I still haven’t come down from the high that was Endurance Day at the 3 Day, so brace yourselves for a lot of exclamation marks and all caps because OMG IT WAS THE MOST FUN I’VE EVER HAD ON A HORSE IN MY LIFE!!!
For real though, it was. What I really loved about the whole 3 Day experience was the clinic-type feel that it had to it. We got to do a steeplechase practice on Thursday afternoon, taught by none other than Hawley Bennett. Really appreciate Hawley giving us her time and her expertise, she did a great job and I felt much more prepared afterwards. The organizers also drove us around the Roads and Tracks course, explaining the gates and the markers and the vet box, and how all of that stuff worked. We got to ask questions and talk things out as a group. We even got to learn how to properly jog and present our horses to the ground jury/vet for formal inspection (swear to god that was the hardest part). The experience was phenomenal… sometimes it’s really fun to step a bit outside your comfort zone and learn something new. Anyone out there who’s been toying with the idea of doing a classic format 3 Day – DO IT!
I’ll do my best to explain the phases that make up endurance day (as briefly as possible) as I go along for those who aren’t familiar with the long format. But basic overview: there are 4 phases – A, B, C, and D. Phases A and C are Roads and Tracks, B is Steeplechase, and D is the actual cross country itself. Between phases C and D you have the 10 minute vet box, where vets look over the horse and make sure it’s fit to continue to phase D. Then after you’re done with D you have the After D box, where the vets again check over the horse, make sure it’s vitals are returning to normal, check for soundness, etc. It makes for quite a day.
There really is no warm up on Endurance Day – phases A through C are meant to be your warm up, so you just show up at the start flags about 5-10 minutes ahead of your start time and wait to be started on phase A. I had quite a fun start to my day when I went to check my watch when the starter said “90 seconds” and realized it had died sometime between when I put it on and exactly that moment. I should also note that it was a borrowed watch, because the battery was starting to die in my watch and I wanted to be safe rather than sorry. So I wheeled Henry around and trotted back to the barn, yelling for one of the girls to grab a watch. She tossed it to me and I put it on as I trotted back to the start, arriving with 10 seconds to spare. Third watch was the charm.
Phase A was pretty simple – 2640 meters at 220 mpm, which is basically just a working trot. If you can read the flashcard in my armband in the picture above and look on the map below, you can see that there are K markers, for kilometer. Just like on XC, you want to keep track of where you are time-wise to avoid coming in too slow and getting penalties. There were two kilometer markers on Phase A, A1K and A2K. There were also two “gates” on phase A – mandatory sets of flags that you had to pass through. Those were designated by A1 and A2 on the map.
We trotted all of A until the last stretch, where we picked up a forward canter to let Henry open up his lungs and stretch his legs before steeplechase. We arrived into phase B about a minute early, so we had a little bit of extra time to hang out in the shade (you can come in early on phases A and C without penalty, just not later than optimum time).
At Coconino they run steeplechase on the racetrack, which makes it extra fun. They count you down out of the startbox just like they do on cross country, and then you’re off! We had a distance of 1300 meters with 4 fences (the first fence was also the last fence, so we made a little over one full lap) to be ridden around 450mpm, which is Training speed. Time was done on this phase just like on XC, with a minimum and a maximum. No faster than 2:30, but no slower than 3:00.
Henry and I had SUCH a blast on this phase. He was so happy to be running and jumping, and it was awesome practice for letting him jump out of stride. Hawley’s advice was to leave their speed alone on the approach to the jump, but to just bring your shoulders up a little in the last few strides for balance. She also said that we should land going faster than we took off – basically be thinking forward the whole way around. I took that advice to heart and hugged the rail in the turns, let him jump out of stride as best I could, and landed going forward. Doing all of that put me on the faster side, we came in at 2:34. It was such an amazing feeling, and really confidence-building to feel your horse self-adjusting for the fences. I sat up, he picked his spot. They really don’t need our help as much as we think. Steeplechase is AWESOME for learning to not micro-manage your horse so much, something I definitely needed. Those 2 1/2 minutes alone were worth the trip.
Bobby actually got video of fences 1, 2, and 4…
The finish for phase B also marked the start for phase C – a second Road and Tracks. This phase is meant to be a cool down from steeplechase, so the speed is slower – only 160mpm (basically trotting with some walking mixed in) but a little bit longer at 2720 meters. There was also an “Assistance Area” right at the beginning of C. This was the ONLY place (aside from the vet box) where you could get outside assistance if necessary. My trainer was waiting for us there when we came off of steeplechase, asked me how it was going, sponged Henry off, and bid us adieu. Phase C also had 1K and 2K markers, plus two mandatory gates that we had to pass through, just like Phase A. I walked the first couple minutes, then trotted most of the way before walking another minute as we got close to the vet box. I came into the vet box a few minutes early by design, knowing that Henry can take a little longer than average for his respiratory rate to come down due to the scar tissue in his lungs. I wanted to give him extra time before we started D.
We had a great team of people from the barn working in the vet box for us – designated timers (to keep track of how long we had), horse holders, spongers/scrapers, etc. I was able to go get a drink of water while they worked on cooling Henry down and the vet team checked him over. With 4 minutes left to go until my start time for D, the vets did one last check, watched him jog, and cleared us to start D. I hopped back on, went down to the start box, waited for my countdown, and away we went.
I have to say, this Novice course felt REALLY easy, even with the coffin that caused a ton of problems week 1. Henry thinks he’s a big bad Training horse now and there’s just nothing they can build on Novice that remotely fazes him. He skipped around like it was a Sunday afternoon stroll through the park. I tried my best to just sit there and leave him alone as much as possible, keeping in a steady rhythm and jumping out of stride (thank you steeplechase). After the coffin I realized we were definitely ahead of time and tried to squish his canter back down, then immediately biffed the distance at the next fence (enjoy the lovely GRUNT that you hear on the helmet cam video at 15!). At that point I said screw it and let him go again. He’s most comfortable around 450mpm now, and that seems to suit us the best, so I’m just not going to mess with it. Instead we trotted the last fence to make sure we weren’t too fast, which seemed to be a better compromise.
After phase D we went back up to the vet area for the After D check. My helpers stripped the tack, sponged, and walked him for a while, and the vets checked him out again to make sure he was cooling down appropriately and still looked sound. Once they were satisfied with his condition we were released to go back to the barn. Then it was icing, poulticing, and packing feet, because we had our final jog bright and early the next morning before we could show jump!
Overall it was a really freaking fun day. More stressful than a typical cross country day, for sure, but roads and tracks + steeplechase was such a great warm up for XC. Everything just flowed so well and Henry felt bulletproof. Totally in love with the long format. It was challenging enough to be interesting but the course itself was easy enough to be… well… easy. Hopefully that was our last Novice, so it’s good that XC felt like a walk in the park and it ended up being a penalty-free day.