Sunday, May 23, 2010

Cross-country school at Scarlet Hill Farm!

Short version: WHEEEEEE!

My day started at 4am; drove the truck down to the barn, hooked up the trailer (took an embarassingly long time, usually I can hitch it myself in 2-3 tries...) pulled it out and started packing what I hadn't the night before. Tris could tell something was wrong when he didn't go outside with his friends, but bless him, only objected mildly and got on the trailer with a minimum of fuss. Trailered up well, came off the trailer at Mach 10, and I only hung on to the lead rope because of the knot at the end as Tris tried to pull me THROUGH the chest bar. I have some very impressive bruises already coloring in, and I don't typically bruise.

Ah well. Tacked him up while he paced in circles and stared bug-eyed at the world, Hannah made sure his splint boot velcro straps were trimmed to her satisfaction (:P) and off we went - a bit later than the other horses, who were already trotting around when we got there. Tris was high as a kite, so I walked him around for a bit longer, and had a trot in which I asked nothing more than that he start to calm himself. Then we pulled up and T. described an arc for us to gallop. I thought seriously about asking someone to hold Tris so I could go puke in a bush.

Our turn came, and we started trotting, and then I sucked it up and asked for a canter. Did NOT approach gallop, was not going to go there, and that decision paid off when we had a long discussion about turning at the top of the hill to head back down. Muscled through it and jigged to a halt. Then over a warmup fence, which he charged in a bit of a long spot, but which thankfully reassured me a bit that his jumping brain, always good, was still installed. (Every other kind of brain had leaked out his ears at this point, however.)

Next, a short course, and Tristan stomped and cavorted and fidgeted and paced and generally acted like a total jackass while the other horses did it, and oh my God, I spent the whole thing thinking "T. can't possibly ask us to do that on our first XC school in 2 years, can he? Oh my God, he can. Oh my God, I'm going to die." Once again, I contemplated puking in the bushes. T. at least gave me some smaller options, we went.

First couple of jumps okay, and then I got totally lost and panicky up on the hill - couldn't see a line to the logs that the others had jumped, much less the line away from those, so I sort of went around them in a really stupid way and got all up in my head coming toward the next fence, a BN-sized house with a green roof and flopped all over the place and Tristan took his out, cut hard right. Many times. Squirreled and cut and...sigh. After I don't know how many cut-off approaches I finally got good and mad, about the time T. crested the hill and started talking me through it step by step, and we had one prop/deer jump through the middle, circled for it again, and then went, I kid you not, SIDEWAYS over the corner of it. It must have been really interesting to watch.

One more approach, one more cut out, and now I was PISSED; circled again, and we went over it with a huuuuuge flyer, but straight and true, and T. started calling out leetle elementary jumps for us, building a rhythm, not letting me think about it, using my gritted teeth and my anger to build confidence, and bless him, it was perfectly done. Tristan started to find a rhythm, he started to jump them straighter and cleaner, and I could feel him start to widen his brain and take it all in.

Back down to the others, and for the rest of the (two hour) school, though I was not infrequently nervous, especially about galloping way off from the others, I was not scared again.

So, next up: ditch. Scarlet Hill had a neat little ditch complext that was a half-ditch (one side riveted, other side natural), an E ditch and a BN ditch side by side. Tris and I were tasked to trot over the half-ditch, since it was his first ever. And my God, he NAILED IT. Big strong surge of a jump, not a moment's hesitation, a clear enjoyment of launching himself into space. Never even thought about looking at it (though to be fair it wasn't very looky). One of the times over he was so pleased with himself he threw his head down and started bucking, nothing bad, just exuberance. GOOD. BOY.

On to banks next, up and down something I think was a low BN? I'm not great at eyeballing height. We trotted up to it and LAUNCHED into space over it. I am sad to admit I did not grab mane in time and probably caught him pretty good. He didn't especially seem to care. Turn around, trot down, no hesitation at all, just dropped down. Trot up again, and he offered a canter so I took it, and he jumped up much better - more economical, more clean, more straight. Down again was quieter yet, a more true drop instead of a jump off. No hesitation, no spooking, no questioning. GOOD BOY again.

Then we did a bit of a course: up the bank, over a series of planters into a field, up over a stone wall out of a field, up a stone wall at the top of a hill, back down, over the same stone wall into the field, down through the field, over a baby coop to get out of the field, down the same bank. Bank up went well, and Tris jumped me right the hell out of the tack over the planters into the field, I gathered just in time to point and boot him over the stone wall, and half-halted hard enough that he trotted up the hill and over the stone wall. Fine by me; these were all easily jump-able from the trot, and I wanted more positive than challenging today. Less of a launch back into the field, and we had a bit of a discussion about hand-galloping down the hill to the coop. Landing was a wee bit spooky, with tall grass a few feet away from where he put his feet down that he didn't want to run through. Bank was a bit more of a launch, but he was quite pleased with himself overall.

Then, water. Oh, Tristan. I knew he'd have issues. He HAAAAAATES water. Luckily, issues were minimal; after a few minutes of planting his feet and spinning around hard, T. had C. and her big bay horse trot past us; I kept kicking; Tris eyeballed the big bay horse and trotted after him. Didn't give me another problem about it after that - we trotted back through a few times and even picked up a canter in the water to come out.

Lastly, a big long course. Down to the banks, up the hill to do the same loop we'd done before, back up to the same loop we'd started with that Tris and I botched so badly. No rosy glow for me; I was as nervous as I'd been, and starting to get very tired to boot. Tris, who'd gotten himself quite wet cantering through water, was shaking like a miserable wet dog (hard enough to jar me out of the saddle) and pawing and generally making his displeasure at his wet state known.

Nothing for it: started off down the hill. Jumps all went much smoother than the first time around, and this time he felt more balanced down the hill; we held the hand-gallop over the baby coop, and down the bank, and up the hill he felt like he had a little more in him, so I opened him up. Something clicked in his brain, and he was ON. Next was a transition pile of logs, tiny, he flew over it out of stride, chaaaaarged up the hill in a fast hard gallop, taking me to the next fence: he wanted it, and he wanted it bad. All of a sudden I had a cross-country horse underneath me, and oh. Oh, that was amazing.

Up the hill, and there were those log piles I'd skipped the first time. I had a brief moment of indecision, then pointed him at the BN one; he checked back in, I said go, and ZOOM. Down the hill, circle around, attacked the little house like he'd never had a problem with it, down over the ditch, then through the water - checked back in again just before we went in, but I responded in the affirmative, and he dug for another gear. Zoomed through it. Pull up, many, many, many pats, and he was done.

He was almost insufferably pleased with himself, prancing and motoring around, ears pricked. T. actually used the word "astounding" to describe how Tris started to eat up the course on the last run. No one could believe that was his first XC school in so long, much less his first ditch, bank, and water. Oh, and have I mentioned that he's 15, and wasn't really ever handled until he was 11?

I. Love. This. Horse.

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