With AHS vaccination season – and hence a required six-week rest period – around the corner, I entered Arwen in one more show to cram in some cross-country practice before our rest and subsequent return to graded eventing.
It was eerily peaceful to only have one horse to dress up, load and show; I got up at the luxurious hour of 5:40 (albeit waking at 4:15), she loaded fine with a line around her butt, and we were early for our first class. I got to hack her around on a loose rein and warm up nice and slow. She responded by not producing any bucks, just one enormous exaggerated spook at a hole in a hedge (the hedge was fine; the hole was a monster).
We wrapped up a gentle walk, trot and canter warmup by opening up into a cross-country gallop down the long side of the arena, then sitting down, collecting strongly and making a 10m circle to check for brakes and adjustability. She was super, so we popped over each jump once and trotted off to our class.
I’d entered 60cm and 70cm, and when I walked the course, I was having second thoughts. The 60cm course started with three inviting little showjumps that we had jumped on August 9th’s training show. Then things started to get a bit complicated. There was a brush fence, which Arwen loves but never ever brushes; then a very tight turn to a narrow fence made of imposing black barrels (and Arwen habitually drifts). Straight after the narrow fence was two banks down, first a little one and then a slightly bigger one. Not enormous, but still a bank down. Quite a long gallop then to a large colourful house in the shade. Then a tight turn to a showjump, an enormous steep bank (Derby bank type that you gallop up instead of jumping up) and woe is us, a skinny. A proper one, and a very skinny one. The last three fences were even worse; a scary vertical made of tyres, a St. Andrew’s cross (which neither of us had ever even seen before), and a corner (ditto).
I put a prayer in my pocket and let Arwen look at the house, whereupon she promptly tried to eat the plant that was acting as a wing, before the bell rang and off we went. She merrily ran away with me towards the start, although I still had steering so I decided to diplomatically ignore the lack of brakes, and attacked the three showjumps fearlessly. The brush rushed up on us awfully soon and she jumped hugely and without a trace of hesitation. We got into a spot of difficulty approaching the black barrels; she wriggled all over the place and considered running out, but thought better of it and jumped cleanly.
The banks were quite funny. I clapped my spurs into her because I expected hesitation; Arwen was considering no such thing and took a flying leap off the bigger bank, launching me onto her neck. Luckily for her daft rider, Arwen threw her head up on landing and tossed me neatly back into the saddle. She was very looky at the house but with lots of encouragement she popped over. When we came over the vertical, she was ready to go kill something, and charged up the bank and towards the skinny at a terrifying speed. Once again, a huge wriggle at the skinny, possibly due to going too fast, but I clamped my hands and reins down and made it clear that the only way were going was over. So we went over.
We both gawped at the St. Andrew’s cross; I gawped at the sides because they looked enormous, and she gawped at the middle because it was a hay bale. We reached a compromise and jumped slightly to one side of the bale. The tyres were no problem and then we were galloping downhill at the corner. I was shouting “IT’S NOT AN OXER ARWEN” and Arwen was shouting “BOXES THERE ARE TERRIFYING BOXES” and unfortunately the boxes were under the narrow end. We reached the wide end, and I planted my hands in the mane, certain she would stop. Arwen snorted that she would do no such thing and leapt over the wide end without any apparent effort. I nearly strangled her with hugging as we walked out of the arena.
That landed us in the jump-off, which was over the first four jumps and the last three jumps. We floored it, Arwen jumped kind of in the middle of the corner, and we came second in good company.
The course grew somewhat for the 70cm; now it included a tight turn after the corner, leading to a bank up and a vertical with a big filler in it. The distance from the bank to the vertical walked for a short two strides, so I knew Arwen was going to make an easy three. I was starting to detest the corner, which brought multiple horses and riders to grief that day, including the only fall I saw.
Arwen came into the show arena blowing smoke and looking for something to attack, so I pointed her at the jumps. She charged onwards, now scared of absolutely nothing. She even jumped the St. Andrew’s cross rather perfectly. We survived the corner and then I rode Arwen straight at what she considered the arena wall. She snorted in shock and wriggled madly, but I kicked on, so she scrambled up the bank and over the vertical without further protest. This time we took the down banks in a rather more ladylike manner and even trotted at the top of the big bank, leading to a rather nicer pop over the skinny.
Once again we landed up in the jump-off. I knew we could either go quick or we could go clear; the course was technical and spooky, challenging for Arwen’s level, so if I was going to gun it and cut the corners we were going to have a stop. I opted to take our gallop up a notch, but to keep to wide easy lines. We jumped the widest end of the corner once again – which was by now tremendously wide; Arwen appeared to enjoy scaring the living daylights out of me – but this did mean that our landing spot set us up nicely for the tight turn towards the up bank. Having realised that this was actually a thing we jump, she jumped it unquestioningly and galloped through the finish. She didn’t stop at or knock down a single thing all day long, so going unplaced seemed totally irrelevant.
Sometimes I just can’t believe this mare. As one lady gushed as she stopped me to ask what breed my horse is, “She’s just so honest.” She has so much guts and she has so much try. “No” just isn’t in her vocabulary.
Thank You Jesus for this amazing brave little grey mare. Glory to the King who made horses and people and that wonderful, nameless thing that the equine heart does to the human soul.