Well, I finally did it. I made a mistake that even Henry the XC Magician couldn’t completely pull us out of. He sure gave it an impressive effort though, poor guy, and saved us from total disaster. That halo of his is glowing brighter and brighter.
First of all, let’s talk about this course. If I thought week 1 was a bit simple, the course designer came to play on week 2 because wow, all the courses were pretty tough. Big AND technical. People were getting eaten for dinner left and right at all levels. Bloodbath is the most accurate way to describe it. It was also Area 3 Championships, which had a couple of slight differences to their courses vs the regular horse trial divisions. They also experienced a bloodbath.
Our course (link to the full course walk here) had four combinations, all of which were serious questions for the level. There were a fair amount of maxed out height/width fences, but also a few “breather” ones scattered around the course as well. It wasn’t unreasonable, but it was definitely a challenging course. The most technical we’ve seen to date, for sure. That’s what I wanted, and that’s what I got. There had also been a lot of rain the day before so I put some bigger studs in, hoping that the footing wouldn’t complicate things further. The weather though – it was perfect. Around 80 and mostly cloudy with a nice breeze. This was Henry weather for sure.
Coming out of the start box you had a slight uphill to a simple hanging log at fence 1, your standard starting fence. From there we went up the big massive hill to fence 2. Like… you basically climbed out of the startbox and had to REALLY ride forward immediately to get going. This was a hint about how you had to ride the rest of the course. One I did not heed well enough later on. But fences 1 and 2 rode fine anyway, because we always come out of the box like our butts are on fire.
Hope you’re buckled in tight, cuz shit got real right off the bat. After you climbed your way to 1 and 2, fence 3 was a max square table, off of a sweeping turn after you came down that giant hill you just climbed. Better sit up. It actually came up out of stride really well and Henry pinged right over like he was enjoying a delightful brunch.
I couldn’t really take the time to enjoy it though, because right after that was the first combination on course, and it was tricky. I mean, on paper it seemed fairly straightforward. Cabin, downhill to skinny cabin on a slight bend. But there was an unused corner for another level behind the skinny cabin, in such a place where if you came down that combo straight middle-to-middle, you would land on the corner. I really only saw two options here: you either had to jump the first cabin angled a bit left to right and then veer slightly right to B, or you had to put a lot of bend in the line while you were halfway down the hill. I chose the first option, figuring it would be easier for my horse. Tons of people had runouts here. I watched 3 in a row go skirting past the B element (including my barnmate on her experienced Prelim horse). There wasn’t much room for error.
Luckily Henry latched on to B like a heat seeking missile, and marched right through that shit like he’d done it a million times before. He’s baller, y’all.
Fences 5 and 6 were let-up fences at this point – another table (Chatt really likes tables, I noticed) and then a small house on a curve as we kind of serpentined back toward the first water. We cantered through the water to a decent sized up bank, two strides out over a rolltop. Well, we were supposed to anyway. Here’s where I messed up. Knowing that last week I came through the water a little too fast and flat, I was determined not to repeat that, especially to an upbank.
But I took one too many half halts and lost power going into the water, then tried to correct it too late, which caused us to get to the bank too close and without enough energy to jump up out of water. Henry didn’t have enough room or momentum to get his feet up on the bank properly. He hit the edge with his knees as he floundered up it, but somehow managed to twist around, find a 5th leg, and get us up in one piece. How, I don’t even know.
And yes, I’ve already purchased all these pictures (I bought every picture they took from both weeks, actually!). Just waiting on the digitals. I thought it was too important of a photo series to leave out of this post.
For a second I thought we were both goners. That he managed to get his feet back under him and stay upright is pretty impressive. THIS is exactly why I have no interest in eventing a horse who isn’t clever with his feet. On a sloppier horse, or one with slower reaction time, I’d have been in real trouble. As it was, our near-fall left me up on his neck, about a millimeter away from going right over his shoulder. I felt him look at the rolltop and make a move toward it to try to jump it. Yeah, for real, he totally thought about trying to keep going. Trainer said later “I really thought he was gonna jump that with you on his head!”. Yeah, you and me both! Luckily he very wisely decided to veer left instead (thank you Henny) while I got myself back together. I managed to scoot back into the saddle, and we turned around, circled back through the water, and jumped up the bank and over the rolltop just fine on the second attempt.
From that we went directly to an open oxer at 8 (it had MIM clips. Fancy.) before we FINALLY had our first little open stretch to breathe as we went from the front field to the back field. I let Henry open up a bit here since we actually had a couple of galloping fences in a row. Two tables. Shocking, right?
Those rode really well. I was wondering if my snafu at the water would affect his confidence at all, but he just galloped up to both and launched right over, feeling as happy as always. Which is good, because fence 12, coming into the second water, was freaking massive.
It was a max rolltop with a good 8-10″ of brush on top at the middle, and very tall brush on either side. It was pretty damn close to 4′ at the center, and set a few strides out from the water. You couldn’t see the water on the other side until you got a few strides away, which made it even spookier. This was legit. This was gnarly. It was my favorite fence of the whole two weeks (I might be a little sick in the head, y’all), and Henry jumped the shit out of it. I had to sit and ride him a bit, he flicked an ear back at me a few times like “Mom? You sure this is safe?” but he trusted my judgment and he went. I’m so bummed that there wasn’t a photographer at that one.
We had a little jump in the water itself here too that you can see straight ahead, mostly just a speed bump by this point, then came out and turned left to… oh hey, another table.
Hope you enjoyed that short breather, because now we went to the coffin. A full coffin. With a really wide ditch in the middle. And a skinny fence on the C element. We had yet to even meet a half coffin on a Training course in Texas, something that I’ve been kinda grumpy about. Chatt made up for that in one fell swoop. Henry was absolutely brilliant here, it could not have ridden any better.
Fence 15 was a small bench (kinda like a “congrats, you’re not dead yet!” by this point I guess.) then down through an ominous bridge crossing and back into the front field, before immediately swinging left to another hanging log. That was all fine. Well okay, Henry’s eyes bugged out of his head a bit at the bridge crossing, you could hear running water below, but he never faltered from his gallop.
Then was our last combo on course – something they called the Helsinki Step. There was a decent size (about 3’6″) drop with a bit of a downhill landing, slight bending line right to a skinny log in 3 strides. Or on my horse – a cannonball, some flair, and then 2 normal strides. Because why drop down off a bank when you could pause at the edge and then launch straight into space like a rocket? And why launch straight when you could launch to the right? He definitely popped me loose here, but we dug in and made it out over the skinny. Not cute, not cute at all, but we did it. Someday he’ll actually just step down the drops. Maybe. Ok, probably not.
After that we had the iconic Chatt stone table before turning to the last, another hanging log, and through the finish. Those were both great, and he finished up feeling really good.
It would be easy to feel disappointed with this run, on the surface. Henry’s previously pretty beautiful USEA record is sporting a big ugly 20 on it, and it’s no one’s fault but mine. Those are definitely my 20 penalties, not his. He did nothing wrong. He didn’t say no, he wasn’t naughty, he wasn’t disobedient or lacking confidence. Quite the opposite, actually. But this was a hard course, and the combinations were tough enough to where you couldn’t make a mistake, and I made one. It’s that simple. It’s going to happen, I am an amateur after all, and I’m still learning my way at this level. Some days you get away with mistakes, some days you don’t. That day I didn’t. This is eventing… shit can go wrong in a heartbeat. Especially when you actively seek out bigger challenges for yourself.
But Henry rose to the occasion and answered all the questions eagerly. He was brave, he was smart, he was clever, and he was confident. He didn’t seem deterred by the fact that we almost lawn-darted up the bank, and he was still quite pleased with himself at the finish. How could I possibly be unhappy with that? He showed a lot of maturity and professionalism, and we were able to recover from the mistake quickly, put it behind us, and go on to have a really solid rest of the course. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more proud of that horse, and I’m proud of him pretty much all the damn time.
I think the worst part was that they originally did not have my 20 recorded, and I had to go to the office and tattle on myself. That’s not a fun task. But honesty is always the best policy (I don’t want that bad karma!), and someone else deserved the ribbon spot that I was unjustly occupying. Without the 20 (and the 2 time penalties from all the time I took clinging like a monkey and then circling back to re-jump) we would have been 3rd. Big big ouch. But we still managed to hang on for 6th, which tells you just how much havoc that course wreaked on everyone. It felt a little bit like a dirty ribbon, but my horse absolutely deserved it, so I happily took it. This one is all his.
Even though I didn’t get the storybook ending that we competitors always pine for, I still had a fantastic time. We learned a lot, we had fun, we made improvements in some areas, and we found a few things we need to work on in others. I’m 100% satisfied with that, and really proud of my plain little brown horse.