Sunday, October 21, 2007

Cross Country Schooling

I took Brego down to Indian Creek Farm in Spring Branch, Texas for some cross country schooling. We're only two weeks out from an eventing clinic, and I wanted to make sure there were no cobwebs in the XC gears before we showed up in front of Rainey Andrews.

With no appreciable rain in a month, the ground was very hard so I kept the time on xc short. I did try out the new and improved "go" button in the jumping arena. I must say, it was much less exhausting to get him around a course without nagging and holding his enormous head up. His balance has improved tremendously in a month and I love the new comfy forward canter. (Of course, he's not truly forward at this level of his training, but measure progress, not perfection!)

So after a lengthy warmup in a cushy sand arena, I hit the course. The main objective was to school ditches, which is something Brego has never seen, and to jump the Scary Wall. The Scary Wall is not big, or particularly wide, it's just made out of telephone poles and rock. It's solid and not the kind of fence you want to hit out of stride. It's definitely a rider fence though, because it has good lines and makes sense to horses. It just scares me to death. So I decided today was the day we were going to jump the Scary Wall.

First, to build some confidence, we schooled a little ditch. Brego looked long and hard, but by the third time, he was jumping it well from the trot. I decided not to attempt it from a canter and to save his legs for... the Scary Wall. But before that, I needed even more confidence. So I took him over a brightly painted blue coop. It's amazing that he is already getting used to cross-country fences. Even though he's never been schooled over this particular fence, he was so ho hum, I could tell he was thinking "just another coop".

So with all that confidence (hubris, even?), I cantered across the field from the coop to the Scary Wall. Brego enjoyed his little sight seeing tour of the field, past the big white barrels and along side the horses playing in the next field. He was really cruising around enjoying the sights until he happened to notice the Scary Wall right in front of him. I guess he actually saw it about two strides out. You know, I never knew a Percheron could do a reining sliding stop before. I guess Brego has many talents. Luckily, my own subconscious desire to stay as far away from the Scary Wall as possible kept my position back so I was not surprised by the stop, even though this was Brego's first true "Holy Sh@#t!!" stop.

So I circled him around and tried to present it again, this time with feeling, and not letting it sneak up on him with all the other distractions. It was hard to emote that I really want to jump this fence when I really don't. But Brego took care of me and cleared it on the second time by a nautical mile. By the time the Scary Wall picture was taken, we were on our fourth or fifth jump and he's already bored with it. Not me. The visions of a rotational fall off that itty bitty wall still play in my mind. Eventing is such a mental sport.

So in the end, we did very well. Both objectives were fulfilled and I don't think for one second that the stop at the Scary Wall was Brego's fault. One of the many things I need to learn is proper presentation. Show hunter experience doesn't really emphasize jumping unschooled questions that make your blood run cold.

It's interesting that in both pics, I have reverted to some strange hunter position except with some egregious faults: I am ducking, my leg is back and my toes are out. I mean really, check out that crest release! Yikes! At least I am not trying to fly away with my chicken wings. Also Brego's truly bizarre jumping form is apparent. He likes to get deep and then spring up and over a fence, losing some momentum. You can see it in the warmup picture over the oxer if you notice how high he is in relation to where he took off from. Also, he hasn't really learned yet how to stow the rear landing gear. He just jumps everything high enough to drag his fully extended legs over it, and splats down on his front legs. He won't stay sound for long over big jumps with that form, so I am going to experiment with gymnastics and spreads to see if I can get him to thrust forward more and clean up those hind legs. I would love to see less "jamming" of his front feet on the landing.

But these are all smallish nits and easily fixable as we both get stronger. The coolest thing is that Brego is schooling some "real" cross country questions with a very fun and honest attitude towards the work. I couldn't ask for more from this fish out of water.

1 comment:

Funder said...

Can you talk some more about the magical new Go Button? I have to nag Poppy to death to make him hold a trot too - I've been chalking it up to him not being in shape, but at this point he's starting to get some muscles but he's still not very forward.

I know I'm not hanging on his head! I've tried keeping light contact or just throwing the reins away entirely. And I don't think I'm getting in his way - he's pokey regardless of whether I'm posting or sitting the trot.