Although Henry and I have been running Training for a year and a half now, this was our first time showing at Willow Draw. I had avoided it on purpose, really. Although considering we only have four venues in the entire state of Texas that host recognized shows, you can’t actually succeed in avoiding any venue for very long. Willow Draw is known for having tougher courses, and it’s not generally the type of course that my horse is best suited to. Henry likes wide open spaces with lots of room to gallop, and not a lot of trees and bushes and shadows to spook at. More than half of this course is a bit twisty and turny, going up and down steep hills and through woods. And it’s a one day show, which isn’t really my favorite format for him either, especially with a 4 hour haul each way. Willow Draw has always been just kind of intimidating to me. So yes, I specifically avoided it until we were at the point where I felt like we could easily handle the extra challenges.
I didn’t do a formal Course Walk with my app, so I don’t have good pictures of all the individual fences. The first time I walked I wasn’t sure of where the hell I was going, and the second time I was with Trainer and we were in a hurry. By then I was done walking up that stupid ass hill between 5 and 6, so… whatever. I wasn’t too concerned about figuring out my minute markers, since the speed was 450mpm and I have a really good feel for that by now (I might not be good at very many things, but I’m really good at pace). Plus since it was still pretty hot, I was just going to let Henry tell me how fast he wanted to go. I knew where I could push it a bit if he felt good, and I knew where I would have to whoa more for combos or terrain, so I just wasn’t worried about it enough to walk the course a 3rd time.
The first fence was at a really weird angle out of the startbox. You had to come out angled to the right and then basically make a bending line left to get straight. Henry was busy looking at the tents and horses and the stadium ring just beyond the ropes, so we got there a little bit weak. I landed clucking and kicking him forward, and he seemed to go “oh right, sorry!” and shot off, clicking into gear. The table at 2 came up nicely out of stride (I love the picnic decorations on the tables)
then things got serious pretty quickly, with a Trakehner as fence 3. Which means that, naturally, this is where I made my big biff of the day by completely missing the distance and leaving Henry no choice but to take a flyer, pinging straight up in the air to clear the thing while I was back there hailing a cab. Bless him. I was really of zero assistance there at all. He seemed undeterred though, just flicking an ear back at me like “really, lady?” while I recomposed myself and gave him a well-deserved “GOOD BOY!”. Sorry Henny. Geez.
That seemed to be the jolt I needed though, because I actually got my shit together after that and decided maybe I should, like… ride. I opened him up a bit on the stretch after 3, over a bridge and past the water to our first combo at 4AB. This walked a fairly tight 3 strides, so I came in with a showjump canter, but still had to whoa a bit. After that we were off and running again, down the hill, across the road, then back up the hill to a rolltop at 5 (a fence you couldn’t get a very straight approach to, with a tree in the way), around the corner to another rolltop at 6, with a downhill landing. Once we went down that hill we came to the base of the big, steep hill that – on foot – seemed like a mountain. I was a little concerned that a hill this big, this early in the course, might take away a lot of his wind. It was still a pretty hot day for Henry, and heat is his nemesis. We had a table at the top of the hill though, so we had no choice but to power up it.
Right after the table we swung a hard right, turning back to a sunken-road-to-rails combo. Down bank, two strides, up bank, 5 strides to a skinny-ish vertical rail. All of the elements were small, but the hardest part about this question was the fact that we’d just blasted up a big ass hill and over a table, then had very little time to compress the canter and turn sharply back to a very different type of question. Henry was super clever here though – he came back immediately, and once we were straight I just put my eyes on the vertical, kept my leg on, and he skipped right through like it was a gymnastic. Easy peasy.
After that we had a little bit of a breather, so I checked in with Henry to see how he was feeling. He still seemed full of run so I just bridged my reins and let him cruise, hopping over the next brushy rolltop out of stride. Then we crossed the road again, then another bridge, and we were on to the fence that I was a little worried about. We galloped down a little wooded path and popped out just a few strides from a big brush fence, set on an angle. As soon as I had my eye on the fence I checked in with Henry and felt him lock onto it. I sat, widened my hands a bit, and waited, and it came up just fine – no problem.
After that we weaved our way over to the water. The jumps themselves weren’t complicated here – it was just a ramp (albeit a wide one), with a bending line to a log set in the water. However, the course designer was sneaky about how she laid this out. The ramp was set kind of behind another unused jump, in such a way that you could not get a nice straight approach to it. You had to come in a bit angled, and then the landing was downhill, pulling you quickly toward the water. To get a good line to the ramp you had to come really close to the unused jump, which I was a bit concerned Henry might lock onto. And he did, but I was able to quickly divert his attention to our actual line.
After that we had another combo, a bending line of small houses down in the shade, before coming back out into the big field. After the houses I opened him back up a bit, since he was still galloping well, and tried to save some ground as we hopped over another little rolltop by the mounds. From there we had one more combination – a coffin consisting of a ramp to a ditch to a corner. I had seen a couple people jump through there earlier and the distance from the ditch to the corner seemed to be riding long. One person added a stride and another really had to kick to make the 4.
So as we turned to line up with the coffin, I rocked him back, but kept the canter coming more forward. He jumped the ramp fine, and I landed clucking and giving him a little tap with whip, since he can be spooky at open ditches. That ended up not being necessary though, he was locked and loaded and had zero hesitation. The 4 strides to the corner actually ended up riding tight for us. Once I saw that it was going to be snug I nudged him slightly left to give him more space, but he was quick with his feet and worked it out just fine.
I checked my watch here and saw that we were going to be pretty close on time, so I let him cruise over the last rolltop. We ended up 4 seconds under OT.
The double clear kept us in 2nd place, behind a pro, for our best finish yet at a recognized Training. I always feel like it’s totally my fault anytime this horse doesn’t finish an event on his dressage score, so to finish on it – and a good one at that – seems like I finally did him some justice. That 32.1 feels like it’s been a long time coming. The placing means we’re already qualified for AEC’s next year too, if we feel like that’s a thing we want to do. I doubt it, I’ve got other goals in mind, but it’s an option at least.
While I was not happy with my riding in a couple places (especially at 3, I mean REALLY wtf) I was super happy with Henry. He just gets more and solid with every show, and feels really content and confident in his job. My mistakes don’t deter him, he just looks for the jumps and goes to them, end of story. The level feels very comfortable for both of us now. Can’t complain about that.
Full helmet cam footage is here:
We’ve got a little jumper show this weekend, then I’m volunteering at Pine Hill again, then we have our last recognized of the season at Holly Hill. It’s another Training course that we haven’t run yet, so I’m hoping that one will be just as fun!