Those readers who remember my post back in April where I decided to give eventing a go must by now have despaired of my ever trying it, since I’ve just been blogging about showjumping, Western and dressage ever since. Fortunately, I haven’t. I’ve been keeping an eye on the eventing world and thinking that it looks more fun every time I see it, and when the opportunity to have cross-country lessons with an esteemed trainer nearby came up, I latched onto it.
That was how my longsuffering family found themselves once again being dragged off to a horse event, and they had to do their own dragging, with my dad towing the box (perfectly, as usual), Arwen doing the jumping, and my mom and sister doing everything else.
I prepared Arwen by doing some more outrides than normal during the two weeks before the time, with plenty of steady cantering to build her fitness (which is the best it’s ever been). On Saturday, we also popped over a few logs and went up and down some banks (banks down = SCARIEST EVER). She was nervous, but behaved fine and jumped everything I pointed her at, so I was feeling cautiously optimistic about our lesson. It was a 60cm lesson, which is the highest she’s jumped at outings, so I wasn’t quite sure – especially given her running out at our previous outing.
To add to my trepidation, Arwen didn’t load very well. She went up to the foot of the ramp and then politely declined to go any further. She didn’t rear or panic, just refused to go forward. The problem was solved when my sister stepped up behind her and clicked her tongue and Arwen marched right on. Still, I’d like her to self-load, so it’s something to work on. And last time she walked on with nobody behind her.
By the way, Arwen’s pet hate? Back travelling boots. She spends the first thirty seconds of wearing them making a spirited attempt to kick them off. Once she realises she can’t, she ignores their existence.
She travelled moderately well, with little shivering, but she was somewhat sweaty when I unloaded her at President’s Park (once we eventually found it). Several other horses were nearby getting ready, which meant that she was settled from the word go and stood by the box without so much as a whinny, although she was quite lively and alternated between trying to drag me around and eating. I wasn’t too worried, though; she looked excited, not anxious.
We gave her about ten minutes to chill while we found out where my instructor was and what was happening before I saddled her up, popped on her fluffy boots (praying that the water wouldn’t damage them) and set off. She walked and trotted obediently, on the bit, light in my hand and forward but not stupid. She was looking at everything, but most of her attention was on me. The environment didn’t seem to phase her in the least; she had one spook at a squirrel hole and another at the most gigantic and terrifying obstacle I have ever seen (a ditch with at least a 1.30m rail over it), for which I cannot blame her. She warmed up well in a quiet corner of the park and I cantered a few circles just to get the worst of the bucks out before everyone was watching. As usual, she threw me a buck or two, but I just ignored it as high spirits and she cut it out once she had the tickle out of her feet.
Then our lesson began and I followed the rest of my small group (two calm grey school horses, a pretty black horse and a green bay mare) and our instructor up to a showjumping arena to warm up. And suddenly I was riding calm, completely obedient dressage Arwen. We rode in a large circle around our instructor at a walk, trot, canter and gallop and even though she’s not used to riding in a group at all, Arwen’s focus was 100% on me.
I was a little wary when our instructor told us to go into a forward seat and lengthen the canter (green horse, new place, and galloping are seldom a good combination) but I had no reason to worry. Arwen lengthened her stride without changing one beat of rhythm or bend and drifted around on the circle at a good clip with no suggestion of misbehaving. I’ll admit it, I was very proud. We were asked to trot again and I sat down and got the trot immediately. She completely ignored the other horses, even though some were having a buck or two out of excitement.
Then the fun began. We set off all in a row, with one of the experienced greys leading, to jump a little log. I love logs; I’ve been jumping them on outrides since I was eleven, usually bareback and with limited control, so they don’t worry me too much. I was a bit worried that Arwen would refuse because it wasn’t a tiny log (over 50cm) but she followed the grey in front of us and popped over with no worries at all, although she did have a little buck afterwards. We repeated this in the group and then by ourselves, and the last time she didn’t buck at all.
Next, we were asked to jump a scary-looking upright made of a bunch of logs set at an angle. I’d never jumped anything like it before, and obviously neither had Arwen; it was also quite big – at the upper limit of our 60cm lesson. Once again, I barely had to kick her on. She followed the grey horse and popped over perfectly.
At this point I was starting to relax and realise that she wasn’t going to run out and by the time we’d jumped another couple of uprights I was starting to really enjoy myself. So was Arwen. I stopped worrying about running out; she flung herself with great enthusiasm at everything we jumped, and bucked (sometimes quite spectacularly) after most of the obstacles. This worried me a little and I asked our instructor why she was doing it; I suspected excitement, but the last thing I wanted was to give her a bad experience at her first cross-country schooling. And maybe she had back pain or something?
The instructor laughed. “She’s just having fun. If she had a sore back, she wouldn’t be making such a nice jump.” She also complimented Arwen, and seemed impressed with her jumping ability and enthusiasm.
I nearly popped with pride as we proceeded to jump many more logs (some very solid and ominous-looking), some more uprights, a log with rocks under it, a small sunken road, and a brush fence (brush fences are epic!). Arwen charged at everything with her ears up. She jumped pretty much in rhythm all of the time, never hesitated and never overjumped, although she was very careful with her knees, which I loved. She didn’t touch a single fence, either. Although the bucking did scare me once (I had a nice faceplant into her mane) I kept my stirrups and eventually realised that she wasn’t bucking maliciously, so I was staying on just fine. And after that we totally enjoyed ourselves.
We ended the lesson by going to play in the water complex. Before the lesson I had tried to get Arwen in and she had not been concentrating at all and refused, so I decided to have that battle later. We all approached the water in a row with the experienced grey leading again, but the green mare balked in front of us, hunched her back and reversed. Arwen pricked her ears sharply and humped her back, too, which is the Arwen version of saying “Bring it!” so I quickly extricated her from the situation and decided to try the water by ourselves. It was very shallow and clear with a firm bottom. Arwen put her nose down, sniffed it, stepped closer to sniff it again, and basically took herself in.
Once she’d gone in once, she was perfect. She liked the water, pawing it and threatening to roll. It took a few times trotting through it behind the experienced grey to get her to keep her rhythm and impulsion in the water, but she cottoned on quickly.
Next, we tried to trot through the water and then jump out over a log. Arwen ran out once, possibly because I was looking at the water and not the jump, and stopped the second time because she just didn’t have enough impulsion, but the third time I looked up and kicked on and she jumped perfectly. To round it off, we practiced trotting up a bank, then down it and into the water, which she did with no hesitation.
I was almost dismayed when the lesson was over and Arwen was still bucking enthusiastically after the jumps, just to tell us how much she was loving it and how she was not tired in the least. We could have kept going for another hour, we were having so much fun.
It’s always fun when your horse is enjoying itself. Even if it gets too fiery, pulls or bucks, it’s not as much of a problem as it would be if the horse was angry or reluctant. There are few things better than riding a good horse who’s having fun over awesome obstacles at speed, and that’s why I am now completely hooked on cross-country.
We do need to work on loading and travelling. None of her issues surrounding it are major, it’s just that she needs somebody behind her to get on and sweats while she’s travelling. She doesn’t kick the sides of the box or try to escape, though.
The other issue is the bucking after the jumping. I’d rather she bucked than bolted or refused to jump, but it is a bit of a pain and makes it hard to have the courage to sit forward and release properly over a jump. Over that height, and with a horse who picks her legs up nicely, it’s not an issue but it will be an issue if we decide to go any bigger than 60cm.
I think her problems will resolve themselves with more outings, though. For now, I just thank the Lord for our absolutely awesome day. My horse and I both enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, and only He could have made a world where a huge animal and a small person could charge across country together, communicating in silence, and loving it.