Side-by-Side (with Analysis!): Two Different Prelim Rides at SRF Carolina International

Michael Willham is an Intermediate/3* eventer based out of Ohio with his two competition horses, Fernhill Cayenne and Fernhill Fugitive. Michael recently spent two weeks in the Carolinas to train and stretch his horses’ legs at their first competition of the season: the Setters’ Run Farm Carolina International. You can catch up on all of EN’s coverage from SRF Carolina International here.

I am always grateful that my “vacation” each year is actually spent down in Aiken with my horses to get out of the cold, frozen Northwest Ohio. I train and then end my two-week vacation with our first competition of the year to knock the rust off after spending months in an indoor arena. I always drop down to Prelim because both myself and my horses are excited, but also a little rusty in terms of galloping and being fluid on cross country.

I did something a little different with my helmet cam videos for this competition: I spliced them together so you could see how each horse handled the questions as well as their respective speeds at various parts of the course. I also narrated the helmet cam to describe the course, what my thought process was for each jump, and how I felt it actually went.

The Prelim was actually quite straightforward. It was pretty much a “move up” course in my opinion, which I used as an opportunity to work on developing my ability to ride faster and (attempt to) make time, which still didn’t quite happen! But since I knew the jumps and combinations were super simple for what both of my horses have already done, I thought it was the perfect chance to challenge myself with speed instead of the technicality of the course.

My plans were a little foiled by Jack (Fernhill Fugitive) being so excited in the startbox that he shut down and couldn’t function for a few seconds right as we were counted out of the start, as well as him being a bit of a fire-breathing dragon (which is typical for him for the first competition of the year — he LIVES for cross country) as it is. This meant I didn’t have the control/brakes and fluidity that I would’ve liked to have.

There were quite a few times where I fought too much wasting precious seconds, as well as ending up killing the engine and adding too many strides. But he was still great and dealt with it. That is still very much a learning curve for me riding him; he’s so enthusiastic about jumping that I get a little backwards in my riding instead of trusting him more!

I typically don’t run Cayenne for time. I’ve spent years just getting experience of jumping around Intermediate+ with him for the knowledge of it, but I felt it was a good course to push him a little, too. I felt his round was quite a bit more fluid, but that is typical both because of his personality/rideability as well as the fact that I’ve had him for much longer (eight seasons versus just two on Jack). However, he did surprise me by jumping the snot out of most of the fences, sometimes even launching me a bit out of my position (keep an eye out for that Normandy Bank on the video!).

An interesting note here is that because both horses have a lot of experience jumping around bigger tracks (Jack ran around several 5* events with Phillip Dutton and Cayenne has done many Intermediates and part of an Advanced cross country — still working on that!), they both did not respect the jumps whatsoever. As a result, I had to (attempt to) hold them off the base much more than I typically do, which was not always successful. But at the end of the day, for safety’s sake, horses also need to learn to be responsible for their own jump and both are more than athletic enough to get themselves out of the situation they put themselves into.

Overall, it was a great start to the year. Jack surprised me by finally breaking through in our struggles in dressage and laying down a 23.0 to lead the 23-horse division, which Cay did the same and finally got back into the 20s with a 27.3, which has been much deserved. They both showjumped double clear; Jack kept his lead and Cay moved up to seventh. My bit of rustiness on cross country meant Jack came home with 12 seconds of time, bumping him down to third, and Cayenne came home with 17 seconds to move down to 15th.

Regardless of their placing, I was super happy with their individual performances all weekend. It was exactly what we’ve been looking for: relaxed, energetic, dressage tests, double clear show jumping rounds, and a good learning experience on running for time on cross country.

I hope you enjoy the video and can obtain some insights from it as well. I am in the process of compiling a library of videos, PDFs, interviews, lessons, and many more educational tools and knowledge into an Equestrian Masterclass. You can sign up for the free Pre-Launch email list here.

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