The part of eventing that I, and I suspect most eventers, look forward to the most is, of course, the Cross Country phase. After a somewhat disappointing start to the event at Eventful Acres with Dressage and Stadium, leaving me in last place (ignoring the elimination) in my division, I was definitely looking forward to having fun the next day jumping around the cross country course. Eugene’s much more honest about jumps than I have any real right to deserve, and since we don’t have to worry about clipping rails I figured we had a decent chance of moving up as long as nothing went terribly wrong.
We’d done an initial walk of most of the course Friday night after walking the horses past the stadium jumps, but the last jump of the BN course was going to be right in the middle of the field where the dressage courts were set up. Since we had missed that last jump (and because my memory is terrible – I’d gone briefly off course both last year at Eventful Acres and at Woodside in the spring) we decided to walk it again after stadium on Saturday.
Despite the use of rather a lot of logs on the course, the BN course at Eventful Acres has some surprising complexity to it. It starts out on fairly thick green grass and spends the first half winding its way through the trees, with the footing going back and forth between grass and dirt. A couple of the turns are much sharper than anything on the Woodside course, and going in and out of the shade from the trees plays tricks with the appearance of some of the jumps. In addition, the center of the area is maintenance/utility shed, with equipment parked near it. The course never goes too near it, but it’s definitely another thing for Eugene to look and spook at.
After that first half, you head across the arena, down and up a steep little stream gully, and the on to a completely separate field, which had been used as the warm up field for dressage on Saturday. Here was the water obstacle (complete with, while we were walking it, a veritable army of little frogs) along with the bank complexes for the higher levels.
Finally, the course crosses into yet a third field – this time the one the dressage courts were set up in – for the final jump before dropping down and back up the stream gully again to return almost back to the start.
You can find the coursewalk here. The optimum time was set at 4:37 for a 1500m course, which is actually really slow- only 325mpm. The speed fault time was 4:00, which is only 375mpm, which is still definitely on the slow side. Fortunately, the gps read 1508 when we walked the course, so their measurement was pretty spot-on, unlike Woodside in the spring.
My ride time on Sunday wasn’t until 11am, so I we got to sleep in a bit later. It’s pretty much impossible to actually sleep in at an event like this- both the horses and your campsite neighbors will ensure that- but we’ll take any opportunity to avoid having to wake up before the sun. Eugene doesn’t need a lot of warm up for cross country, and with none of the braiding needed for dressage and stadium there’s just a lot less work in getting ready for the cross country phase.
I got Eugene tacked up and ready to go, and we were on in the warmup arena around 10:15. This was actually quite a bit more time than he needed, so I spent most of it either standing the shade or moseying around the outside of the warm up arena. I popped over the cross rail early just to let him know what the plan was for the day, but then I mostly left him alone. One disappointment about Eventful Acres is that they don’t move any cross country fences into the warm up arena, so you’ve only got stadium jumps. For BN they had a cross rail, a vertical, and an oxer.
The warmup stayed pretty busy, but I snuck in enough work to get some trot and canter work in about 15 minutes before our time, and jumped the vertical around to the oxer at the same time. Eugene was feeling pretty good, so I let it go at that and just kept him moving for until our time came.
One of the things that’s fun about EA is how friendly everyone is. The guy they have running the start box timer has a little spiel that he gives everyone as they come over, letting them know that he’ll give them a 30 second warning and then count them down from ten. He always ends with a very serious “And the most important thing…” followed by a big grin and “have a great ride!”
Eugene remains remarkably calm about the start box- a state I hope he continues to have, especially relative to some of the particularly crazed horses we’ve seen- and so I just walked into the box at the 30 second mark and set about getting my watch started.
One we start, of course, he leaps right into action. The first jump was only about 30 yards out from the start box, and while the log itself wasn’t intimidating, they had decided to decorate all of the first fences with scarecrows. Since we hadn’t been able to walk the horses anywhere near these XC jumps the day before, I had no idea how he was going to react, and since he spooks at the most random things my only recourse was to do what, really, I’m always supposed to do: keep my leg on and steer to the jump. (Funny how that works, right?)
Fortunately, Eugene was much too excited to pay any attention whatsoever to the jump decorations.
After 1, we had a bit of a canter and a gentle curve around to jump 2, which is actually one of the ones that I’d practiced with Levi at the Adult Horse Camp back in June. Eugene leapt that one like a pro, and to my great relief wasn’t even fazed by the cameraman standing by a tree not far after it. The maintenance shed on his left, on the other hand definitely needed a lot of looking, and there were at least a few strides of cantering sideways before I got him to focus on the upcoming jump.
After an easy jump 3, we bent around to the up-bank. It’s pretty small- no more than maybe 18″, but it’s nice that they’ve got the banks on the course.
When we walked the course the day before, the line to jump 5 was a point of discussion. The jump lay next to one of the water obstacles that was not on our course, and the natural line around the water and to the jump ran right over a small hill with a higher-level jump on it. There were a couple options: I could either go around the mound, which was obviously a longer line but would leave me pointed pretty straight at the jump, or I could go inside the mound and make a sharper turn to still give me a good four straight strides to the jump.
Of course, in the heat of the moment I managed not to take either of those lines. Instead, I bent sharply around the water on a far inside line, and only realized my mistake a few strides out, leaving me little time to actually straighten. Fortunately, Eugene took my slicing of the jump in stride and hopped over without any fuss.
Jump 6 was actually one of the smaller ones on the entire course, and another that I’d schooled Levi over in June. That presented no obstacle, but the line to jump 7 was tricky, because of the trees in the way, it was nearly a 180 degree turn after jump 6. This was complicated by the fact that the line end up close to the maintenance shed again – this time the other side and much looking and side stepping was required.
After seven came the down bank and then the cabin jump in pretty quick succession. What I really should have done is dropped down from canter to come off the down bank nicely. Instead we cantered straight off it, though I at least managed to give Eugene his head at the last instant so that I avoided hitting him in the mouth. Fortunately he jumped much more out and than up, so it worked out okay.
The cabin at 9 was a concern when we were walking the course. It was very different in appearance than any of the other jumps, and the light around it made it pretty worrisome- the suddenly very bright arena a few strides afterward following the shade we’d been galloping around in had caused a refusal for Nilla the year before. Eugene definitely made his suspicions clear- he wiggled his way to the jump making absolutely sure that I didn’t really mean for him to go to out to the left – or maybe the right? – instead of over this odd looking obstacle. He finally took “yes” for an answer, though, and with a bit of awkwardness we were off and into the arena.
The approach to jump 10 was the most worrisome part of the course. The path dropped out of the arena down a narrow single-track to a dry creak bed, then up again the other side to the jump set basically at the very top of the incline. It was also straight into a shade after the bright arena and with a bright sunny field on the other side.
Eugene shared my concerns- he was very confused about where exactly we were going after crossing the arena, and we actually dropped all the way down to a walk for a couple strides at the top of the slope down. Once we were started down he picked right back up, and despite not having much momentum at the top he had no problems hopping over the fence.
The course took a nice, gentle, curving line around and over jumps 11 and 12 before making a pretty sharp turn into the water for 13. The water entrance was fairly narrow, and with the sharp turn on the approach and the tall grass making it look pretty strange even Eugene, who’s usually concerned more with whether or not he can get a drink from the water than with stopping to look at it, was a little wiggly. Fortunately, although he slowed and wiggled a bit, he went right in and cantered out a few strides later with no problems.
Fourteen was a couple strides out of the water and there was a little concern there because it’s a weird looking jump and was the jump that caused Nilla’s elimination the year before. Eugene didn’t even blink, though, and we pretty much just cantered over it.
After that, the last two jumps were easy logs. Fortunately, though, I took a look at my watch before we got up to the last jump- we were well ahead of time, nearly 30 seconds ahead of the speed fault time. I tossed in a nice slow circle to let the clock tick by, then brought him back up to a canter to pop over the last jump and head for home. We crossed the finish line right around 4:17, which split the difference between the speed fault and optimum times pretty well. A double clear cross country round was a nice way to recover after the less than stellar dressage and stadium the previous day!
The slow optimum time for the course ended up tripping up several others in our division, and contributed (along with an elimination) to moving up from 9th to 7th for the day. Several people had speed faults- though not enough to affect my standing- but one of the competitors was actually penalized 20 points for willful delay. That was enough to push her over my score and let me end up in 7th out of 10 for the event.
Overall, I had a lot of fun. Eugene gets better each time I take him out- dressage wasn’t pretty and we dropped two rails at Stadium, but I’ll take that over the four at Woodside. For cross country, he did beautifully on a course where he had neither jumped nor seen any of the obstacles before, which was great. After his injuries over the summer, having him perform – and feel – so well was a huge relief. We’ve got a lot to work on still, but I’m looking forward to our next event.