Thursday, July 13, 2017

Whirlwind Weekend: Tire Woes, XC Schooling, & Polo


I 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.


Because 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 should have taken a closer look at the tires it seems. Live and learn!

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.

Austen's photo
PC: Austen

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.

Austen's photo
Off we go!
PC: Austen

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.

Austen's photo
Receiving instruction on position
PC: Austen

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.

Austen's photo
Further instructional conversations
PC: Austen

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.

We did this with relative ease, Griffin once again sucking back before jumping over the new-to-us jump at the end.

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.


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.

Austen's photo
Wee! Griffin and I tackling the larger of the two "easy" down banks.
PC: Austen

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.)

Once I had a whip, Griffin showed up and started actually working and staying more in front of my leg. (Though I need to add for myself that while improved he was still not as forward as he is at home.)

We practiced over a small ditch, too, just for the sake of Doing All The Things.

20170709 Quick edits-3
A little more certain over the ditch
PC: Jenny

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.

20170709 Quick edits
Tackling the bigger hotdog like NBD
PC: Jenny

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!

Austen's photo
PC: Austen

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.

Ever since, Griffin has been more than reliable at home. I have complete trust in him when we jump at home. In fact, this XC outing was the first I've jumped with a saddle in over a month! We've been exclusively schooling in the bareback pad at home over 2'6" and 2'9" for awhile now. This has taught me that I won't fall off when we jump a 2'9" oxer from a near-standstill! While that moment was a Major Oops, it taught me that I really have nothing to fear so far as staying mounted through some less-than-perfect jumps.

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 first two items are totally fixable in a short amount of time. Heat conditioning isn't easy, but we can focus on it when we have the weather to do so. (We're from an area much higher in elevation with temperatures that are regularly 10-15°F cooler than the DC area.) My position will get better as soon as I can get back to my workout routine.

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. 😀


We 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 have copious polo photos, but I shan't bore you with all of them.

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:

Austen's photo
PC: Austen

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!


  1. I love this so much!!! Yayyyyyy Griffin!!!! You guys look great and I'm so excited for you to have finally gotten your xc debut!! It's addicting, right??? :D

    Anyway I wouldn't worry about the whole "not seeing a distance" thing right now, honestly. Those little moments where Grif would feel a little "balky" to the jump mostly just look like he's trying to get a little extra processing time on approach to the jump. That's usually something that resolves itself as the horse gets more experience over xc obstacles. Charlie sometimes needed to actually break down to trot when he would get uncertain and needed more time we just work it out, ya know?

    Once he's feeing more confident to the fences and is more easily in front of your leg, the "distance" thing will be easier. In the beginning its just more important that the horse understands what he's doing and can build confidence to go forward. Which it looks like you totally did as the schooling progressed!! So fun!!

    1. OMG so addicting. It's everything my childhood head/heart thought it would be. I can't wait to practice more and get to the point where we are truly galloping obstacles. Eeee.

      And that's great to hear re: distance. When we're comfortable at home he's honestly Sir Saint of Distances and sees them for himself.

      And totally. He definitely started to figure out his job more as the day went on. "What's this game?" "It's still the jumping game Griffin." "OH! I know the jumping game! But they look different?" "Just jump, buddy." "Ok! I'll try." "Good boy!"

  2. Sounds like the perfect first foray into XC and a fun time for everyone once you got past the tire debacle! :)

    1. Ugh. Yeah I'm SO grateful the rest of the weekend went smoothly! I can't wait to get back out on some XC and get to our first event.

  3. Sounds like an awesome time, other than the scary tire drama. :-)

  4. Yaassss minus the tire sitch this was so epic! You and Griffin look so happy out on the CC course! Wheeeeee!

  5. That tire exploded. Not sure if you have one or not, but I'd highly recommend getting a trailer helper. It makes changing a tire so much easier. We also have a portable air compressor that plugs into the truck's ac adapter.

    Way to go Griff!!! You two look really good out there tackling those solid obstacles for the first time. It won't be long until you guys are doing all the things :)

    1. Yeah. Have the trailer was in MY trailer. Also have an air compressor and had it with me. Love that thing.

      And thanks, he was a star. =)

  6. That tire...agree with Sara: it exploded. Thank God for the good sam. Also recommend the Trailer Aid: it was the first thing we bought after the trailer. Walmart carries them too, online at least. Much easier than a jack. And also recommend US Rider: it's like AAA for the trailer and can be used with other vehicles when not towing. The difference is that they will show up and haul your horse somewhere safe (or to the equine hospital) if you have a major mishap or accident while hauling. It's $136 for the year; Stacey at Jumping Percheron has repeatedly blogged about it.

    What a great weekend! Griffin is a rockstar. Looking forward to the dressage recap! :D

    Re: seeing a distance. For me back in the day, that didn't "just happen", and it will help him as a greenie if you are able to see the distance because you can actively guide him. :) Stadium jumps at shows can be as scary or more than cross country jumps sometimes, so the first few times at shows he might be balky too. It's good to be able to see the distance yourself because it will give you so much more confidence. I had to consciously work on it to develop my eye. My favorite exercise was counting strides down to the fences. Just count initially from 1-whatever until you get to the fence. Then start trying to see if you can guess how long it's going to take you to get there: for example, start counting down from what you think are 6 strides out "6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1." Once you're nailing that, play around with it: see if you can compress or extend his stride to fit the number of strides you *want* him to take to a jump from x point or between fences in a line. It will help you start seeing those distances in no time! :D

    1. Yep! Trailer aid came WITH my trailer - bonus purchase! I just hadn't put it in the borrowed trailer. D'oh!

      And yeah! I'm glad to hear that count down exercise works. I read about that from the DOC clinic Emma wrote about and have been practicing it some. Will have to more! We've played with extension and compression on the flat, but haven't added jumps yet. Another to do =)

    2. i love counting - LOVE it! would recommend to count UP not count down tho. might seem like a small distinction, but sometimes counting down can have the adverse effect of making you fuss with the canter bc you thought it would be 6 but now it's looking like 5 and you start changing stuff up. if you count UP instead (ie, 1, 2, 3) it kinda doesn't really matter where you start but can still help you refine your eye. i will also just go 'one, two, one, two, one, two' as i cruise around until i'm closer to the fence and will just keep counting up. really whatever works for you works tho!

  7. Sounds like a really fun adventure - minus the whole tire thing.

  8. My god- that weekend was epic. Griffin is a wonderful equine citizen. Worth his weight in carrots.

    1. Very much worth his weight in carrots. But we won't tell him that or he will expect to receive them immediately 😉

  9. So fun! I'm so jealous of how green and pretty it is there. And jealous that you got to go XC schooling. Not jealous of that tire though; that's a nightmare of mine.

    1. It's been a super lush summer...mild, too, where I live. And yeah, tire situation definitely wasn't fun!

  10. You guys are kill'n it! I'm so happy and impressed Griff did so well. Sometimes it's hard to predict these things, but in your own words, "you put in the work!"

    And I would like to be bored with more polo photos plz. Austin and I are planning on going to a match (that's Star Wars themed) in September!

  11. Ooohhh Star Wars polo sounds so fun!