Showjumper Goes Eventing: XC Lesson Recap
A few weeks ago, my friend and Arli’s favorite vet Meredith invited us to go cross country schooling. It was more than just schooling, though. Meredith was having a xc lesson with her eventing trainer, and asked if we wanted to tag along. Though I wouldn’t say Arli and I had been having difficulties, I would say we were in need of a confidence boost and a change of scenery, so I took her up on the offer and I’m so glad I did!
It was a sunny Sunday morning and I was up at our hilltop barn packing. Arli seemed suspicious as I loaded select items into his trailer but left my trunk behind. I think he was hoping I wasn’t planning to leave him behind with it! I wrapped him up with his Back On Track wraps and off we went. He loaded perfectly as always and was a cool customer while Missy took a few minutes to decide whether or not she would join him. Then we headed off on our adventure to Gibbes Farm in St. Matthews, SC!
When we arrived, I was partially intimidated by the sprawling fields and solid jumps, and partially super excited to get out there! Arli and Missy hopped off the trailer and munched on the lush grass while Meredith and I tacked up. We would ride in a Starter-Novice group lesson with two other riders. We were fortunate to have our wonderful friend Wendy along to serve as groom, waterboy, and photographer! We finished tacking up in perfect time as the group before ours, Training level, returned to their trailers. Meredith mounted up and I followed behind her over to an area with a few small starter fences.
Truthfully, I had no idea what to expect. I knew nothing about the trainer (I eventually learned her name was Laura) and I have only been cross country schooling once, not counting playing over the small xc jumps at my old barn by myself. I know that eventers are known to be quite different from showjumpers, so I was both excited and a bit intimidated. Both Laura and the rest of the group helped me to feel right at home after just a few minutes, though!
We warmed up at the trot and canter on our own before starting over a couple small corrugated pipes. Great, I thought. We had a pipe like these at our old barn and Arli hated it! Sure enough, he stopped at it and snorted upon first inspection. We came back around, though, and he popped right over them, sure to give them lots of room.
From there, we moved on to a little course involving some bigger logs, a stack of logs, and a water complex. Arli decided this was more exciting and he attacked the questions. He was a little suspicious of the green fuzzy water complex and broke to the trot for a few steps, but we kept the forward momentum! The course involved quite a bit of room between fences, and Arli was so excited by being out in the open that he felt we needed to run. Laura asked me if he was always this feisty. “Pretty much,” I said. “But he’s easier to get back when he’s in an enclosed area.” What can I say? He’s a dragon.
Laura seemed satisfied with that answer, and we moved to a complex with a drop and an up bank. The small course Laura put together started on another corrugated pipe, which Arli jumped more comfortably this time, to two logs, up a steep hill, a left-hand turn to a log that dropped down a hill with a sharp right dogleg turn back to the first two fences. It finished on a bigger raised log. Though I was a little nervous about the drop, it ended up being really fun! We executed the dogleg turn well, and it was a good example of the differences between eventers and showjumpers. As each rider took on the turn, Laura suggested an open inside rein. As a showjumper, I stay away from wide opening reins, especially when I need a sharp turn and balance. I opted for what Arli knows better, a slightly open inside rein with a stronger indirect outside rein. We made the turn in good balance without him getting too quick down the hill and crooked in the outside shoulder. The opening inside rein is not wrong, it’s just a different discipline’s way of answering the same question!
We stayed in this same area to practice jumping up a bank. Arli and I have had a little trouble with banks in the past, so this was a good area for us to work! I always worry about getting left behind as my horse jumps up the bank, so I tend to lean forward. That in turn makes it difficult for my horse to jump up. Ugh! We jumped the good sized log that ended the last course, with a sharp left turn to an up bank, with a right hand turn to another log. Our first try, I leaned at the bank and caused Arli to make a little scramble up the bank. The second time around, Laura reminded me to line up my shoulders with my hips until it was time to come off the ground. I came around the left-hand turn to the bank and thought sit back, sit back, sit back, and surely enough it worked like a charm! As a trainer, I have these moments with my students all the time. The “I’m telling you this for a reason, I promise it will work if you just do it” moments. I know Laura experienced that then!
Next, we did a short course involving a coop with a rollback to two large offset logs four strides apart, with a long canter to a little house. This was a really fun exercise, but I pulled for some unknown reason in the four to make it a short five. The whole time I was cantering through the four I was thinking, “Why am I pulling?!” and yet, I still pulled. Face meet palm. It happens to all of us!
We made our way out of the beginner novice forest area to the larger field with some big girl jumps! We started on a little faux ditch combination, and Arli had his scaredy cat pants on. On first approach to the ditch, he stopped and spooked about two strides out. Laura suggested I walk him parallel to the ditch both ways so he could see it out of both eyes. That wasn’t something I had thought about before, but it worked like a charm! He still scooted the next couple times over it, but eventually we got brave! We jumped the little complex (the faux ditch with a log three strides before and after), to a big log, to a large thing-a-majig. I don’t know what it was called but it was weird looking and Arli thought so too.... no touchy!
Probably one of my favorite parts of the lesson, we tackled a big trakehner to two large logs three forward strides apart going uphill. It was by far my best riding all day and Arli thought it was awesome! He jumped the trakehner with room to spare, then galloped loosely up, over, and through the three stride. It was one of those “that felt perfect!” moments. Laura and the rest of the group had high praise for my sweet boy!
Finally, we headed to the last complex, the large water complex in the more advanced back field. Arli thought this part was super fun, jumping in and out of the water and cantering through it! It felt great as it splashed up into my face since it was super hot out! We worked out some kinks as I practiced getting his canter put back together more quickly after the jump into the water. The very last thing we did was jump a neat raised canoe into the water, which Arli did no problem!
It was such a fun time, and a huge confidence boost for Arli and I in a low-key environment. Everyone was so kind and complimentary, and it was nice to hear that people think my horse is nice - not just a high flying dragon! Laura was great. I loved that she was direct without being rude or demanding. She expected good riding and for her directions to be followed, but she was never unkind or sharp. That’s the kind of training I try to give, and the kind I like to receive!
Sometimes it’s nice to have a change of pace and a change of perspective. I encourage more riders to get out and try something a little different. Arli and I had a blast and learned some new things we can add into our exercise. You learn something from everyone, even if they don’t do exactly what you do. Who knows, maybe I’ll put on my big girl pants sometime and take my eventer-turned-showjumper back into the eventing world?!
Photos in this post by Wendy Hill