Ah, XC. The reason we’re all here: the glorious insanity of jumping immovable objects at high speed on unpredictable terrain. I’m not exactly an adrenaline junkie, but galloping through a giant field over tactical obstacles on a brave horse who is having the time of her life really is a rush that you can’t replicate elsewhere.
Day 1 recap is found here covering our dressage and stadium rounds and culminating with us leading the division for reasons I can’t explain.
I walked the XC course after my riding was done on day 1, and it was a delightful and welcoming track with lots of ramp-style questions and 2 which were just little hills. We can do hills!
The course started on the big grass field, moved out onto the hogsfuel track (whee!), cut back through one of the arenas (fun!), back onto the field, back onto the track, and finishing in the field again. Obviously when I was walking it, some of the fences looked enormous (are we seeing the trend here in my life) but they were all beautiful to ride. None of them were set up particularly challenging which was perfect for my first XC ride of the year. The only thing we would blip at was going be the small ditch at #9, as Vesper has decided that she needs to be able to peek at ditches before hopping over. I tend to lose at least one of my stirrups when she does this, and #10 comes up hot, but then there was a long gallop to #11 if I did need time to recover my balance.
- Not too fast
- Not too slow
- Stay in the saddle at the ditch
- Have all the fun
I’ll be honest here, at the risk of incurring the wrath of horse people everywhere: I slept in and only worried mildly about my horse through the morning. My ride time was 3:30pm and my husband convinced me that we did not need to be there at 7am again… The horse had a full hay net and multiple water buckets and could survive a couple of hours without me being helicopter mom. I took the bait, resulting in me drinking a real coffee and eating a real breakfast since I had hours to go before the show nerves would really kick in. My horse is used to 1 grain meal a day sometime in the afternoon, and even then she’s not particularly interested in it since she gorges herself on hay and grass all day long. So “routine” is not a huge deal in her life. I got about an hour of peace before I started worrying that she was starving to death in her stall or had drowned in her own manure or similar. Husband exercised his unfathomable well of patience and ceded to my wheedling to get us on the road again. Bless him, he often suggests that arriving an hour before my ride time is sufficient.
We barely parked before I was already out of the truck heading to Vesper’s stall, imagining the dirty looks my neighbors would give me as I roll in to check on my horse 6 hours later than I could have. Beyond an empty hay net she was perfectly fine, proceeding to nibble a small amount of grain which indicates that she was starving exactly 0%. She got fresh everything and we went for a walk to stretch her legs.
I was very aware of our standing in the division and the necessity of a clear XC round to maintain it. I’ll take a moment here to mention that it was absolutely beautiful out; getting hot but not “I’m going to die of heat stroke” bad. It hadn’t rained in a handful of days, so I didn’t have to worry at all at the fact that I skipped hind shoes at this last shoeing rotation; the footing was going to be excellent.
Somehow I managed to survive the interminable waiting for 3ish hours, and as I was about to get tacked up my mom and nephew showed up to cheer us on. Naturally pony rides are required.
Now, I’m going to ask a rhetorical question that has plagued me for eons: why is it that, at every single show, I can arrive 3+ hours prior to my ride time, give myself ages to tack up and get changed, and I still manage to be short on time and starting to panic by the time I’m ready to warm up? I am such a basket case if there’s even a hint of being delayed, and no matter how much extra time I allot, I am always delayed at shows. There’s a time vortex involved.
It’s worth mentioning that this seasoned horse knows what’s up. She knows the difference between the tack for dressage and the tack for XC. She didn’t want to stand still during tack up, and the moment I was mounted she was jigging in the warm up ring. There was some gallop and a couple of fences to get ourselves in gear, but otherwise I focused our warm up on walking; just to keep her moving but prevent her brain from fizzling into oblivion. The more forward work you do with this horse, the more amped she gets; she just never tires out. I know how much she freaking loves this part of the job, otherwise it would probably make me frustrated at how little “chill” she can have.
And, as we mentioned before about the vortex, I allowed my husband to hang onto the GoPro too long and they called me to the start box before I had even put it on my helmet. Poor husband got to listen to me swearing semi-quietly in panic as he tried to adjust it on my helmet while my horse danced around him. I’m so used to them starting without you if you aren’t ready, but I realized shortly after that this show was chill and probably wouldn’t have done that. I just can’t handle cutting it that close. And because we didn’t test the camera first, the whole video is of the beautiful blue sky as we gallop merrily around! So no helmet cam for anybody this time. 😥 You can watch my husband’s video here which covers the whole ride, except for the moments when we’re on the track beyond visibility.
As far as the ride went, I was exhausted in about 73 seconds because I had z.e.r.o. brakes. Vesper dragged me around that course like a kite in a headwind, which was not helped by my stirrups being too long. Thank goodness she’s such a pro and I trust her, because there was not a whole lot of inter-species communication happening up there lol. The pelham did absolutely nothing for the first time ever BUT it also sort of didn’t matter that much, beyond my offense that she was ignoring me. The jumps are so manageable for her at this height and none of the course was difficult, so although I wasted a lot of energy trying to get her to ease off the bit, I eventually just left her mostly alone and steered. As nice as it would be to occasionally feel like I have a say in how XC goes, I cannot overstate how much I enjoy riding an experienced horse who knows and loves her job! I regularly thank God that I didn’t end up buying a youngster like I originally planned.
We stormed the “barn” at #1, almost tripped onto her face when the footing changed to the hogsfuel track for #2 because she was so keen, blasted through #3 and #4 on the track and I finally got a modicum of control going into the arena for #5 bending line to #6. That was short lived as we came back out into the field for the up and down bank at #7a-b which she pinged across like NBD, hunting down the upright at #8. She allowed me to suggest we trot into the ditch at #9, which still got a pause and a side-eye, but I didn’t lose my stirrups so we made it over and to #10 and galloped tiredly across to the ramp combo of #11 and #12 where I chipped us in because I just wanted some kind of brakes.
#13 was a shaded upright to a mini hill(!) at #14 down to a ramp at #15. #16 was a bigger hill down to #17 my first ever skinny, and the watch was saying 30 seconds to optimum time. We headed back onto the hogsfuel track for an upright at #18 and I decided to push the pace out a little bit to come out strong to the last jump #19 which was the adorable “picture frame”. We crossed the finish 7 seconds under OT for a very strong double clear round!
We were both pretty puffed, me more than her. I regret holding her face so much through the whole thing, but I recognize that we just need to spend some more schooling time before our next one to work on that. She will very happily run every course at Intermediate speed. Husband was cheering me and I knew that he realized that we had basically won the division, but I was so bagged that I couldn’t think much beyond “my horse is amazing, where is the nearest water”.
Ours was the last division of the day to go, so most of the entries had already packed up and gone home. We had to wait until the very end of the day to collect our results, which was totally worth it: we took home our first ever red ribbon and championship prize for an event!
I teared up more than once, realizing what a milestone this is for me personally. Yes, the blanket is beautiful, and the ribbon is huge, and we even won a saddle pad for having the top score across the divisions for riders over 18… But I am a girl who has spent her whole life trying to be an excellent rider and never feeling “good enough”; who wrecked her shoulder in a high speed riding accident and developed major riding anxiety; who couldn’t jump anything over 2′ for years and years and who certainly couldn’t ever leave the quiet hunter ring. I am a girl who met a horse that took every ounce of trust she could barely let go of, who taught her how to be brave and how to truly trust in an equestrian partnership. Who forgave every mistake that I made out of fear and who always brought 150% even those times that I accidentally shut her down. They say that to ride a horse is to fly without wings, and Vesper has unfailingly lent me her wings every time we saddle up.
So yeah… we won the Pretraining division! And walked away with the top dressage score for all senior divisions. I still have to sit back and process that sometimes.
Here’s to the horses that “made” us. I deeply admire those equestrians who bring along their own, untrained horses – but my heart belongs to those schoolmasters who turn us into riders.