PrepI brought Griffin home to my backyard a day before our planned departure for our first big weekend. This involved a bit of work on my part to prep (weed eat, sink T-posts, set hot tape insulators on posts, string hot tape, and setup fence charger), but was well worth it. The idea was that having him home would greatly expedite travel plans as I could simply wake up, put prepped items into the truck, load him, and be off in no time at all.
|Griffin hadn't been alone like this before. Unsurprisingly, he did fret a
bit, but he eventually settled. |
I wondered/worried how his mental stress would affect our weekend though.
My ultimate plan of being on the road early thanks to having Grif at home was fulfilled Saturday AM. Despite Griffin slipping on the ramp and faceplanting hard when loading (no harm done!), he still clambered aboard, albeit shaking like a leaf due to the fall and we were able to head out on our 3+ hour drive around 7.
TravelBecause my trailer is still slated to have some hinge welding completed, I borrowed my welder-friend's trailer to stand in for the weekend. It's older than mine and much more in need of a paint job, but beyond that cosmetic issue, it's in great shape.
...except we got about 30 minutes down the road and this happened:
I was lucky that I happened to be only 30 minutes from home and only a few miles from the closest town. The road isn't heavily traveled, it was early morning, and I still had cell phone service. While the situation would inevitably delay me, not all was lost! I tried to count my blessings and stay calm, but my mind was super frazzled about the whole ordeal.
I dialed welder-friend to let him know I'd be coming to swap out trailers because I had noted one other questionable tire on his trailer. While I was talking with him, a good samaritan pulled up behind me to offer aid. As I filled in my friend on the phone, I waved a greeting to the young coal miner who was exiting his car with a big, sympathetic smile. Still on the phone listening to my friend wax and wane poetically about trailer issues, I nodded a "yes" at the smiling stranger's request to bring a jack to help (again, live, learn, make sure you have the proper tools packed at all times!) and continued discussing options re: trailer swap on the phone.
Eventually, I finished my phone conversation, donned a day-glo reflective vest (I was prepared in some ways...) and awaited the return of the coal miner and his tools. He arrived minutes later with a floor jack and associated tire changing tools often found in a mechanic's garage. He proceeded to quickly change my tire as we chatted about growing up in the area, horses, coal mining, and the act of being a good samaritan.
I thanked him profusely for his help when he finished, then set to the task of swapping out trailers.
As I drove back home, my mind was abuzz with paranoia about traveling and having something else go wrong. The mundane task of backing and parking one trailer and then hooking up the other helped calm me a bit, but ultimately my mind refused to settle.
Fortunately, throughout this entire ordeal, Griffin was a holy saint of a horse. I really don't know how I got so lucky to have a horse with such a solid brain. Before 10am he: faceplanted on the trailer and still loaded, stood patiently through a [very fast] tire change, suffered a small, minor puncture wound from the only possible object in the first trailer, and got off one trailer and onto another. Despite the numerous bumps in the road, he tried his hardest to do everything I asked.
When we finally got underway again, we were 2½ hours behind schedule. Thankfully, wewould have no more complications.
XC Schooling!We arrived at Austen's barn around 1pmI settled Griffin in his stall as quickly as possible once we arrived. He seemed visibly relieved to be done with travel and in a somewhat familiar scene and promptly dug into his hay.
I sat in a chair by his stall decompressing from my own mental anguish about the trip as I awaited Austen and Jenny's arrival.
Once they appeared, we ate food, I had a beer, and we chatted for a bit. Or rather, they chatted and I mostly listened. My brain was still recovering from the morning's activities and couldn't quite handle forming thoughts and sentences yet. Oi vey.
Eventually, we set a game plan for getting Pig and Griffin prepped and loaded to head down the street to school some XC! It would be a first for both Griffin and I and I was So Excited.
A short 15 minute drive brought us to the schooling area where we made quick work of tacking the horses and headed over to the field. Austen verbalized from the get-go that Grif and I would be the main focus and she and Pig would just be out there having some fun since they do have some past history with XC.
Jenny instructed us to head immediately over to the water complex and let the horses figure that out. She encouraged us to let them take their time, assuring that as soon as they figured it out it would quickly become a nonissue. Both Pig and Grif are barefoot and I honestly think the gravel around the water was more of an issue for them both than the actual water! And sure enough, both boys made their way into the water with little issue after a moment or two.
After making sure the water was less of an issue, Jenny instructed us to warm up by trotting and cantering around the perimeter of the area to let them see the jumps. Austen and Pig quickly set about this task going one way while Griffin and I headed another.
Grif was very looky at first, but settled into a rhythm in no time. Despite usually being so game for jumping, I quickly found that Griffin was pretty damn sluggish!
I've only had Griffin off property alone like this once before - last summer for the Stephen Birchall clinic. He was very sluggish much of that weekend, which I blamed on the oppressive heat/humidity at that time. As I had a sample size of n=1, I couldn't draw conclusions from that weekend alone and chalked up his sluggish nature as a fluke. However, I'm realizing now that his slow behavior seems to be a product of being off property as he continued to have more whoa than go all weekend this go around, too! I've never felt the need to carry a whip with this horse at home, but I absolutely plan to when we travel in the future.
Once warmed up, I trotted Grif to Jenny for further instruction.
She pointed out the different types of jumps and asked what I thought was the simplest to start with on a green-to-XC horse.
"Something with minimal contrast to the surrounding environment and that is also rather uniform in it's appearance and low to the ground," I replied, taking into account all of the things that have ever caused Q or Griffin to spook. Jenny confirmed my answer and then proceeded to point out the first two obstacles we would focus on: a plain log on the ground and a hanging log with a little more height.
Griffin and I set off and tackled both jumps a time or two with some instruction from Jenny throughout about my position and how I should modify it for XC: two point with a very solid lower leg, a more upright upper body, and elbows bent at my sides. She instructed that the idea was to keep myself off of the horse's back so he could rise up to me as we moved/jumped.
This instruction confirmed a lot of my observations/readings. I did my best to fulfill it, but I definitely need to build some strength back and get my bum right ankle (thanks, mountain biking!) healed so I can properly bend it to lower my heel.
Griffin balked a little as we approached those first two jumps but still jumped them without stopping. After our first go at each, things got smoother.
Once confirmed with those two jumps, Jenny instructed me to jump them in succession, then go up and down a little hill constructed at a bank complex (but not jumping the actual banks yet) and then wrap around and jump another hotdog log.
From here, we looped around and practiced over a slightly larger and more natural looking log (bark still on it vs. the telephone pole look of the others). Griffin had zero problem with this as we've played around in the woods jumping downed trees a bit over the years.
PHOTO BIG LOG
With success at several jumps and our confidence and comfort built up, Jenny set us to practicing up and down banks.
My mind was a bit hesitant about the up, but it rode smoothly enough. Jenny assured that horses find the down banks pretty natural and that I shouldn't have much of an issue with them either. Because I have tackled things like that on trail plenty of times before, they rode even easier than the up bank and we quickly advanced to the larger of the three down bank options on the complex we were practicing on.
As Jenny began setting us up with some jumps before/after the banks, I called for a timeout and struck off across the field to the woodline to pluck a switch off a tree.
The jumping was easy. What I was having a hard time with was the fact that Griffin was SO sluggish. He simply wasn't showing up for the work the way he usually does at home! All parties agreed I should absolutely carry a whip with him in the future. (I had small blunt spurs on but those were also making minimal difference.)
We practiced over a small ditch, too, just for the sake of Doing All The Things.
Griffin was more uncertain about the ditch than anything else, but so was I! I know how attuned he is to my hesitations so I'm sure I am to blame somewhat for his hesitation. He never stopped, but he did give it a very good look before bouncing over it the first two times. The third was much smoother.
Once we conquered the ditch, Jenny asked me if anything "scared" me. I looked around at some of the larger jumps and mentally noted that none really "scared" me, but I didn't think Griffin would be capable of them at this point. I shrugged, turned back to Jenny and said, "Eh. What do you think we should do?" She pointed out a larger hotdog jump, noting how approachable and well it should jump and we tackled that a few times.
We called it a day after the larger hotdog and I took Griffin to the water one final time before leaving to walk around. He drank a little and spent awhile walking hither and thither smelling the water. I eventually had to boot him out of it because he was not interested in leaving!
On the whole, I think it was a really successful first outing. XC is every bit as fun as I always imagined it would be. I think a time or two more over jumps such as those and Griffin will be happier and more enthusiastic about it, too. He knew the answer to the jumping question, but the jumps were so different in appearance from our current normal that I'm not sure he put everything together as "wee fun" like he typically does when we jump.
Jenny's commentary and coaching was wonderful to have and I gleaned a lot of insight from her teachings. I'm so grateful she was willing to head out and help us for the afternoon!
The biggest positive takeaway for the day was how honest Griffin was about everything. When we jumped in an arena during our last visit to DC, he had some refusals. I think the color of the jumps played a large role in that and made a point of incorporating some bright orange into our home setup.
Our main issues during our first XC schooling were:
- Griffin's sluggishness,
- my current positional weaknesses, and
- my total lack of being able to see a distance.
The third item is trickier to improve upon without more knowledgeable eyes on the ground to help us. However, I can absolutely start measuring distances from jumps and placing poles to train my eye better. I plan to do this as soon as I have Grif settled in his new home.
We're getting there! I think we did great considering we'd never tackled something quite like this before. And most importantly, I know what to focus on moving forward. 😀
PoloWe left the XC schooling area and headed back to the barn where we quickly got ready for the polo match we would be watching.
I was surprised to find Emma at the barn when we returned! I had left my phone in my truck throughout the entire XC schooling and totally missed messages Emma had sent about rendezvousing with us. Sorry, girl!
Austen and I changed clothes and our group of 5 rolled out of her barn and down the road 15 minutes to the site of the polo match.
I've always wanted to watch polo and was pretty psyched for this outing.
I tried to pay attention to the announcer and the game, but ultimately just ended up conversing with our little group about all things life and horses.
Shenanigans were had:
The polo match continued. And a good time was had by all.
Eventually we packed it up and headed down the road for home.
The accumulation of morning travel stress, time spent in the sun, and a long day of horse-related fun had me totally and completely beat. I was excited about the dressage show, but not too excited to sleep. I crashed hard once we were home, wishing I could have about 3 extra hours in the night to sleep before our early morning the next day.
Stay tuned for the run down of our first dressage show!