We Are Tough Mudders

When I attended a course design seminar, I won’t forget a nugget of wisdom from John Williams: “Cross-country is not just the jumps.” When weather changes things, you often say to yourself, “oh no, this is not ideal,” and let doubts start to creep into your plans.

But part of life as horse people means we all have different experiences on horseback. And I am glad that I grew up galloping a pony bareback up and down logging roads near my childhood home in the Pacific Northwest, and that I found a way to spend time rounding up mustangs in the forested mountains of Idaho for the federal government, and spent time foxhunting on Maryland’s soggy and cold Eastern shore in the winter.

These experiences come around to help you toss out those creeping negative thoughts, and tell yourself, “Heck, yah, my horse can do that.” And it’s not really your horse, it’s you — you know you can rely on your balance and leg and hand to keep your horse up in his wither and available should he need you when the footing gets soupy.

And often, it’s not all the same soup — this last weekend’s event had a range of footing, from ankle deep slime in the soft grass dressage rings, to the resilient softness of a prepared show jumping ring, to the real variation I found on my novice cross-country course. And this is what happens. The takeoffs were improved with some gravel and packing and the landings were a bit torn up (due to having the recognized division run over the same jumps the day before). But the footing changed from hour to hour as the rain stopped and the sun came out and dried up the surface.

Even two hours after I walked the course and got ready to ride, the footing had changed a little. Nonetheless, I was immensely happy that I had gotten the Unicorn’s shoes drilled for studs, and you are darn right I studded for Novice. My repaired knee needed those studs, and it got them.

My horse did what many others did and what my friends told me their horses did. They jumped the first fence, galloped tentatively down to the second, landed and went, “hmmpf. Ok.” And decided that it wasn’t going to be too bad and off they went. Horses find the bottom of gummy footing like that if you don’t micro-manage and let them go a little.

I kind of trusted that Hamish could find his best footing and he did. After the bogey 4th fence, a red house going into the woods, was jumped really well, I felt him swell and gallop down the hill into the gulley. He barely registered the very small log out, and argued a bit with me as we took a long gallop toward the biggest fence on course, one that had everyone biting their nails, a rather imposing square box with a drop on landing.

The previous day’s action and rain had cut up the approach and takeoff on this jump, making it ride closer to 2 inches higher than it properly measured. I walked it and checked both sides — it looked like the left side had less of a drop and less chewed take-off so I opted to try and be some kind of smarty and let him break the rules and jump it off to the left side.

This worked and he popped it generously. Last week I had time to remember to breathe on some open gallop spaces but this week there wasn’t much room to breathe between things; and there were more hills. We’re both still out of shape, and I timed myself a little — knowing the recognized used 5:11 for optimum time. So while we were clean we weren’t very fast — if I had ridden the recognized (the starter is untimed) we might have had time faults.

We had TWO waters to cross, which is awesomeness in itself for Novice Starter I think, and both waters he jumped right in. He is starting to look and notice that water means stuff — he pricks his ears heading into water now — and I am trusting it’s not a spook but coming to attention, and thing that is so cool because he’s learning stuff I’m teaching him.

He took another flying leap off the bank, and we had to do the big bank down too — I get the feeling he is panicking slightly at these and I need to school them so he doesn’t get too enthusiastic — soon there may be something AFTER a bank down to jump and if he’s always overleaping the landing we may chest something, so that’s a thing to fix.

Over the last. Photo by Beth Rice

I can’t get too crazy about finishing 2nd. It’s a facility both of us have ridden around several times and he knows the lay of the land. We’re still not very fit and he and I are still making mistakes. But life is darn good when you can say the mud made no difference and your phases were all satisfactory.

That’s all for now — our next outing won’t be until June, so it is time to school and try to improve a few areas and get to work on the other horse, who has to get back into work from an injury late winter.

Many thanks to all my friends who are following the Comeback Blog on EN and thanks for taking pictures and letting me use them (and learn from them.) I owe everyone about a million photos!

If you like to see it, here’s the course we rode.