Although my husband didn’t ride until 10:30, we had to be at the horse park bright and early Saturday morning to walk the Novice course before 8am.
While Woodside’s cross country is soft, their stadium is tough! They hold it in the Grand Prix arena and often make use of the terrain options. This time, they didn’t use the up or down options, but the course was still tough and the jumps were maxed out. In debating the move up to Novice, we knew Eugene could handle the XC – especially at Woodside – but Stadium is Eugene’s hardest phase. With Woodside having tough stadium courses, Kate had initially tried to convince my husband to do a move up at Camelot or somewhere else, but he didn’t want to do BN at Woodside again as it wasn’t challenging.
While the jumps were hard enough, the course was made harder by some decorative elements. There was a large, inflatable arch in the corner after 4 (top left corner of the course map). We also knew that the turn from #1 to #2 was going to be hard as Eugene would be weirded out/distracted about going towards the crowd at the in gate. The two stride combo was tough. With the oxer at the beginning inviting a wide jump, it was then a rather tight two strides. I watched a lot of the big WBs and TBs struggle to cram two strides in. We actually figured it would work in Eugene’s favor since he’s short-strided and usually struggles to not add an extra stride in combos.
After much trial and error, we’ve learned that it’s really best to do as little warm-up jumping with Eugene as possible. He needs to go over a few jumps to remind him how high he needs to pick up his feet, but trying to drill anything will only tire him out. My husband got on early to walk him around for a while before doing a bit of trotting and cantering to get his muscles warmed up. Then they popped over 3 jumps and called it good.
To keep the ring going as fast as possible, they were letting people into the arena before the previous person finished. This gave you come time to trot around the edge. We wanted to get Eugene as close to the inflatable as possible. While you couldn’t get around #4, you could go through the lower track and swing out to let your horse stare at the arch before having to face it again going into jump #4. Very few people bothered to do this and quite a few horses objected very strongly to jump #4 because of that damned inflatable. I talked to someone afterwards and she lamented not thinking of going down the lower track to get to the corner until she saw someone else do it – after her ride.
I like how happy my husband is waiting at the gate. I was so panicked going into stadium I was fighting throwing up. He’s just excited. They went in, went around to the inflatable corner as planned and then came down to the first jump.
As predicted, Eugene was quite distracted by all the commotion at the gate and didn’t make a great turn to the second jump. They ended up knocking the rail on this one and I was really worried. My actual comment was, oh god, if they’re knocking 1 in 2, they are not going to do well here.
But Eugene actually seemed to learn from that error and was extra careful to pick his feet up at the very wide oxer that was next.
The fence for the lowered track blocked me from getting a good picture of #4, but it was a pretty awkward jump. My husband said Eugene was wiggly and more backed off than he had expected even with previewing the scary corner. Although it wasn’t pretty, they were clear.
They didn’t do a good job regaining impulsion after that jump since they had to go through the scary corner. Then Eugene got a look at all those poles in the combination and backed off quite a bit. My husband got him over it, but Eugene chipped in an extra half stride.
Coming into 5A with so little impulsion, Eugene managed to make the tight 2 stride into an easy three stride and cleared the B element very prettily.
After the combination, there was a bending line to another big oxer. Eugene just flew over this one.
7 to 8 was a 5 stride line. They came into the line super wiggly, didn’t hit the center of 7 and wiggled through the line, but managed to clear them both.
The #9 jump was actually set a lot closer to the tent wall that the course map shows. It was also set at a slight angle. To be straight to the jump, you really needed to go further than you would think before turning. To make it extra hard, it was a skinny with some unique looking poles. From schooling shows, I’m so used to just looking at courses and course maps and then going straight in to jump them, that I forget how valuable it is to walk the course and discuss these sorts of things in advance.
Eugene got in a bit too close to 9, but scrambled his legs up to clear it. (You can see the scary inflatable arch in the background of the picture above. It kind of looks like the arch is far away outside the arena because of the fence and tree, but the fence is for the lower track and the tree is in the arena too. Much like objects in a side-view mirror, it was closer than it appears.)
They came around to #10 and flew over it.
I don’t want to sound mean, but none of us – including my husband – expected them to do so well in Stadium. Before the event, Kate and my husband had been joking that it’d be good if he could keep his score under 100 after stadium. To get just one rail was amazing! My husband was so happy, he started patting Eugene before they even crossed the finish timers.
They were clear on time and with just 4 jump penalties they moved up to 11th place. This Mustang has come so far in the last year. Eugene’s not as fancy and pretty as Levi so he doesn’t get as much attention when we go to shows, but he’s really such a great little horse with more try than any other horse I’ve known.
The course walk for BN was supposed to be at 11:30 with my stadium time at 12:42. They were running really early so I thought they might do the arena reset and walk early. I went over and hung out with Kate while we waited. Her other student who was doing BN was talking about how she thought the course looked really easy. Kate has been having her jump higher than BN at home and telling her it was BN height so that the show course would look easier. I however, actively resist all of Kate’s efforts to get my to jump higher and drive her insane. Thus, I did not think the course looked small. I thought it looked terrifying.
They took forever dragging the arena and we didn’t get to walk until 11:40, 4 minutes before the first BN time. The announcer acknowledged that starting on time wasn’t going to be possible, but asked us to hurry. I watched them re-setting the course for BN and they didn’t change the first jump. It was small for Novice, but I thought it was nice to have a soft start. Apparently BN doesn’t deserve a soft start. They also left all the oxers super wide. I was not so quietly freaking out. Kate kept trying to tell me that it’d be fine and Levi didn’t care about wide jumps and I was like, who the hell cares what Levi cares about. I care!
By this point, I was not in a good state of mind. While I thought the whole walking the course thing was great earlier, I think I might need to not ever get anywhere near the jumps in the future for my own mental peace of mind. I think I need to walk the course while it’s set for a different division to get a sense of the lines and then never go near the jumps again until I’m on my horse.
Because it took them forever to drag the ring, we were running behind. I still had to walk back to our stalls all the way across the park, get my stuff and change, and tack up Levi. This just added to my panic. I texted my husband and he started tacking Levi up for me as I hustled back. By the time I got to the warm up arena I was truly contemplating throwing up. We walked around for a bit while I thought about quitting this entire sport. I was very sure I was going to fall off in Stadium and I was very sure I did not want to do that. Kate really wanted me to not crawl around our usual snail speed, so I worked hard on pushing Levi to go faster and then come back to me and go faster again. When I finally started jumping up and Levi starting doing his last second chip stride – which I find very disconcerting – I started getting even more concerned.
By the time it was my turn, I was in a pretty bad state, but we had to go. I also went through the lower pathway to present Levi with the inflatable arch. For all his issues, Levi is not generally a spooky horse and I was rather surprised when he wanted nothing to do with that corner. It’s a good thing we went over there first. Once they rang the bell, we were off.
Levi was playing the how close to the jump can we get game. I do not like this game, but I tried really hard to keep pushing him forward instead of following my gut instinctual and slowing him down.
We got over #2 all right and then for #3, while he didn’t chip in an extra stride, we had a bad distance and got too close for a rail.
He was very sure he did not want to go down the #4 line towards that inflatable. But I was very determined that he was going to do it anyway. Some spurs and a smack got him moving and while it was super awkward, we did not stop.
I cut to the left after #4 and didn’t try to drive him into the scary corner. Once we rounded the bend, he locked on to #5.
This horse really does like jumping and hunts the fences. He just doesn’t know how to manage his feet. I think he could go pretty far with a better rider.
For BN, they removed the B part of #5. We flew down the bending line to #6 and he popped over it easily.
I really let him out going to #6 and he landed in rush. As we went around the turn to #7, I felt like he was just taking off with me. I am very sure he was not actually going that fast, but I would like to do jumping from a western pleasure speed canter, so I really can’t be trusted to judge these things. I tried to half halt him a bit just to get him on my aids, but I think I only succeeded in backing him off before the line. We got in too close and he tried super hard to make it, but nearly lost me in the process.
You really need a close up to appreciate just how bad this was. Although I was a little too busy staying on to notice it, my husband informed me that the audience gasped.
Tangent-time: When I had a similar near-fall at the combined test, I really struggled to get my stirrup back because I was using lightweight Compositi stirrups. I’ve been using them for years and like them. I very specifically remember reading one of the George Morris critiques in Practical Horseman where G.M. ranted about those lightweight stirrups not being safe because they’re so light, they bounce around and you can have a hard time regaining your stirrups if you lose them. At the time (before the CT) I just scoffed at G.M. being his usual old-fashioned self and hating on new-fangled things. However, when I had to stop and take a moment to get my stirrup back at the CT because I couldn’t get it on the move, I thought “dammit, I hate when George is right.” I had a conversation with my husband that day about the stirrups and that article and I decided to switch to using my Icelandic stirrups on my jumping saddle too.
Back to this round: As I lost my stirrup over #7, I knew I couldn’t get it before the second jump and would have to circle even though I knew I’d get the penalty for crossing my line. I was able to keep moving and regain my stirrup on the fly and I truly credit that to having the heavier stirrups. We made a quick circle while I found my stirrup, and then came right back to #8. Levi does not like to touch jumps and hitting #7 really got him to pick his feet up for #8.
I honestly have no idea how Levi got over #9 without knocking the whole thing over since he decided to wait to take off until he was underneath it, but he did.
Then we galloped down the line to #10 and cleared it.
We managed 12 jump faults and 2 time fault and dropped from #16th to #17th. I was pretty disappointed with the round. Not with Levi, though; he was a good boy and tried hard. Would I really, really, really like him to stop chipping in? Yes, of course. But I wasn’t upset with him after this round. He was such a good boy about the whole thing: he didn’t refuse anything, he jumped everything I pointed him at and didn’t cop a single bit of attitude – even when I fell on his back on #7 or when I rode him defensively with my hands too high. I wasn’t mad at him; I was just upset with my own riding. He’s a good horse and deserves better. It would also be nice to not end stadium rounds at large events embarrassed and with everyone in the audience fearing for my life. But at least we survived!
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post on the last and best phase: cross country.