Sometimes They’re Donkeys, and Sometimes They’re Jacka$$es

This is what happened when we met the neighbor’s donkey, Lugnut. Note Kissa hanging back; this will become relevant. Photo by Kate Rakowski.

This is a story about how I thought we had been making progress but then my horse gave me a big ol’ smackdown. I’ve written a few blogs but haven’t published any since they were all so boring. 

Since we moved to Virginia, Kissa has been doing super well. I don’t know if it’s the climate, the more consistent work, the greater availability of places to go school or what, but she’s been great.

She finally figured out how to move her ribcage to step up under herself a little in dressage and our scores have improved by about six points. She’s been jumping around stadium courses, even ones with walls and pillars and stadium seating nearby without being spooky. She’s schooled about six cross country courses including some challenging combinations, like a few different Training logs into water, some Modified banks, ditches and combinations, a pretty hefty wedge, some steep terrain questions and all kinds of ups and downs and tracks through water. She’s had a few confused, poor-riding stops here and there but basically has gone and done all these jobs with no drama and some eagerness. 

Video: proving at the Sharon White clinic that we practiced going away from our friends and jumping around happily. Video credit to the mom of the other woman in the clinic with us. I cannot remember either of their names but thanks to her!

In late September we went to the Virginia Horse Park for Saturday schooling and a Sunday starter trial. The behavior in the barn with her friend of lifetime, my mom’s horse Puff, was completely atrocious but the good news was that she went and did her job. She was a nut to start dressage warmup and we had to stage manage the whole day with one of us in the stalls and one in the trailer, but she did her job and jumped around and was 4th place in a quite large Beginner Novice division. Side note, it is not possible for her to canter at 300 MPM — we were 20 seconds early at the slowest canter we could do while still maintaining forward motion.

Then we did a Sharon White clinic (see notes above about schooling Modified questions with ease) and two starter trials at Loch Moy, one Beginner Novice and one Novice. She rocked the clinic and was second in the Beginner Novice trials later that week. The second Loch Moy cross country started out away from home with a long gallop past the trailers with nothing else to do between fences 1 and 2. She was pretty sticky at 2 and 3 but then remembered her job (and turned toward home) for fences 4-7. 8 and 9 were away from home again and she got a little sticky and had a stop at a little gate, got a smack and jumped right around the rest of the course. Not a terrible conclusion to her first Novice trials and I appreciated that she totally covered my a$$ when I totally, 100% missed at the last jump in stadium.

Doesn’t Beginner Novice stadium look easy and boring and like we should move up to Novice? Video credit: my mom, Emily Graeser.

And then there were donkeys. Or she forgot. Or she thinks she can’t do Novice even though she can school Modified. Or the eventing gods hate me. Or she heard me start to talk about making competition goals for the first time in her life. Or …Or… Or… I am a reasonably patient and persistent person and rider (as evidenced by the facts that I am still trying to event this horse and I taught middle school math for years) but the thing that defeats me more than anything is when I can’t figure out what is wrong. Why couldn’t we do it? 

We went to a new place for a last Novice starter trial to end our season — I thought the course would be soft, but when I walked it it was actually pretty bulky. However, it was super cute and fun with a bunch of different kinds of jumps and height has never been our issue, so I was looking forward to it. On the way to dressage warm-up, we saw the two miniature donkeys in the field between show jumping and dressage. She’s not a fan of donkeys; the ones next door in Ocala last winter induced some lovely passage. But she was only mildly distracted by them and broke into the 20s with her dressage.

Warmup and show jumping required a bit of strong riding to convince her that she could do her job even though the donkeys were there. The good news, and a change from what used to happen, is that when I got strong with her, she did go.

Not our prettiest stadium round but she went; note white paddock fence in the background where the evil creatures live. Video credit: my mom, Emily Graeser.

She walked over to the cross country start box (which was away from evil creatures) totally quietly. I practiced one gallop from a standstill like I’d do out of the box just to check that our aids were working and she did it fine. What follows is my Facebook post from that evening:

Fence 1-plain log: leave start box, canter 3 strides, prop, pop, attempt a whirl, slide to a stop, trot a few strides, get smacked twice, stop, circle, trot the jump

Fence 2-brush: drive forward like a steeplechaser with my spurs in her sides and a loud growl saying get going and do your job.

Fence 3-log hanging between giant spools: stop 8 strides out, get smacked, dance around, walk 2 strides closer, attempt to whirl away, circle back, stop 5 strides out, get smacked again, dance around, back up, stop, take a deep breath and look around and settle down, walk up to the jump and sniff it, circle back and trot it with me in the back seat, spurs in her sides and reins slipped

Fence 4-ramped table: stop 8 strides out look around for a minute or two, circle around and trot it

Fence 5-box: leap sideways and stop as you go through the tree line, stop and survey the world as soon as you enter the field, actual go trot toward the jump and break into canter to jump it- yay we jumped one.

Fences 6&7- fence line coop across the road into the tree line to a log: stop 3 strides out, circle around, trot the coop, skid to a stop upon landing, trot the log

Fences 8&9 – another fence line coop and fence line bench: stop upon entering the field each was in and survey the scene, trot the jump.

Fence 10 – hedge along the tree line: actually go forward and jump it which is funny since this is the only fence of a type she hadn’t ever seen.

Fence 11- fence line rails: stop 5 stride out to look into the field and spook at the fence judges, trot the jump

Fences 12&13- fence line coop across the road to rails: come down to trot but maintain forward motion and jump both; note the traffic backup that we’ve caused on the entry road – 5 cars waiting for us. 

Fences 14-18- roll top 2 stride, palisade on the tree line, ramp, log, boat/house thing: actually jump from a canter only being slightly spooky looking like you may have jumped a cross country fence once or twice in your life.

End the course in a white lather sweat with somewhere between 4 and 7 actual refusals and at least 4 other complete stop and stare moments — scores haven’t been posted online yet and for obvious reasons I didn’t wait for them to be posted at the show. I think I’m just out here making Bad Eventer feel better. 

The most frustrating part is that I don’t know why, therefore I don’t know how to go about fixing it. I am proud to say that I swear on my 30-years-of-being-in-a-hunter-two-point I did not get ahead of her once. I was in deep in my saddle with my legs around her the whole time. She was chill before going out on course. We had schooled the previous weekend at new place, and she jumped everything including much more challenging things than anything on this course. We can hack out alone pleasantly and quietly and ride away from others in a clinic to go jump. Why can’t my damn horse go around a cross country course? How do I train her to do it? I guess we’ll both have some time off through the holidays and then we’ll try again but that’s not really the way to end a season.