Coconino Summer I H.T. (Week 1) Cross Country
After a surprising non elimination in stadium, I did a quick coursewalk Saturday evening. Coconino puts together challenging and technical courses at all their levels, even Intro. Although the jumps were all small, there was a ditch and flagged water, which is more than I can say for some BN courses in our area. They also made use of the terrain and trees to make the course challenging. Even though it was a tough course for the level, I wasn’t really worried about XC: we’d done some of it already in pre-comp, Levi doesn’t care about ditches, and we were already last so there was no pressure.
Warm up went okay, but my nerves were in full force. Levi had a lot of energy and a lot of opinions. None of which I appreciated in that moment. While the logical part of my brain wasn’t worried about XC, the part of my brain that actual operates during jumping was convinced we were going to die.
I spent quite a bit of my warmup yelling at my husband because he kept trying to leave to go get situated for picture taking. I didn’t care about pictures. He was not allowed to leave me, because we were definitely going to die. I was too panicked to even remember to turn on my helmet cam 🙁
Then we were off and Levi was fine. Jump #1 was good. We had to make a bit of a weird line to get to #2 because of a stump and Levi thought I was aiming him for the BN jump for a moment and was quite excited, but no, we were doing the little coop.
Jump #3 was awkwardly situated on a hill right after a gully/ditch sort of thing. Intro also had to go off to the side of the beaten track through some trees to get to the line. Levi thought I was stupid for sure. Why would I make him go over there when all the jumps were over here? I finally got him to slow down and go to the right jump and thankfully it was super tiny so we could trot through the ditch/gulley thing and I didn’t need to panic.
We had to go downhill to #4, but it was small so I wasn’t too terrified. It was about this point when I realized I couldn’t breathe. I normally sound like I can’t breathe on XC because I have messed up sinuses and breathe through my mouth when I start panicking – which happens a lot on XC. But this was different. I actually felt like I couldn’t get enough oxygen. I think the hyperventilating was combining with the altitude to trigger my asthma. But we had jumps to do, so I figured I’d worry about breathing later.
The ditch rode just fine and we were on to the small raised log we’d done in pre-comp practice.
It was nice actually knowing where I was going this time. We had a bit of a long stretch between #6 and #7 so I bridged the reins, got in to a half seat, and just concentrated on breathing for a bit. The picture for #7 is blurry because we were pretty far away, but the jump rode fine.
We had to take a weird track to get to #8. The main tracks were lined with wood chips, but they didn’t always take you from one jump to another (because they move the jumps around). Levi again thought I was stupid for taking him off the track, but he listened and we got over #8. Then we were down the hill to #9, the bunker he had massively over-jumped at the pre-comp practice. He was much more reasonable this time and only over-jumped it a little.
I had debated schooling the water. Levi likes to refuse water, but I was also already in last place so going straight for it could be good practice. I checked my watch though and we were way ahead of time so I figured some extra schooling would help us slow down. I yelled schooling and then approached from the side. He did skid to a stop and then shuffle sideways before going in (I’m not sure if it would have been a refusal or not if we’d done it at the flags). We trotted in and out, circled around and he peaked a bit, but went through without stopping. There were multiple refusals at this water from my division and other divisions. It was a pretty scary looking water. I felt really bad because two of the other intro riders racked up 60 penalties at the water. I can only guess they didn’t know they could school? Why else would you not at least do a schooling lap after your first refusal?
We popped over the log without issue and I checked my watch again. Optimum was 4:26 and it was 4:something so we were good to go. We cantered over the last jump – which was a weird raised railroad tie with brush on it – and through the finish flags.
Sadly, someone else got a ton of points on XC and managed to beat me out of last place. I learned later there was a prize for last place in any division with more than 9 entries. Dammit. I could have walked XC for time penalties if I’d known that. It’s probably for the best I didn’t since I don’t think that’s really the spirit of the prize. I really like that idea though. It’s so hard in eventing when you spend the whole weekend chasing one of only six or seven ribbons in a division with 15+ entries. A last place prize gives you a chance to not be totally left out when things go wrong. Even without a prize, I was super happy with Levi. He was very well behaved on XC and I didn’t feel terrified once we were on course. Veni, vidi, vici!
My husband didn’t want to write up his own post, but did want to contribute his own thoughts on this course. His comments are in italics following an *.
As I mentioned above, the courses at Coconino are no joke. The novice course was frankly terrifying. I mean, I’m terrified of everything, but even Kate was concerned when we sent her the coursewalk.
Jumps one and two were nice, normal jumps. Three was a normal jump but it’s odd to put a steeplechase jump on a hill a few strides after a gulley. Then there’s four. What fresh hell is this? Is jumping solid obstacles not dangerous enough? Do we need to fill them with large, jagged rocks? This jump seemed designed to injure any horse that messes it up. And it was on a difficult approach too: coming off a bending line from a downhill. #5 was a large corner in a line off of #4. #7 was a very large boat only a stride out of the water with quite a steep decline on landing. You can’t tell from the picture, but there’s a large depression before the maxed out table at #9 making it so you couldn’t get a good gallop going to it because you had to go down and back up a sort of gulley before getting about 2 strides of flat to the table. It was also hemmed in on each side with bigger jumps making it a bit clausterphobic. The rails to ditch to corner at #11 and #12 was also a tough combination. If you survived all that, the rest of the course was still imposing, but not quite so concerning.
* Coming off the course walk, I was excited to run it, but definitely had some concerns- 4, 7, and 9 were the ones I was worried about, plus the ditch. It was a pretty technical course for Novice, which is one of the reasons I really wanted to move up to Novice in the first place.
When we were walking the course and before he went out on the course, I lectured my husband on going faster. I didn’t want to see a repeat of Camelot and Webb with Eugene backing off of jumps and my husband not doing anything about it. I kept telling him he really needed to get after Eugene. If he backed off of the first few jumps, I told him to gallop him and really get him moving forward. The first two jumps went all right.
I couldn’t really see them through the trees to #3, but I could see that Eugene backed off of it and it wasn’t very pretty. Then I could see them after #3 cruising through the trees on their way to #4. I was standing there with the camera in my hands thinking “dammit, I wish I had my phone out to take a video of this because they are going so damned slow and he’ll never believe me when I tell him.” My husband generally disbelieves anything I tell him and having someone else as his trainer is really the only way to get input into him. I watched him doing a very lovely hunter/stadium canter through the woods. It wasn’t necessarily slow. I’m sure they were fine on the mpm front, but it was not forward. Then I watched them canter slowly down the hill (reasonable for a downhill), make the turn towards #4 and never move up.
Eugene will try his heart out for my husband, but he’s just not talented enough to do these sorts of jumps without any momentum. Especially when they’re weird looking and he gets a bit backed off from them. They circled around and he cleared it the second time.
* Jump 4 was the first one on course that worried me. Jump 3 was a little rough – we backed off more than I expected with the little gully before it – but we regained some momentum afterward. The rock box was intimidating, though, and I got so concerned about trying to be perfectly balanced for it that I sacrifice all of our momentum in the couple strides before it- clearly not the right answer!
As Kate pointed out later, because Eugene has always been so good, my husband has never really had to practice getting his head back in the game after something went wrong. They landed off of #4 and my husband was still mentally fixated on that and didn’t take a straight approach to the corner.
You can’t angle a corner jump and not expect your horse to run out. I don’t even blame Eugene. Another circle and straight approach had them over it though.
* This one really surprised me – which, of course, it shouldn’t have. The corner looked very inviting when I walked the course – not very tall, not very deep, and reasonably wide – but coming off a refusal taking a jump that really invites a runout for granted is clearly not a great idea.
As they cantered past me, I seriously considered yelling at him to “gallop dammit.” I didn’t want to be the cause of them getting eliminated though and I figured he either wouldn’t hear me or he’d hear me and just think he was going fast enough anyway I didn’t know what I was talking about.
They got in the water, proceeded to slow down even more, and then stoped at #7.
At this point, thinking he was eliminated, my husband walked off. The jump judges didn’t think he was eliminated though. I could hear over the radio of the judge near me that the judge at seven was asking if my husband was retiring. I thought he was eliminated. He thought he was eliminated. Turns out you get eliminated at the fourth refusal (over different jumps) at Novice. We both thought that was only at BN. I honestly think it was for the best that they stopped though. Without a change in the way they were riding, continuing on wasn’t going to get better.
* I saw this one coming halfway through the water and just didn’t get a enough move up to fix it. If you want the gif above you can actually see me use the spurs repeatedly a few strides out, but (in hindsight) my whole position and balancing was rocking him back and slowing him down. Spurs a few strides out aren’t going to overcome that, especially when we haven’t exactly had a confidence-building start to the course.
Luckily, Coconino allows for XC schooling on Sunday after the last riders goes. It’s even free if you’re signed up for both weekends. We were back out there with Eugene – and a ton of other people – as soon as the competition finished up.
I had them start with a few BN jumps to get going. They jumped the BN version of the boat and Eugene just crawled over it. It was small enough that he could do it, but it was not the right pace. As he landed I was yelling at him to go faster. They proceeded to canter slowly to the Novice Coop (#8 from their course). Eugene backed off pretty hard and then decided to jump it anyway at the last moment. Landing, my husband began telling him good boy and patting him for “saving them.” From way across the field, I was screaming at him. I made him come over to me and yelled at him.
My lecture was something along these lines: I know you’re praising him for saving you, but you absolutely cannot reward that behavior. If he backs off of a jump, you land and you push him: leg on, hit him, and gallop away. The answer is forward and that is the only answer. I know for a fact that Kate has given him the exact same lecture before and told him that. He agreed. I think it finally sunk in.
* What finally made everything click was when my wife told me that I looked like I was riding a lovely stadium canter. I’ve been so happy with the improvements we’ve made in stadium – I was ecstatic coming off the clear round – that I’ve taken too much of stadium out onto the cross country field. I kept thinking I was going fast, because I sorta was – for stadium. That’s not a recipe for a good cross country ride, though!
We went over to the #4/#5 area and did some more BN jumps with the emphasis on forward. After a few jumps with some real forward movement, they did the BN line over a circular tube jump to the ditch. Eugene was starting to get excited. As he jumped the line another trainer who was walking by made the comment that he was certainly spicy today and I was like, thanks, that’s our goal. She gave me a bit of a weird look and carried on her way (reason number infinity why I’m not a professional trainer).
With actual forward re-installed, they did the rock box to corner. Eugene was really on fire at the point and got in a bit close to the corner, but sailed over it.
We went around the course then and did some, but not all of the remaining jumps. They aced the rails to ditch to corner. Eugene even went over the ditch like a normal horse:
They galloped through the second water and over the log after without issue.
This is the happy little XC machine we’ve come to know. He just needed to be allowed to do it. As a final effort, we went back to the first water to conquer the Novice boat. I messed up the picture, but you can see just how much the landing drops off after.
Absolutely no problems though. He’s such a good horse.
* Approaching the boat at the end of schooling was just night and day different than approaching it during the course. Despite the same momentum-sapping water and the same missing horizon from the drop afterward, Eugene was locked on and moving forward from before we even entered the water, and he sailed over it beautifully.
I was feeling pretty upset after retiring, but by the end of schooling everything was pretty right in the world again. Lesson learned!