Usually, I am a good blogger, and I take wonderful pictures of all the XC jumps during my course walk. However, since this weekend was SO BUSY for my trainer, our course walk was more efficient than leisurely. I didn’t want to hold up the group by taking pictures of everything. Also unfortunately, I didn’t get to check the angle of my helmet cam before my run, so it is a bit high. (And wobbly… how does anyone keep these things steady on a skull cap?)
Anyway, by the time we walked the BN course, I had already walked the Prelim and the Novice course. Course walks are one of my favorite parts of horse trials, and I find you can REALLY expand your education by walking multiple courses with professionals and listening to the kinds of questions other riders ask. This also meant that I was exhausted, but whatever.
This course was completely different than what I expected from IEA. Given the way the year had gone, I was expecting a fairly straight forward course with lots of opportunities to regroup and ensure you hit every jump from a good line and balance. This was… not really the case.
As life turns out, IEA got a new course designer this year, and he had built the XC to be the last prep before AECs (when AECs were still going to be a thing). Jokes on us! As I spoke to other BN riders, we all seemed to have the same thoughts about the course. It was going to force us to ride a bit haha. The course pushed straight out the main field of the XC course, finishing with a bank up, then looped back through the woods to the water. The straight shot at the beginning meant a lot of people were on fairly strong horses by the time they got to the woods (myself included).
The first jump forced you to come out of the start-box and make a 90 degree turn to it, but it was a fairly solid and inviting stacked logged jump. Actually, it was super similar to the jumps we had done at our last XC schooling, so I was confident with that. May, being May, left the startbox in a cloud of blonde hair and sass and had no issues popping over the fence and promptly taking off with me.
You then had a sharp right turn followed by a long approach to jump 2, a hanging log. The light hay under the hanging log gave the horses a good ground line, but did force you to make sure that you kept the horse from peaking down right at take off. I had to convince May that she needed to actually look at this fence at all though, and we flew over it.
We then had a fairly straight shot to jump 3. At this point, May was hunting flags. She already saw fence 3 by the time we were a few strides past fence 2, and she locked onto it without a care. I half halted and rocked her back… and she took that as 100% an opportunity to leave the ground. Not my proudest moment.
Next came the first real question… and I was on a fairly strong horse. Wonderful. We had a short approach to jump 4 and then three strides to jump 5. Sorry for the bad helmet cam pic, but you can see the bushes to the left.
I wanted to make sure I had May off my left leg coming to it, but I didn’t really support the straight as much as I needed to here. I don’t think May really thought we were jumping fence 5 until we were taking off over fence 4. She dove right a bit, and I had to really use my right leg and an opening left reign to correct so that we could get the 3 strides and jump out clean.
I kicked on though and May got the three strides and jumped out of the combination beautifully. (technically, they were numbered separately, but I have no idea how anyone would be able to circle between them.)
Jump 6 was a bench with a bunch of straw in it. Again, this jump was about the same size as the Novice jump but was pushed up right against the tree. Either way, it rode great.
We then had our first little break on course. I knew jump 7 was a fairly straightforward feeder fence, so I took some time to reestablish May’s suppleness, make sure she got a breath (she didn’t need it), and I took some deep breaths myself. Sometimes the adrenaline of XC gets to me, so I always try to find a spot to pause and breathe. So I put my pony into an easy cruise control, stood up in my stirrups, took some deep breaths, and then geared up for the rest of the course.
May must have agreed with my assessment of Jump 7 because it was her most lackluster jump of the entire weekend.
Jump 8 was a good sized up-bank. My only concern here was that it was into the woods, so there was a lot of light play, and it was on some fairly rocky/gravelly ground. I was afraid that May, being barefoot, might back off under the conditions, so I gave her plenty of time to give it a look. Luckily, she didn’t care, and we popped over it easily.
Right after 8, you were supposed to make a tight turn to 9 along the edge of the wood. They had actually cut the woods back a bit to give you an approach. However, given that I knew we were up on time, I decided to circle left, check my brakes, and make sure I got a good right lead canter before coming to jump 9. (Instead of jumping up the bank, swinging left and then pulling right). No good pictures here, but you can see the approach to 9 below. It was tucked right behind the table jump behind the flags at 8.
So now the course was heading back towards home, and didn’t my little mare know it. Jump 10 was a fairly long haul through the woods, and there really wasn’t anywhere to get a good bend and supple her body. Then she saw jump 10, basically a speed bump, and well… decided my half halts were dumb. But I sat back and closed my leg and seat, and she did come back to me to pop nicely over 10.
We just had a bit of time to jump 9. But Jump 9 was another somewhat tight turn. This time though, the jump was right as you entered the big field. From there, you could see warm up and everything, but you also were pointing at a jump that as mostly in the shade. Despite being a smaller jump, this got a few horses. That right exit is just so inviting. But I counter bent May to it to make sure that right shoulder was contained, and she jumped it like a lady.
I kept the softer pace through jump 11, which was just a little cabin along the woods. I wanted to give May time to see the jumps in the shade, as well as the water to the right of us. These jumps were also a bit smaller and again, I knew I was up on time.
Unfortunately, May decided that Jump 13 was the perfect time to wake up again. And 5 strides out, she went to run at it. I am not sure if this was because it was headed directly towards the exit gate back to the barns or the warm up, or she simply saw a distance I did not see. This jump was also headed straight into a line of trees, so I think she thought to take the flyer and then changed her mind? Either way, we disagreed down to this one and had a VERY awkward jump over it. You can hear my deep, disappointed sigh at myself for that one in my helmet cam.
The only thought in my head? DO NOT do that to jump 14. We had to make a right turn, away from warm-up and the exit, to jump fence 14m a rolltop that had a downhill landing and ended up being only 5 strides to the water. When walking the Novice course, I actually approached this roll top and backed up to see when exactly horses could see the water. The answer? About 2 strides out. Cool. Definitely one to SIT BACK to.
Luckily, I rode this one EONS better than the last one. I think the water and the slightly larger jump got May to back off just that TOUCH we needed at this point. Either way, she jumped it AMAZING. (below photos courtesy of Xpress Foto)
We splashed through the water, and I looked at my watch… and we were wayyy up on time still. Damn. After talking to some other riders, this was apparently the theme of the day. I don’t know if things were measured really generously or what, but it was a bit odd. I felt we were a bit fast at the offset, but we were fairly slow in the second half.
Oh well. I gave myself a circle. And May took a poop break. Then we picked it back up and popped over the last two fences. A nice contrasting table and a plain bench (that I somehow cut out of the helmet cam). May jumped both like a lady, and we finished double clear with a time of 4:29, still closer to the speed fault time of 4:14 than the optimum time of 4:53.
Was it a perfect course? No. It was probably the most challenging XC course May and I have ever done, but I was proud of the decisions I made. I felt I finished the course with a more confident AND more rideable horse than I started with, and with this sport, that really is the whole point. With XC over, all that was left to do was cool out my pony and await results!
Again, helmet cam below isn’t great… but I am including it because the audio is more hilarious than anything else.