May I just say that eventing is AWESOME? Okay, so I’ll do whatever discipline suits the horse best… but I am SO glad that Arwen has taken to eventing. I love it!!
Yesterday morning, I was immediately glad of the bit of loading training we’d done. It was so much less stressful for everyone involved when I could just walk my horse right on and go. Somehow, I still managed to be late, and we whirled into President’s Park with five minutes to saddle up and go. (Sorry, parents!)
When I pulled Arwen off the box to find her dry, calm, and happy, I was so grateful I could have kissed the new box. Evidently, slant haul is more horse-friendly than straight load; or perhaps she just liked the extra space or God gave me another little miracle. Either way, it was such a relief to be able to throw on the tack and set off on a cool, calm and relaxed horse. (My parents and I saddled up like pros; Arwen stood still in a whirl of activity akin to a Formula One pit stop).
Luckily, my instructor was running a little late too, so I found and followed her in good time. As usual, she recognised me instantly, which is nice of her considering how many people she teaches. Arwen surveyed our group and picked out her targets – a pair of thoroughbreds and a warmblood – and made an evil face at them, so I kept her near the back with a (very beautiful) buckskin pony. Apparently, she only hates big fancy horses.
Like last time, we warmed up in the grass showjumping arena with a few big trot, canter and hand-gallop circles. Arwen was an absolute jewel despite our frantic entry; she really is turning into such a trustworthy little gem of a horse. I did have her in the Kimberwick for a little extra leverage on the long gallops, but I didn’t need it once in the warmup. She was soft as a feather in my hands and listened perfectly to my little half-halts. In the canter she was stunning – she had such a quiet rhythmic working canter going that I had to move out of the circle a few times to allow the more excited horses to go past. Still, when I went into light seat and asked for a bit more speed she lengthened her strides and sped up nicely. Offered to buck once, when the pony in front of her got a bit hyped up and she was worried about the terrain, but nothing serious.
Then we were off to do some jumping. I admire my instructor’s fitness almost as much as I admire her horsemanship – last time, she was on foot, and we were all trotting around that course trying to keep up. This time she had a pony so we just had to scramble to stick with her. It meant that we got to do a whole bunch of jumps. We started out over the same log that we’d started with next time, and she was as usual keen and brave but had a buck afterwards. I was waiting for it, so I just sat back and kept my hands firm and let her hit herself on the bit a little. She rethought the idea of bucking and was much calmer on the second try.
We popped over another log and then had a shot at a mini course; the log, then a long curve to our first cross-country oxer. I’m not fond of oxers because I tend to stare down into them, but this time I kept my eyes up and my legs on; she was a bit scared of it and wriggled a little, but as soon as she felt my determination she jumped – very carefully the first time, and with more confidence the second. Again tried a buck, but again hit herself on the bit and then decided against it.
Next, we attempted our first cross-country combination; a bigger log underneath a tree, then maybe five strides on a slightly bending line to a sort of log stack upright. (I didn’t count the strides, but we did get the distance right, so whatever!) She ran out at the big log, but that was mostly my fault. It was in the shade and hard to see even for my human eyes; Arwen didn’t know it was there until she was on top of it, and then she kind of hopped over with one leg and ran out with the other three. The next time she knew it was there and I kept my right rein up so she went straight over and charged over the next jump without a moment’s hesitation. Silly little rider error, but at least I know not to make it again.
We rode down to a water complex she hadn’t seen before; I was holding her back from the group to avoid overexcitement, which in hindsight was a mistake at the water. She refused to go in, but when one of the other riders trotted around in front of us again, she followed the other horse straight in and had no reservations about it afterwards. That done, we headed back up over a little bridge (she said it was scary, but marched on regardless) to try another mini-course. It was a pole over some rocks to another log stack to a log lying next to a tree, all on a long bending line. Some of the horses had second thoughts about the rock-logs-thing, but Arwen just charged at it like:
so I basically hung on tight, weathered a weird moment of bucking and running, and steered her over everything. Our instructor said that she was very good, much better than last time, but I need to push her speed a bit and get her to jump across the jumps instead of up and down over them. Speed is not Arwen’s strong point, and when we’re up against warmbloods and thoroughbreds it’ll be her greatest weakness. Hopefully, her obedience, carefulness and tight turns will be our redemption. So, my new Arwen cross-country motto: Go fast, steer carefully, and don’t fall off.
We had a long, brisk trot (well, trot for the thoroughbreds; canter for Arwen) up to the top corner of the course, which is a palisade fence away from a very busy road. I was so busy looking at the jumps, which were set on a hill, that I forgot to worry about the traffic and luckily for me so did Arwen. She has never really been in traffic before, but she just had a look and then got back to work. Only baboons and pigs can rattle Arwen when she’s in work mode.
The first two jumps were easy; up a steepish little hill and over. I was grateful for all our hillwork; she powered right up like a pro. The last one was a bit scary. Its approach was on the flat, but the landing was on a downhill, and I detest downhills. Luckily I was ready for the buck on landing when it came and had my weight back so we didn’t get into any difficulties.
By this point we were all doing fine, so our instructor started to send us over 75-80cm jumps instead of the 70cm we’d been practicing (it was a 60cm lesson, but that would have been dull!). We went through a kind of dip in the ground, then through it again and over a log on the other side, then another bending line with one smaller jump and one hefty log. I had to kick a bit to the log, but as soon as I committed so did she. We also jumped a brush, which for some reason we both absolutely adore; she was bursting with joy.
The biggest fence of the day was a big log set on another downhill. I was busy worrying about the log and forgot the downhill; she took me honestly over with just a bit of support from me and then suddenly we were running downhill and I was somewhere near her ears. Luckily, I kept my stirrups and my seat and she didn’t buck. If she had it would have ended in hilarity.
Last of all was my favourite: the water complex. I love water as much as Arwen dislikes it, but I’m sure she remembered that particular complex because she trotted right in without a qualm. We once again ran through it, jumped out over a log, and then went up a steep little embankment and down the other side (a slope, not a real bank, thank goodness). Last time she had run out at this because she didn’t have enough impulsion through the water, but perhaps my endless pole work had helped, because I yelled “Go! Go!” and she charged straight through and over without a moment’s hesitation. I was exceedingly proud of my beloved little grey mare.
We spoke to our instructor and have decided to enter the next 70cm event at President’s Park so that she does her first event on familiar ground. We might not make our first event in this year, but that’s all right. We’ll get in lots of practice at cross-training shows and lessons; her dressage is quite solid for training-70, although we need a bit more practice jumping 75cm at showjumping shows.
Added awesomeness to wrap up the day? She loaded right up. No bum rope, no parents swatting her rump – straight up the ramp and travelled calmly home.
I love my brave grey mare. Glory to the KING!