Yay, finally, the fun part!
After Saturday’s adventures I was pretty happy to be done with dressage, but I was still quite worried about the two down banks on XC. Saturday evening I walked the course with a trainer that I had never met before but was recommended to me by my trainer, and she had some good suggestions about how to ride the down banks. Still, mostly I just laid awake and thought about it all night. Figuring out the brain of Henry and what will work best for him can be a tricky thing.
It was another long day of sitting around, since my ride time wasn’t until 1:32. We were all bored to tears. Finally it was time to get on and head to the warmup. Trainer For The Day came over about halfway through my warmup, watched me jump a few fences, made some more suggestions, and bid me adieu so she could get back to her clients. I greatly appreciate her taking a few minutes to help, it made me feel more confident in my plan. We marched over to the start box, walked a few circles, then wandered in at 30 seconds to go. I faced him backwards until we got to the last 10 seconds, then we turned around and waited for every eventer’s favorite words – “HAVE A GREAT RIDE!”. The best sentence in the world.
I will put the helmet cam footage here first, for those that want to watch it. I dunno what the weird clicking noise is, but if you can endure it there’s a little bit of fun audio. I’ve already ordered a skull cap so I can mount the helmet more securely next time and hopefully get rid of the clicking. I’ll angle it a little more downward too so you can see more Henry. But hey, it was our first foray into the world of Helmet Cam.
He came out of the box all business, looking for the jumps. We popped right over the first three, made our left turn onto the path into the woods, and hopped over 4. Fence 5 had several people standing near it, and he flicked an ear back at me like “Mom?” but as soon as I put my leg on he went right ahead and paid them no mind. The big oxer at 6 was easy, then we wound our way out of the woods, down the hill and into the field for 7. He got a little forward down the hill but I let him roll until I needed to make the turn to 7, told him to pay attention, and he came right back with no problem. Fence 8 was the little Trakehner, which he didn’t even blink at. With every “Good boy” I gave him, he flicked an ear back at me like “I know, I’m amazing aren’t I?!?“.
Then we came out into the big field and made our sharp right hand turn down the hill to the water. He saw it and hesitated ever so slightly, so I sat deep and put my leg on him and he just bounded forward, no further questions asked. He took a little bit of a leap into the water but cantered through and out over the rolltop like a pro.
He got a little too excited with himself on the long uphill gallop to the steeplechase… this was our only icky fence on course. He saw the flyer but I told him to wait (no flyers allowed) and add one more. He did it, but in a very derpy uncoordinated unicorn leap type of way. Evidence:
How he can jump so derpy and still be so tidy with his knees is beyond me, but he gets points for waiting when I told him to. After the steeplechase fence was the big long hill, which he seemed to take great joy in galloping up.
We hopped the log at 12, then I pointed him toward the first of the down banks. My plan was to ride it aggressively, with the “over or through” mentality, and circle after 13 before taking the up bank at 14. You can do this legally without incurring penalties as long as it’s clear you weren’t presenting your horse to the fence before you circled. So I called twice that I was circling afterward, pointed him at the down bank, tapped him on the shoulder with the whip, and wouldn’t you know it – that boy never even so much as thought about hesitating. He was like “Oh look a bank – WHEEE!” and I was like “Well what the hell…”. So much for it being a problem. It was quite the expressive leap off the bank but I’ll take it. We circled around some trees, tried to avoid running over the jump judge, then hopped up the bank at 14. Then it was back down the hill…
To the hanging log at 15, and 3 strides to the next down bank. I gave him a little growl just in case but again he showed zero hesitation and leapt right off. With gusto. Lots of gusto.
After that it was a pretty straight shot to The Decapitator at 17 (thankfully I didn’t decapitate myself on the low hanging branches, and I’m sorry Greenwood for calling your fence that). I slowed down just a titch headed to the last since we were slightly ahead of time, and to do a rideability check I rode him to the close quiet distance, and he politely cantered the flamingo fence like no big deal. We crossed the finish line 6 seconds under optimum time, giving us a double clear XC.
To say I’m proud of him doesn’t even come close to expressing it. You would never have known that it was only his third time out and that he’d never been to this facility before. He did absolutely everything I asked, he did it with joy, he loved every second of it, and he remained totally rideable the whole time. It felt EASY. I totally could have ridden 13 to 14 straight through. This BN course that was pretty hard and technical and had me feeling like we were in way over our heads rode like a walk in the park. I think he would have jumped around Novice if I’d asked him to, and what a great feeling that is, to be sitting on a confident horse. That feeling is exactly why we do this.
Even better – we moved up to 6th after XC. Sadly we were only one point away from that AEC qualifying placing we needed (darn that cheap rail in stadium!) but I don’t even care. I’ve never “lost” and felt so much like a winner at the same time.
Henry really outdid himself this time. I knew going into Greenwood that I was asking a lot of him. He stepped up to the plate in a big way, and I’m so thankful for it. The Best Boy: pro status.