I was all alone at this show, with no trainer, and most of my friends had conflicting ride times, which means I have very little media. Well, ok, a friend of mine came out and got some video clips of XC (thanks Lucy!) so I have a lot of XC media and basically nothing else. Also I forgot my helmet camera at home. Whoops. But since I have no pictures at all to accompany the recaps of dressage and stadium, we’re just gonna jam all three phases into one post and make the less fun phases short and sweet. There was also a lot of “extra” stuff going on at this show, outside of the riding parts, so we’ll cover all that tomorrow. On board with that? Good.
First off, it was cold AF on Saturday morning for dressage, and I went bright and early at 8:30. Henry was a little electric, and a yearling galloping up and down the fenceline of the pasture right next to warmup did not help. Also apparently we had two late scratches in our division, which were not communicated to the warmup stewards. I finally got Henry feeling relaxed and connected, so at that point I just let him walk for a while as we waited for our turn. At this venue there’s one big warmup field, then when you’re on deck they let you into a smaller, flatter side area that connects to the arenas. My plan was to let him walk and relax until they let me into that space, then wake him back up and put him back together before we went in.
But then they realized they were missing people in front of me, the ring was sitting open, they were running behind, and the judge was getting irritated. They called me over and sent me straight in. So, awesome… I’d just been walking for 10 minutes and now I found myself circling the arena. Which I got about 1/5 of the way around before the judge rang the bell and sent me in.
Henry was very obedient, but I never could quite get him back in front of my leg. He was a little stuck in the canter and a few of the down transitions were flat and sticky. He did nothing wrong, he just wasn’t really as connected and up into my hand like he has been. The judge in that ring was really freaking cranky (by the end of the day a lot of people were talking about that) and massacred me with a 39. Like, ouch. We’ve scored 39’s before, and those tests were relative shitshows of angry oversensitive on-the-verge-of-explosion Henry. This wasn’t anything like that, it just needed more impulsion. And I don’t even know what the scores and comments were because I went to pick up my test and it was missing. But… oh well, whatever. What are you gonna do.
After that was stadium, in the early afternoon. I spent a while watching most of the Prelim horses go and felt pretty good about the course. Most of the problems were coming at the first double at 4AB (it seemed that no one could really get a great distance to that, for whatever reason) and the last square oxer at jump 10. The line was riding a smidge long, and if you got to that oxer at all flat, that front rail would go flying.
Again, my warmup was brief. I cantered a few laps, jumped a vertical and an oxer, and then they were calling me on deck. The course itself was fine. I’m not super stoked about how I rode it, I got him a little deep to the first double and a little long to the second double, but Henry was jumping really well. Holly Hill has a bit more “filler” to their jumps, more stuff to look at, which is beneficial for a less careful horse like mine. He tapped a couple – jump 1 and the triple bar – but everything stayed in the cups. Clear round!
Cross country was on Sunday morning. I’d walked the course twice the night before and my impression was that it was tricker than it seemed at first glance. The first 7 fences were no big deal… some were large, but they were just single fences. But from fence 8 through fence 17, it was question after question after question. A combo with a big brush to an upbank to a downbank to a rolltop. A trakehner. An upbank bending line to corner. The water was basically a long bending line from barrels to a log jumping in, then bending line through the water to an upbank, 3 strides to a log. Then shortly after was that nightmarish ditch wall in the picture above. All fair questions, but in pretty rapid succession that left little room for error and would definitely require you to have control of your horse’s shoulders.
Also yes you read that right, there were 3 freaking upbanks. I’m still feeling a little leery about them after our mishap at Chatt, so I was not particularly thrilled about that. Mostly though, I was worried about that ditch wall. Henry had definitely never seen anything quite like that, and it was deep and dark and just… gross looking, with that brush essentially anchored right in the middle of the ditch. It makes for a weird floating look to it.
I’ll do fence pics in batches as I talk through the course…
Henry came out of the box like his freaking tail was ON FIRE, he woke up that morning knowing what phase was next and he was ready for game time. Fence 1 was a simple log, then it was a nice galloping fence at the hay feeder, to a big log oxer. Nice fences to get into the flow. Four to five was a smaller table to smaller log oxer bending line. Fence 6 was a skinnier brush-topped rolltop with the ground dropping away quite a bit on the landing. Henry jumped the snot out of that so the drop on the back end was extra exciting.
Fence 7 was a max square table, which used to make me crap my pants, but I’m pretty desensitized to them by now. After that it was time for the real questions to start. We hung a right turn to the big brush fence, which had 5 slightly bending strides to the upbank, three strides to the down bank, then 5 strides to a rolltop. Henry jumped in super here, although I could have done with a smidge more whoa on the landing, since the 5 to the upbank came up a bit tight. He was clever with his feet here though, and I just supported with my leg and let him work it out, which he did brilliantly.
From there it was down to the trakehner, which he actually took a little peek at (that ditch is like 5′ deep and there was all kinds of shit down there from the recent rains, so I don’t really blame him) but I gave him a little tap at the base and he hopped over. Then we swung another right to the upbank (I didn’t like this one, it had a log on top of the lip, which always makes me a bit nervous with upbanks – something to trip over), right turn to a corner.
After that we headed to the water. We hopped over some barrels first, then the log into the water was off to the left. It came up fast, the horses only had about 4 straight strides before the water, and there was a lot to look at. Banks, bleachers, people, photographers. Henry was laser-focused though and didn’t even hesitate, jumping over the log into the water, and then taking the bending line to the upbank, 3 strides to a hanging log. This jumped so well, it kind of felt like redemption for my mistake at Chatt.
But I couldn’t really even let up for a second, because straight ahead was that Nightmare Factory (my own personal name for the ditch wall). I sat way up, gave Henry a little tap-tap on the shoulder, and proceeded to completely bury him at it. He gave precisely zero shits and hopped over it anyway, because BLESS HIM. Honestly, he deserves every cookie and carrot that he has ever eaten in his life (of which there have been many).
After that we had two big brush rolltops, and the rest seemed like a cakewalk. There was a little hanging log that was mostly like a “don’t trip over this” kind of thing by this point, then a produce table which used to look ginormous to me that now looked delightfully adorable. The last fence was another hanging log similar to the first fence, also pretty small.
I don’t really check my watch anymore these days until a few fences from home, mostly just to see where we stand. I looked down at it for the first time after fence 18, and we were cruising a bit ahead, so I dialed him back down for the last two fences. We crossed the line at 5:14, with the OT being 5:28. Easy breezy. He was still full of run and cooled down quickly.
A few people in our division had some trouble on XC, which boosted us up from 4th to finish 2nd. It was a fun show, with plenty of challenges, and I’m super happy with how Henry stepped up to the plate. It makes me a little emotional just seeing how confident and happy he is now, and how much he seems to love his job. He’s matured so much over this season, and I really couldn’t be more proud of that goofy little horse.