Saturday, September 30, 2017

MDHT Fall Start #1: Cross Country (x2!)

And finally, everyone's favorite part about eventing, cross country! And, surprise, this time you're getting a double dose because we not only did our judged elementary round of XC, we also did an unjudged schooling round of XC at the beginner novice level!

Elementary XC

So, first up, the elementary course!


When I saw the course walk online and when I walked it with Emma, the only fence to give me slight pause was fence 8 because of the color and the cut outs. Grif hadn't seen anything like that before so I wondered how he would handle it. I'm bold enough, and I usually have a velcro butt, so I figured we'd get over it regardless, but it may not be the prettiest.

Other than this fence though, I had few concerns about the whole course. There were a few tight turns, but Griffin excels at those because we practice them all the time at home. I knew as long as I kept my wits about me, we'd probably be okay.

Following our stadium round I opted to do one more short warm-up exercise designed by Emma before heading over to XC. We trotted through the water, picked up the canter upon exit, made a sweeping right turn and cantered the log. Very smooth feeling and a nice note to end on mentally before heading to the next phase; I wouldn't encounter water on the elem. course, but it would be present on BN!

Heading over to the start area for elementary, we had to wait for the rider in front of us to clear the course (she had some [repeated] issues at fence 6). So, I walked Griffin in clockwise and counterclockwise circles while we waited. He wanted nothing more than to eat grass, but I really wanted him to focus on the fact that we were present for a purpose and it wasn't eating (sorry, buddy, this isn't endurance).

Finally, the volunteer at the start signaled I could go when ready and we headed off.

On the approach to the first fence, Griffin immediately lit up! I think I've got a true XC horse in this guy...


The first three fences, all on a slight uphill, went very smoothly.

As we landed from the third, Grif was on fire and I had to spend the rest of the course trying to convince him to settle and not gallop about like a mad man. One day that may be more acceptable, but right now we're still total n00bs at this and I'd like his brain to be present and not overly psyched.


Fences 4, 5, and 6, were all on a slight downhill. They didn't jump too badly, but it was a bit of a learning curve for me with my body balance in the saddle. Grif really didn't seem to care one bit, and I tried to do my best to stay out of his way and keep his very excited brain in his head. To my brain in that moment, we had a couple hairy-scary moments, but when I watch the video it doesn't look nearly so bad. My head was just in a very tentative place, I think.

Grif considered giving a healthy look at several of the fences, but I was please when he decided he'd processed all he needed to a stride or two before most of them. That's a big improvement on him being, as Austen has so aptly dubbed him, Mr. Stop-N-Sniff. Progress!!


Coming off fence 6, I really worked to sit Griffin down with a solid half-halt for the first really sharp turn on course that wound us back toward fence 7. I felt one foot slip slightly, but Grif was completely unbothered and powered forward. He locked onto 7 easily and it jumped fine.


We had another tight bending line from 7 to 8; learning from our former tight turn, Grif and I both handled this better. Grif did indeed give a bigger look to fence 8 than any other jump on course, but we got over it with more class than I thought we may.


Fences 8 through 10 were all on a slight downhill and each one of them was progressively uglier from a riding standpoint. (I absolutely need to work on downhill jumps more at home. I know it isn't rocket science but merely me needing to practice the skill.) Griffin was very forward and game, locking onto each jump as we approached the finish flags. I got more air time than I wanted after fence 9 and even more after fence 10, nearly falling off! I remember thinking to myself as my body fought for balance, "Do NOT get eliminated because you fell off RIGHT before the finish flags! No, no, NO."

Fortunately, I was able to regain and maintain my balance, and pass through the flags for a double clear in the elementary division again! Yes! Many pony pats were given.

I was laughing at myself as we left the course as I thought about my totally crap riding. While I was shaking my head as I replayed things in my mind, the photographer called over, "I have to say, your horse is really beautiful!"

Still laughing at myself, I smiled in return, "Thank you! This is only our second event and I'm definitely having an "off" day for riding. I bet you got some spectacular shots of me flopping around on those last downhill jumps as my riding was rather..." I paused, scrunching my face a bit to try to find a PC word to describe my shotty riding, "...special," I finished, to which the photographer had a good guffaw. I laughed, too, waved in passing, and headed toward Emma to discuss strategy for BN.

Beginner Novice XC

When the course map for BN was posted online, I had reservations about a few of the fences, but largely felt very comfortable with the course. I felt confident that Griffin would be okay with 90% of the fences.


My confidence about the course increased after Emma and I walked it as she pointed out nuances only an experienced eye could see. I nodded with each observation and felt pretty good about every single fence except the cordwood one. Despite Emma assuring that most horses took these well, I just had a bad gut feeling about it. The light/dark contrast of the front of the jump was exactly the kind of thing I have come to expect Q, and sometimes Griffin, to balk at. I guess I have a bit of PTSD over that kind of thing after riding many spooks/hitting the ground.

Meeting back up with Emma after my elementary course, I made the decision to absolutely warm up over some BN fences as opposed to using elementaryh as warm up. I was feeling uncharacteristically nervous about jumping after my shotty riding during stadium and elementary XC.

Of the fences I worked over for BN warmup, only one really felt good to me.

Reviewing the videos, none were really as bad as my head made them out to be; I was just very stuck in my own headspace and needed desperately to get myself back on track. My mind was getting in my way because I was hesitating in my reactions as we jumped. This is a fault of mine in all sports I do -  I worry, I hesitate, I make errors.

The schedule was running very far ahead at this point. They were ready for me whenever I could get my shit together. I took my feet out of my stirrups, took a deep breath, looked at Emma with consternation and said, "I need a minute. It's not a horse thing, it's a me thing."

Emma smiled back with empathy and proceeded to give me one of her infamous morale-boosting speeches while I sat forcing myself to breathe and focus on reality and not my illogical, manic mind.

The combination of my stubborn determination, breathing, and Emma's speech put me in such a place that I decided I was ready to go to the starting box.

Upon reaching the starting box, still a bit nervous, I was greeted by the most enthusiastic and happy volunteer. His positivity about the day was just what I needed to rally me and make me excited to get out there and Do The Thing.

Emma called last minute encouragement as the volunteer counted me down, "...3, 2, 1, have a great time!"

And I was off on my first BN XC course!

The distance from the start box to the first fence was short, but fortunately I was able to get Grif up and into a good, albeit slow, canter rhythm. We soared over the first jump and it felt great! Just what I needed mentally.

As we cantered away from that first fence, I allowed myself a big smile and a moment of oh-my-goodness-we're-finally-pursuing-this-goal-I-set-ages-ago amazement/gratitude. I set a goal of riding BN, knowing XC was going to be our weakest link in accomplishing that, at the beginning of the year. It was so surreal to be pursuing it finally!

I reined my wandering thoughts back in time to tackle the second fence, which felt just as great as the first. From there, it was onward to the third fence, a tootsie roll, preceded by water.

During the course walk, Emma recommended schooling this fence by planning to circle through the water the first time and approach the jump on the second go, ideally picking up our canter in the water. I executed this...kind of. We trotted through the water on the first entry, and Grif was immediately looking forward and locking onto the jump. I confused him a little when we circled, but ever accustomed to me switching gears on him, he went along with the new plan. Re-entering the water, Griffin wasn't super onboard with wanting to canter, but he did look up toward the jump again, so we just went for it. Our approach was very blasé, but the jump was nothing impressive and Grif popped over it like it was nothing and powered off toward the woods.

We powered into the woods to fence 4, a darkly stained pheasant feeder that had been in full shade upon the course walk but was perfectly half lit/half shaded now. Too familiar with how Q has reacted to such contrast in the past, I put my leg ON and let Griffin's enthusiasm for galloping and jumping carry us forward and over. It felt great!


As we approached fence 5, the cordwood, I gave Grif a couple half halts to balance him through the sweeping turn and approach. As we approached, I kept my leg firmly on, my eyes up, and used my voice and whip to encourage him. I felt surprisingly confident that we'd conquer this with no issue!

Despite this, he came to a SCREECHING halt in front of the jump, eyes bugging, nostrils flared, blowing air in dismay.


Fortunately, my defensive position with a deep, downward heel and forward leg saved my ass, and I barely lurched forward. In a fraction of time, I checked in mentally with myself wondering if I had relayed my earlier hesitations about this jump to Griffin, thus causing the refusal, but felt very confident that no, I had not displayed that feeling to him. The previous fences had all gone so well that my feelings of concern/hesitation were very much behind me other than briefly registering and accepting that I'd had the thought. In the past, if I'm hesitant, my position tends to suffer and my hindsight notes how many things could have gone better to improve; my hindsight registered nothing this time.

As I comforted a snorting Griffin and tried to encourage him to step forward and sniff the jump, I acknowledged the jump judge and noted, "This is our first time through BN and we are just schooling it. I will be skipping this jump once he sniffs it." She made a rude face and scoffed something under her breath, but I'd already mentally dismissed her. Her judgement didn't matter in this moment, what mattered was Griffin having a good experience.

Sure, I bet if I'd approached the jump another time or two he absolutely would have jumped it, but historically when we have moments like this at home, he will over jump in a dramatic way, toss me slightly off balance, and then power forward. With my mental state and questionable riding on this day, I really didn't see how that experience would help us at all. We had 8 more fences to experience and I didn't want Griffin to feel stressed about anything.

Hesitantly, he finally reached a nose toward the jump and gave a shuddering exhale/sigh. I praised him and we trotted forward to fence 6.


As we approached, I processed the jump and landing. I didn't think Grif would care about the jump, but the landing was slightly downhill immediately followed by a steeper downhill. My riding of such terrain had already been questionable at best, so I called to this jump judge knowing she'd seen the fence 5 situation, "Hi, we're just schooling so I don't know if we're going to jump this fence or not." She was an older woman with a tough appearance who appeared as if she'd seen her fair share of horses, courses, and riding through the years and she replied, as Griffin walked nonchalantly to the fence and touched it with his nose, "Oh come on, just keep your eyes up and you can do this."

A bit surprised by this gruff stranger, and pleased with Grif's completely unbothered reaction to the fence, I turned him around, trotted away, turned again, picked up the canter, and jumped the damn thing.

Thanks, abrupt, blunt lady! That was EXACTLY what I needed in that moment.

Approaching the steep downhill, I transitioned a now excited Griffin into a trot, transitioning back to a canter as we approached the bottom.

Heading up the hill toward the fence 7 option of swoop brush or a ditch (ditch, duh), Griffin squealed with delight at being allowed to gallop up the hill and rocketed forward. (At home he often bucks going uphill so I usually hold him back.)


I wasn't overly concerned about the ditch, but didn't know how Grif would handle it. We do have a faux-ditch we practice at home, but when we practiced a real one in July, he was awful balky about it in the beginning. Today, he decided it was a total non-event, powered across, and on we went to fence 8, an easy log we'd jumped during Twilight a week prior.


Griffin was on fire by this point and I spent much of my time between fences 9 through 11 sitting hard, half halting often, and trying to bring him back to me.

The planter log at 9 was NBD, he executed the bank at 10 like a boss, and was growing awfully annoyed with my persistent requests to slow down by the log at fence 11.

As we approached our penultimate jump, we had quite a downhill.


The footing was perfect, but I still asked Griffin to trot the majority of the downhill before letting him pick up the canter a few strides out.

At Rolex, I LOVED the boat complex near the end of the course and declared to Austen et al. that I would absolutely try to tackle it given the chance. I don't know why, I just knew I liked it. So now, presented with a boat of my own, I was so inwardly pleased at the prospect of jumping it!

I didn't know what Griffin would think about the jump, but he really didn't seem bothered on approach and rocketed over it. I finally jumped a boat! I may or may not have squealed at this point.

The final jump, a purple and green produce stand, was upon us! As Emma discussed with me, it had a slight uphill approach which meant I need to focus on not pulling and he should have no issue.

I felt Griffin sucking back a bit as he looked at the jump upon approach, but I verbally encouraged him to GO GO GO and he launched over it like a boss!


And just like that, with one jump skipped, we'd completed our first BN XC course! Eeee!


Skipping that cordwood jump was absolutely the right decision on this day; why push things? It was just a schooling round after all. Griffin was confirmed in knowing he'd done a great job and hadn't had a bad experience and that has been the first objective each outing. However, you can bet that I'll be prioritizing the construction of a cordwood jump of our own with some firewood at home!

Second place finish in the elementary division!

Overall, it was  such a phenomenal day. Grif was a total star and while my head got in the way a bit, but we moved forward despite and I am happy to know that the issues we had on this day weren't horse problems so much as rider problems. I can think through an analyze my own issues much more quickly than Grif's!

Endless millions of thank yous to Emma for being there for us all day; your guidance is so appreciated and helpful for Grif and I! It's so intimidating coming from 'podunk' West Virginia where I do all of the training myself; jumping into this big world of eventing is daunting and you have really helped ground me and make me feel like it truly is possible at each event so far! And thank you again to Austen for being there throughout this journey, too! Y'all are the best <3


This blog world is awesome for support and hopefully I'll be able to meet more of the eastern eventing contingent in the next year or so as Grif and I continue our foray into this sport. It's safe to say we're hooked. And I'm pretty sure I have a solid eventing partner in Griffin to pursue this endeavor with. I never would have dreamed that the ugly long yearling that entered my life in winter of 2012 would turn into this horse, but I'm so, so thankful he has and that he loves this job so much!


  1. Wow! Way to go! I loved the recap :)

  2. Sounds like a wonderful day! Good for you! You guys look great! :-)

    1. So wonderful and so fun despite my mental setbacks.

  3. I am SO HAPPY FOR YOU!!! Your determination and dedication to forging forward with Grif despite such a lack of local resources is seriously inspiring - I'm actually not totally convinced that you realize what an AWESOME job you have done with that horse! Congrats again on such a fantastic first shot at BN - and esp in proving that you've totally got this level within reach. Hope to see more of y'all this season!!!! :D

    1. You're right, a lot of times I really don't realize how awesome he's turned out. It's just so crazy my brain can't even grasp it sometimes, I guess! I'm having so much fun though. What a fun sport!

  4. How cool that you could go out and do both. Congrats on two great rounds. Smart thinking on your part to skip the cordwood fence no matter what the snotty judge had to say. Sheesh.

    1. It was so cool to go out and do both. Part of me wants to do that exact thing again in November....we shall see!

  5. That's so cool that you got to do both courses. Skipping the jump sounds like the right call and you guys look great over the rest of the course. What a happy pony!

  6. Honestly, I felt like I was riding this with you! I giggled at 'Mr. Stop and Sniff'. That's an awesome title. :D
    You should be proud- you handled all the components like a pro. I love how you work with Griffen and let him figure things out. How did you finish up overall?

    1. Oh man, see, even slowly writing and planning these posts I forgot stuff thanks to my stress-addled-work-brain! Hahaha.....

      We finished on our dressage score and that was enough for 2nd place! Post has been updated to reflect this!

  7. What a good pony!

    I agree that the downhill jumps are the hardest.

  8. Well done! You should be very proud of yourself :) (and your awesome steed too!)

  9. wow read all three posts and wow i am so pleased for you and your boy and you did great throughout it all!! WHEW I dont know if i could do two cross country let alone a BN but look at you go!! I still want to get to Loch Moy one day. Maybe if you go in November I can come watch!! I may have allergies or something cause my eyes welled up a bit reading. No.....not me :) LOL Amazing recap! Thank you for sharing!!