The Morning After

Photo by Lisa Samoylenko. Donna Bottner, Hamish and I all watching video of XC. Photo by Lisa Samoylenko. Donna Bottner, Hamish and I all watching video of XC.

Yes, there is an eventing hangover. You get it from being on social media too much, watching your videos from friends over and over again, and re-riding your cross country course in your head driving all the way home and laying in bed trying to fall asleep. You wake up with a sore back, tired, and how that knee feels isn’t going to make the day wonderful, but there’s a blue ribbon on the desk from yesterday and that’s all I’m going to think about!

Photo by Lisa Samoylenko. Donna Bottner, Hamish and I all watching video of cross country.

It’s Monday and I am still walking about trying to wake up and remember where I am, but I’ve got a dressage test with 8s on it to remind me where I was yesterday — that was at a recognized horse trial — and what happened — Hamish won. What a great day. You don’t realize until it’s in the rearview mirror how great that dressage test was, how fun cross country was, and how you pulled off a clear round in show jumping. It sinks in slowly.

It’s still good to remember that while it was fun and we did great, I had some mistakes, and a good, well trained horse jumped me out of them. My mistakes were still the same sort of old mistakes I have been making so I need to try very hard to break habits. Creating new, better habits!

I’m not going to take you through the blow-by-blow. I’d rather talk about the things at an event that don’t always go right, and what I notice that I do to sort of not worry about them.

Dressage: When you are late to warm up to dressage, just flow with it; make a few transitions, run through the gaits, bend right and left. Eventing tests are simple and short. If someone cuts you off in the warmup use it as an excuse to make a transition. Don’t let them rattle you. Transitions come up quickly in eventing dressage tests so it’s never wrong to make a bundle of them as you warmup, and a busy warmup area is a good thing, it makes you pay attention and ride better.  I like a busy warmup. It is good for practicing focus.

Cross Country: If something isn’t perfectly perfect on cross country don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Shorten your reins, turn your toes out, (so your spur can make contact), and go forward.  (That’s a Jack LeGoff-ism, by the way). It’s cross country. It’s not for those who love riding in the arena and being perfectly posed. It’s for those who love the gallop and the wind and the bugs in your teeth. Get on with it. Who cares what it looks like. Plenty of times, people have won ribbons with one stop, so gather your wits and carry on.

Don’t get too picky. Sometimes just clunking over it is fine. Be present, ride smart, and even a horse that’s never schooled a course before will get it if you trust them. I think this is overlooked. You can make mistakes on a horse and still expect them to get the job done. It may be oversimplifying the concept of riding cross country, but even at the lowest levels (and I would think especially at the lower levels) one should expect an event horse to be bold about jumping anything you point them at. Ride them like they’ll go, not like they won’t go.

One thing I have learned about cross country is that even a horse you really think you know may surprise you, both in good and bad ways. Hamish really LOOKED at the road crossing with the cornstalks, and he really looked at a yellow table with bright flowers, both of which I have at home in my ring and jump regularly. And when we were at the start box, getting our countdown, he pooped. I was so proud of him … to me, it was a sign he knew he was going cross country — I almost cried I was so happy and couldn’t punch my watch until five seconds before instead of 10, I was so excited over the timing of the poop. (Do you see why us amateurs make trainers crazy?)

When the schedule is different from what you are normally expecting, roll with it. I have a friend who makes up her own off-track Thoroughbreds and has two now she’s brought up the levels to Preliminary and beyond. She said the same thing I thought — that finding out how your horse is to show jump after XC is pretty good to know. It would be better to know that at a horse trial than at a very big three day event that took months to get to. Don’t let learning opportunities escape you at horse trials, there are lots of them.

Show jumping: You can miss distances without too much pain if you have a good pace, a good jumping horse, and good instruction that provides you with tools in your toolbox. Although the tools are different with each horse, having them in your mental kit and being able to use them is very positive.

Having someone who helps you when it’s not coming together in the warmup it very comforting, but we each have to ride our own horses, and we have to establish the tools, practice using them, and then take them in the ring with us to use (without reminders). In the ring, if the habit of creating the correct canter is ingrained, then you get to feel the joy of having a clean round even if you miss at an oxer or two … or three … It’s only about two minutes and eight or nine speed bumps. We can do better and we need to practice show jumping more. I had only one jumping lesson prior to this horse trial and could have used three more lessons. It’s not enough to jump once a week!

So, after a pretty good dressage (well, the lowest of the event, undeniable brag there), a good cross country (with some mistakes), and a good show jump round (with some mistakes) we got to see our name at the top of the list and came home with a blue ribbon and loot. Yes, it is great and yes, it is fun to win; that never gets old. But I know that there are metrics for performance I’d like to meet, and I still need to fix things and work on stuff. No one can ride for me. It’s my task to be as good as I can be as a rider for my horse. I get one moment to gloat, feed apples to Hamish, and bask in glory here and that’s it — on with the work. Thanks — everyone!

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