Sunday, June 17, 2012

95% Perfect: Cross-Country Schooling at Scarlet Hill Farm

With Tristan completely sound for a dressage ride on Friday night, we went up to our scheduled lesson at Scarlet Hill Farm on Saturday. The trip went well, and we got there with plenty of time to tack up and walk around a bit.

We started the lesson with a bit of trotting and cantering around, and then some small and medium-sized jumps singly. Denise pinpointed our problem almost immediately: Tristan tends to land from cross-country jumps and think he's done, often coming back to a trot. Part of it is his laziness, and part of it is my fault, leftover from his grab-the-bit-and-run days. In order to build a rhythm out on course, though, and to really work on his galloping, we'll need to figure out how to land, kick it up a gear, and then come back for the approach to the next fence, all strung together and repeated.

So our task for the first 20 minutes was to get a good, forward approach, land, and gallop off straight. I was to make a really big, exciting deal out of going forward, straight. We're still dealing a bit with his tendency to fling his shoulders every which way as an evasion. As Denise put it, if he's going sideways, he's not going forward.

For the first jump with this strategy, I cantered him up a hill, really zeroed in on the jump, landed, and immediately cheered him on forward - so he threw a party on the landing, as they say, dropping his nose and throwing in a few bucks out of excitement. He's only done that a handful of times, and I couldn't stop laughing. He's still Tristan, so we're talking mostly speed bump bucks that he stopped as soon as I pulled him up. We tried it once again, and this time I kept his head up and urged him forward, and he found his galloping gear a few strides out. The idea is that teaching him to land and go forward will also help improve our approach, and improve his scope as a consequence.

We then put together a few jumps, in some nice big loops of the field, and I was happy with everything except one piece of my own riding. I didn't find as many places as I wanted to get off his back, for a few reasons. One, I'm not in the kind of shape I want to be in, and didn't feel like I could both balance and ride effectively. Two, related, when I got off his back I didn't have the kind of connection that I wanted in order to keep him forward; dropping back into the saddle helped me bring him forward and up - and then put me in the right place to gather him again for the fence.

Then we strung together six jumps in a row, in a big wide circuit. The first three went beautifully, and after that we had a bit of a downhill run. He was feeling a bit fresh, and a bit off-balance, and at the foot of the hill Denise had given me the choice between a BN-sized jump that was a bit spooky, versus a jump that she thought was 2'9" or 2'11" - definitely Novice-sized - but rampier and much more straightforward. When I looked at it from up the hill, it also looked like the line would be easier, the turn wider and flatter.

However, I hadn't anticipated being off balance from down the hill, and I both backed him off a little too much - feeling too fast, though I really wasn't, and also a bit in my head, as it was bigger than anything we'd jumped yet - and didn't get my line, angling him a bit to the right and not really channeling him straight over.

We still would've been fine save for one final thing: he dropped his right front leg ever-so-slightly and caught his hoof hard on the 4x4 on the top of the jump. Again, still fine, except this was the foot that had just abscessed, and I'm sure dinging it that hard stung like hell. He landed, went OW, and stumbled hard - never falling! - but just enough for me to be thrown forward on his neck. I had a moment or two of trying to save it, and then decided to bail, rolling over his shoulder and landing shoulder-hip-head. I completed the roll and went straight to my feet, to see him hopping around and not even wanting to put the RF on the ground.

I had a moment of sheer panic and checked over the leg - no hair missing, no scuff on the boot at all, and then I saw a scrape on his hoof. Denise made it down the hill, and we stood him for just a second, then walked him about, and then I got on and walked and trotted him for a second. It had clearly stung like hell, but wasn't any kind of permanent problem. We then proceeded to walk and trot a few times over the smaller barrel fence, the "spooky" one (he didn't care) in beautiful form, and then we went up to play in the water, just in case his foot did start to ache again.

He did GREAT at the water, everything I could have hoped for - went right in, trotted around, trotted in and out. Then we put together another small course that involved jumping out of the water over a small long, looping around a few small jumps, and dropping back into the water over the same (barely 12") log - which he's never done before.

Again - GREAT - and not only that but he jumped out of and dropped into the water SO WELL. Like a pro. Set himself up for it, didn't launch, didn't hesitate, slowed down but only a hair, and I was so stinking proud of him. Unfortunately after that loop his foot really was achey - sound at the walk and trot, but clearly not quite up to galloping and jumping. I asked if we could pop him over a ditch while we were there (he has never indicated any signs of being ditchy, but I wanted to cover my bases) and we did so.

As Denise pointed out, he was jumping much better and more cleanly after whacking his foot. She said wryly that it's a tough lesson, but sometimes they need a bit of a wake up like that. He even got close to cracking his back and getting scopey over a little red house jump. It's really too bad that he started getting sore again, because he was starting to go really well, but I got everything I wanted out of the day, and we'll be back next month for more.

He stood quietly to get untacked and bathed, and I rubbed liniment all over, including his RF hoof and sole, figuring why not? When we got back to the barn, I settled him in and soaked his RF again to get some of the sting out, then gave him bute and asked the morning feeder to give him more. That, plus some rest, should put him right as rain.

In the meantime, I am off to Dover to get myself a new helmet (it was due anyway, 3+ years old and dropped a few times) and him some bell boots to go cross-country in from now on...

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