)
    Youll do better next time

  7. Thanks, everyone! I know he will only improve with time and I was definitely thrilled with his performance. Even though he was very strong he only spooked one time -- in the trailer lot at a person standing under a tree. I think he just didn't realize they were there til they moved -- and it was a pretty hairy guy, so you never know....sasquatch has been sighted in NC before!

  8. Check, they keep getting better as they get stronger, it's so fun to feel the difference now that he actually HAS a butt and learned how to balance with it!

  9. Great ride and I loved the commentary! That runout and your reaction was priceless! Thanks for posting!

  10. Why is it that it's the really dd things that throws them out at the first few events. For me it was the 10hh or so piebald/spotty pony that started its dressage test in teh arena about 30ft from mine, while riding a 17hh OTTB that had never seen a horse/pony with spots until that morning... We showed some amazing bend at times, totally unnecessary, and the opposite of what would be needed in several levels... As soon as we finished she spun to look at the pony and did a massive snort. What can you do but laugh! I got some classic comments on my score sheet.

  11. Haha, thanks, Suzanne, I've watched that runout many times and I am still laughing at it.

    Deered -- I think they live just to keep us on our toes! I remember Solo's first HT, he was horrified by the tiny white fence in the dressage arena that surrounded him!

  12. Looked like a great rider on a great horse having a great experience. What else can I say but great job! :)

  13. Awwe, thank you Amy - that is really sweet of you!

  14. Well you survived, Encore has such a nice jump....going to be very nice in the future!

  15. Enjoyed your cross country video! Looks like a lot of fun, it's been a long time since I've done that!

  16. Hi from Italy =)
    I'm a show jumping lady rider
    really nice blog!

    keep in touch

  17. So enjoyed the videos! and can I just say I love your attitude!! Encore looks like he is going to be one hell of a great jumper! Great job to you both!

  18. Thank you all!

    Lauren, he was having so much fun XC, like "is this really my job? I've SO got this!" I had a blast just sitting on him (even though he was trying to pull my shoulders out).

    Gaia, thank you and thank you so much for visiting! Show jumping in Italy sounds like a vacation to me!!!

    Amanda, when I looked at the pictures, I thought, wow, I think this horse is going to have more scope than I originally thought! He really doesn't like it when he hits the jumps!

  19. Oh, yeah, I saw that scope, too - you've got a winner on your hands, for sure! :-) My favorite thing from the video is his "ears-forward" attitude. You can just feel his enthusiasm. I tell anyone who ever makes snotty comments about "you people making horses do things" to just watch an eventing video sometime, because I swear your horses LOOOOOOOVVVVEEEE going x-country, they really do. Most hunters and jumpers look fairly happy in the ring but get 'em outside and WHOO-HOOO!

    You did a great job telling this story. I can only imagine your state of panic/discombobulation when you figured out that you were parked 47 miles away, and I have NO idea how you ever got 'round that course and back at all, much less kinda in time for dressage. That all sounds EXACTLY like something I would do. :-/ Oh, well, live and learn and you both really did well considering!

  20. I can definitely say that everywhere I go, there is always SOME adventure and it is generally not always the good kind. But it makes for good stories!