At the entrance to a cross country schooling facility I was giggling like an idiot. I’m not sure why really as deep down I was somewhat terrified at the prospect.
Bar 2 jumps out hunting when Tony wedged me in behind him and Hugo recently I’ve not left the ground for over 15 years. I can’t quite work out just how long but it’s well over that.
That’s about half of my adult life really. Which is hysterical as all I did as a teenager was jump and jump and jump. Some pretty big affiliated showjumping tracks too at times. Time though is cruel to the mind when you aren’t doing something all the time.
The prospect of taking an ex-racer cross country schooling when all he’s done is fly the birch was a bit nerve wracking to say the least.
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I tried desperately hard to not over think this process. Tiny had only seen a handful of rails out hunting with myself and the Point to Point yard he was at before I bought him. There’s a rumour he’d seen coloured poles but no actual proof and given that contact, flexibility and roundness aren’t natural aspects to his way of going or understanding, then if he did tackle coloured poles then I don’t think it would have been very much.
My aim was to just pop him over a few things, typical of what we might discover out hunting, and learn how he’d respond to jumping in cold blood from more of a hack canter. Crucially, with jumps that didn’t resemble a birch steeplechase fence.
In the back of my mind I kept returning to some of his P2P form. Whilst his National Hunt results weren’t all that bad (he’d won a couple of hurdle races from his 10 jumps runs and placed in a couple more) I think it’s fair to say that his overall ability wasn’t matching his lovely bloodlines. His last two runs under rules had the dreaded P from Pulled Up. When he changed hands and went Pointing it didn’t change, in fact on paper it seemed to get worse. His very first run over the larger obstacles resulted in a fairly horrible fall at a track that ironically we now regularly hack past. Out for the remainder of that season his return the following season also resulted in a fall and from there on you could probably deduce that he’d had enough.
I guess those 2 falls at the larger obstacles were the ones that had me a little nervous about what might follow. I’ve no reason why I was singling out those two falls as to be honest you can trip and fall down the road, so why was I focusing on the speed related falls over at least 4ft birch fences.
Fear of the unknown?
I just knew I’d have to bury the thoughts so they didn’t flow down the reins too much to Tiny and potentially bury us both!
Things didn’t start too well though. At the gate to the XC field Hugo decided that the whole thing looked far too scary (it might have been the tractor tyre at the entrance) but he snorted and backed away from even opening the gate. I, and my fellow female “lets find our pre-season brave pants” companion, Charlotte, laughed from a safe distance from both Hugo and Tony. I even offered the Orange One as a lead pony into the field (he’d previously had to lead Hugo past a carnival float we encountered on a road). However Hugo relented and stepped forward into the field. Charlotte and I kicked our two boys on only to have the pair of them whip round like 3 year olds to head back to trailers, clearly they’d decided that if Hugo was scared then they most certainly were too. We stopped laughing…
Once in the field it was super clear he’d never encountered a field full of timber fences everywhere. The complex, run by Amanda Taylor Eventing, is just 10 minutes away from us so super convenient. There’s a huge array of fences in there and actually at first glance I wasn’t entirely sure where to start. The beauty of that place though is that there is everything from small logs on the ground to birch fences mimicking a steeplechase!
Deciding that a bit of time away from his big burly ‘brother’ Hugo I sent him on his own… again I always want him to have some independence in life so removing the security blanket is always in my head. There’s a balance to be struck with this though as sometimes having Hugo to lead into something initially is a great option. Just preventing the clingyness (is that a word?) along the way too. We trotted around and I made my snorting side stepping dragon weave through as much as I could. Mentally he seemed ok with much of it but for some reason ordinary logs were proper alligators in his head. He never once stopped moving forward but he was looking and looking and looking. I took a lot of confidence in him for this actually, as I was learning that he might look, or take a small sideways step, but he’s not going to spin away etc.
With the brave pants on, and a back protector (oh my god how much these have changed, I think I last wore one of those when I was about 14 doing a hunter trial. They used to be just a foam board thing with a rather unattractive hump to them!) and my 2 companions on the other side of the field out of sight, I put him at a tiny log.
I turned, tapped him down the neck a bit with my whip and we trotted into it… a shuddering jump of sorts ensued. Hmmm. For god sake woman, this thing is a log, it’s barely worth stepping over, get a flipping grip on your pants. I came back to it, gave him a proper whack down the shoulder (but I think it was more aimed mentally at me) and drove him forward into it and we pinged it.
We moved onto something else. The same results. OK we needed speed. A namby pamby calming trot at this stage wasn’t what he could cope with. I needed to fire him into things and be committed. Do that and I got the most generous (and often flipping enormous) leap from him. OK so this wasn’t ideal in some respects but naturally that’s been his way of going for the last couple of years. Being able to reduce all that to a nice controlled forward/bouncy canter would have to come as we start the rest of his flat work education.
I joined the others and we did small selections of fences strung together. We went through water as a group and then I went back through on my own. It’s a great training water complex there with full access all the way round and plenty of jumps around it. I didn’t jump, but I just went in and out at walk and trot until I was happy he understood the questions. A couple more of lines of 2 -3 fences together and I was happy.
However, I’d been spying a birch fence on the course for a bit and Tony knew I had too. I think I needed to do it and we did try but annoyingly we didn’t succeed in jumping that at all. I’m sure Tony would have got him over it as I know I was baulking myself and I’m still annoyed I didn’t pursue it as you know you shouldn’t leave something like that but I wasn’t mentally ready for that one and shouldn’t have really even tackled it. Thankfully Tony then sent me over to jump something else – a full set of tyres.
Which he absolutely ballooned. Parachute moment for me.
Thankfully the next time over was much more realistic in his trajectory and we performed a lovely jump. I marked myself with a 9 for style on that one and decided to call it a day.
It’s really easy to think that just because a horse can and does jump steeplechase fences that he can jump anything. When you sit down and think about it, just why would they? That’s like saying that just because a horse has a full lineage of posh dressage champions in his family that he must be a Grand Prix champion too. In my experience, it probably just means he’ll trip over his own feet more than be able to perform a perfect piaffe with them and is more likely to remain at Prelim level really.
Anyway, Tiny’s biddable nature was clear and so long as I remain committed to his jumping, much like any other horse, I knew we’d be fine really. I just need to keep reminding myself of that each time I’m faced with a fence somewhere.
Easier said than done…
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With love from me and The Orange One, see you next time!