Alternate title: STOP DRAGGING THIS OUT, DID HE GO DOWN THE BANK OR DIDN’T HE???
But first, the course. Fair warning, I did a real shit job of documenting the course with photos (as in I took none and had to scour the internet to find a few to put here), so here’s the map again.
After I was done with dressage (praise be) I left Henry at the trailer and set off to walk the course. They were doing jumper rounds in the stadium ring so I didn’t wait around for a break to walk the first three fences of my course, which were all stadium jumps. Jump 4 was another stadium fence set in the fence line, over which you jumped OUT of the arena, landing on a downhill slope. I figured Henry would be a little confused about jumping out of the arena, so counting that plus the downhill landing I figured I’d just stay back and keep my leg on. That’s usually the right answer.
Then of course the very first XC fence was a down bank. Super. I got permission from the TD beforehand to just skip the bank if we had an issue there, but… I really wanted to jump down the damn thing. Mostly because whether or not he jumped off the bank was going to be the real test of how much we’ve rebuilt his confidence about them. The bank itself wasn’t very big but it was going down a big hill, so on the approach it kind of looked like you were jumping off a cliff. Plus it was another downhill landing. I have to be honest, I stood on top of that thing and felt in my gut that he wasn’t going to jump it.
After the down bank it was a bending line right to a small bench, then you kept rolling out into the big field with a little bit of a longer stretch to 7ab, a vertical to oxer in and out of stadium fences. Then you hung a right and jumped the red train car
straight to a stadium fence vertical set in between trees.
Then it was a right turn through the water and up the bank out
loop around back to a skinny into the water from the other side, and out over an uphill log.
After that it was back up the hill to the T rolltop, with a distance that walked either a long three or short four to the triple up bank. I was excited to ride this, it looked super fun.
After that there was one more stadium fence hidden back in the trees, then we looped around and had a little brush fence at the last.
Overall I thought the course looked really fun and inviting. If we hadn’t literally just had a down bank issue, I’d have gone so far as to say it looked easy. Nothing was big or tricky, although I thought having the stadium fences scattered throughout was definitely a challenge. Henry is not particularly careful, especially when he’s in his flatter more forward XC mode of jumping. Getting him rocked back for the stadium fences was going to be one of the hardest parts for us.
My plan for the bank was simple: I was going to stay in the back seat and ride it like both of our asses were on fire. I told my trainer that I was going down the bank come hell or high water, either with or without the horse (and if I went without the horse, could someone please go catch him?).
Henry was great in warmup, he definitely woke up once he realized we were jumping (ah, there’s the energy I didn’t have in dressage). He was a little confused when we went from XC warmup to stadium… he kept looking back down the hill toward the start box like “wtf kind of cruel trick is this?”. The first stadium fence was fine, but he landed pulling on me a bit and I didn’t get him back quick enough to make a very balanced turn to 2. That kind of dominoed into him getting a bit crooked off the ground and pulling the rail there, but then he was more reasonable to 3. I landed from 3 with my spurs in his ribs because I knew he’d balk at 4, the jump out of the arena. Pretty much every horse was really backed off of that, and I’d already seen a couple stop there. Henry sorta weaved his way down there in a very skeptical canter, but he went.
I landed and immediately sent him forward again… I wanted him thinking forward as much as possible before we got to the bank. He was a bit confused about how the hell we’d just teleported magically from stadium to XC, but he never needs to be asked twice to gallop out onto cross country. We came around the corner, I sat up, kicked him forward, and we attacked the bank. And while Henry leapt off of it with considerably more gusto than necessary, he didn’t even hesitate. Perhaps the override wasn’t needed after all, but we made it so whatever. We’ll smooth it out next time.
I had to steer to the bench with super long reins after the big leap down, but we got down there and over it fine. Then he was off and running at 450mpm, which would have been great except the next fences were stadium jumps and the course speed was 360mpm. Thanks to Dr. Bristol we had a stadium canter back by the time we got there and popped through the in and out fine.
***Side note: you have never seen seasoned event horses more confused as when you combine an XC course and stadium course together. Horse minds were being blown all day.***
Then I let him go a bit more forward again to the red train car. I thought he might back off a little there since it’s in a new location next to the trees he always loves to spook at, but he locked on and was delighted. Then another whoa and balance again for the stadium vertical, right turn down to the water keeping a bouncy canter up the bank out. I’m pretty sure I could feel Henry smiling by this point – he loves water. I pretty much just steered as we looped around to the skinny back into the water and the log out.
He landed and wanted to charge up the hill (HENNY GO CROSS COUNTRY HENNY GALLOP) but I could only let him roll for a few strides before I had to bring him back again. We had to fit four strides in between the bench and the triple up banks (because charging forward and flat to up banks is not the death warrant I would like to sign, thanks) so I found a short distance to the rolltop, landed whoaing, then let him maintain the collected 4 and pop up the three banks. And it was SO FUN.
After that it was just a hop over another stadium fence and around the corner to the little brush box at the finish. Aside from the rail at fence 2 we were clear, so we added 4 faults to our dressage score. Still, there were enough issues to move us up from 6th to 4th. Mostly though I was just really thrilled that he went down the bank. We definitely still need to keep rebuilding his confidence more, but good to know he isn’t totally broken about it.
While I did think that in general it was a lot harder for us to really get in a good groove around a course of mixed stadium and xc fences (me probably more so than him), it was still a total blast. I would definitely love to do more derbies every once in a while!