Up, Up, And Away! XC Lesson Recap

Love, love, love these ladies and their steeds! PC: World's Best Trainer
I think one of the best ways to start a Friday is with a cross country lesson, don't you!?

Team Orchard Hill headed up to the horse park for what was my first actual schooling outing of the season, and the inaugural lesson over solid objects for all of us.

I was a wee bit nervous knowing that Ms. Trainer would very likely not let me get away with putzing around over tiny logs and baby banks the entire time. She expects me to, like, grow and improve and be brave. Ugh. Trainers. Always insisting on making us better riders.

So after a quick warm-up during which I installed the "Go Plz" and "Bend A Little" buttons, we started right off with the jumping by cantering out of the start box and over the first fence on the BN course.

We were, apparently, not messing around with tiny logs that day.

We ain't foolin around, honey. 
Dino, to my surprise, leapt right out of the box and into a great canter as we headed towards the log. I, on the other hand, was suppressing some mild terror and instead of looking over the jump, I stared it down, resulting in a super awkward almost-stop-and-lurch over it.

But I had survived our first jump of the lesson, and a BN one at that! I resumed breathing and trotted back to the start box for a do-over, this time with a much stronger leg and a commitment to not boring holes into the fence with my laser vision. Surprising no one, the jump turned out much better. We finished up with riding out of the start box, over the log, and straight on to a post-and rail fence. I was very calm and cool about the whole thing, and the line rode uneventfully. Dino was feeling confident and forward, and the (smallish) Beginner Novice fences weren't causing me too much anxiety.

We moved on into the woods, where the other two riders worked on riding up and down a Novice bank. I declined to jump down, but did jump up it. The first time I unhelpfully stared down at it, which confused Dino and caused him to stop and stare at it, too. After that I kept my eye up and my leg on, and whaddya know, Wonder Pony popped right up.

It was at that moment that I re-learned for the millionth time that if I clearly express my intention to go over an obstacle instead of just to it, Dino will jump. Every time. But as we all know, it's one thing to know something intellectually, and another thing entirely to believe it with your whole being.

The other girls jumped a BN table a few times, which I also declined after looking at it and thinking that it was a fence that would probably grow bigger the closer I got to it, and I didn't want to give myself the excuse to make poor choices. I assumed at this point that I'd only be jumping things that didn't completely terrify me that day.

Roller Coaster In
Ha. Ha ha. Good joke.

Our next assignment was to jump the BN house out of the woods, and then gallop through the water.

I really, really did not want to jump that house. At all. I thought I might puke. But I decided to give it a go instead of being a total weenie, and fell in line behind my barn buddies as they cantered over it. Dino was starting to get a little strong at this point, and it took some very assertive half-halts to get him up off the forehand and down to a speed that didn't feel like riding a runaway sled down a snowy hill. Unfortunately, my fear took over as we approached the house, I stared down hard at it, and Dino stopped. I could feel myself starting to get very upset, and my mind was suddenly flooded with all kinds of lies as my eyes stung with the threat of tears. "See? You can't do this. Stop trying. You'll never be able to do this." I tried to listen to my trainer's encouragement to get out of my own head and try again, this time looking UP. Chancey's mom offered to lead me over the second time, and in between long, shaky breaths, I picked up the canter again and followed the much more confident pair up to the house.

This time, we jumped it.

It sure as hell wasn't pretty, and Dino gave the water a hard look afterwards, but we did it!

I didn't want to do it again, but I knew I should, this time without a lead. I made the same mistake on the first attempt to jump the house by myself, and arrived at the base staring down at the jump and without enough impulsion. With more deep breaths and more pep-talking, I came at it again, hanging onto my trainer's encouragement to LOOK. UP. this time, and we jumped the house! Dino felt like he absolutely exploded over the fence, and we trotted on through the water with no problems. I felt a little shaken, but also so relieved that I had jumped what was a very scary fence for me and survived. If I could do it once, I could do it again, and I resolved to school that house some more the next time I came to the park.

We moved on to what were some more "comfort zone" fences for me, since I did want to address Dino's recent habit of getting very strong on XC and out galloping at home. The little stinker had tried very hard to take off with me on a hack the other day, and I definitely didn't want to continue to feel like I was riding a runaway, downhill freight train out on course. I headed out to jump a series of small logs on the flat, open airstrip, with instructions from Trainer to do whatever it took to slow Dino down and get him back on his haunches if he dug in and took off.

True to expectations, Dino landed off the first fence and ran. I sat up, used a strong pulley rein, and balanced him back before the second jump. It worked to get him back to me, but I was having to ride much more aggressively than I wanted to. He settled with a much quieter aid on the way to the third log, which was encouraging, but I may experiment with some different bits so that I can make a correction and then leave Dino alone to continue moving forward. The problem with our current set-up is that it takes a LOT to get the desired effect, if any effect at all, and it's easy for me to get stuck in Pull & Hold Mode, which helps exactly no one when I'm already mentally backed off. So, we'll see where that goes, but after that it was time to school the roller coaster.

I'd ridden into the sunken road and out over the top fence plenty of times, as well as riding it "backwards" by jumping down into the ditch and cantering out, but had never really had much success jumping the proper in fence, making the 90 degree right hand turn into the sunken road, and jumping back out. So we'd work on that next.

On my first approach, I didn't have near enough impulsion and also stared down at the jump, riding to a nice little stop. Dino was game, and it was entirely my bad riding, so I came at it again in a much better canter and with my eye looking up higher, and popped right over the first hanging log. In my relief to have gotten over the first element of the combination, I neglected to, you know, look right, so we had a pretty awkward turn down into the sunken road and an under-powered jump out. We definitely needed to do that one again! This time, I looked right towards the next fence as we jumped the first one, and despite a wiggly turn, we made much smoother work of it.

I was super pleased with that effort, especially the way I kept things quiet and un-dramatic when Dino wiggled on the way into the sunken road.

Next, it was time to jump All The Banks!

Again, the only trouble I ran into while popping up and down the small bank complex was when I looked down at the question instead of up where I actually wanted to go. The ups became easy once I lifted my line of vision, but I never quite managed to smooth out the down banks as much as I would have liked. My hesitation and dropped eye made Dino stop at the edge the first couple times, but we both got more confident as we continued to school up and down the banks, eventually jumping off without losing our forward momentum. Dino could still feel my mental pause, however, and really LAUNCHED down the last bank we rode! I'll have to work more on smoothing that out as well, but I felt like it was a good starting place. To finish off schooling the banks, Trainer had us jump up the double Training banks. This scared me. It showed. I stared down and took my leg off, Dino crawled to a stop, and then my Very Good Pony hauled both our asses up both steps like a proper champ.

What a guy.

The lesson concluded with some work over the BN ditch, which was, I think, some of the most productive riding we did all morning! Dino is generally a Master of Ditches, but the last few times I schooled them he hadn't been very confident. I think this was mostly because I wasn't very confident, and also stared down into the black abyss of the ditch like a moron. Regardless, our ditch skills needed some recalibration.

The first time we approached, I stared down. Dino stopped. This surprises no one. My annoyance with myself was reaching an all-time high. So we just kept circling around, I kept looking up, and we kept jumping the ditch. Over, and over, and over, in both directions, until it was smooth and easy and right out of stride. By the end of the schooling session, Dino felt like his old Ditch Master self again, and I was feeling MUCH more confident about riding the question, which gave Dino more confidence, and we were cruisin'! I even found myself eyeing up the Novice ditch, thinking that I'd give that one a go on our next schooling trip.

After taking a break while Chance and his person schooled the bigger ditches, I decided to end the lesson with galloping uphill over a wine barrel jump (flagged Novice but certainly no bigger than BN in its actual height) and then over the ditch. I wanted to test myself a little bit with the long approach to both elements, seeing if I could keep my cool and maintain a good canter the entire time.

To my utter delight, it was a success! We quit jumping on that fantastic note (though I would continue to school the water a bit on our way back to the trailer) and I felt such huge relief in what we had accomplished that morning.

While there is certainly a lot of fear and anxiety still to work through over the "big" fences, as well as my bad habit of looking down, I am THRILLED to have ridden an entire XC lesson over mostly BN questions. The only fences I jumped that were below that level were the three little logs we schooled to work on our half halts - every other question was at least BN. And that's something I didn't think I'd be able to do again for a very, very long time. Though we did have several stops on this outing, they were all entirely due to my own mistakes, and Dino didn't get frazzled by them at all. I was also able to move on from each one, even when we had two refusals at the house that severely rattled me.

We're certainly not ready to run BN again yet, but I do really feel like we're getting there!

As long as I LOOK UP and KEEP COMING FORWARD, everything else will fall into place.



  1. You guys are amazing (And I love that your have the three sizes of horses represented in that first photo so cute!). I know the want to vomit feeling so well I could feel it reading the blog! LOL. Great job and yes if we could just look up things would be so much better....UGH. I love cross country but it is seriously one of the most likely to make me want to vomit :) NERVES GO AWAY. :) I love that you finished on SUCH a successful note! So happy for you guys!! You will ROCK at your next event!!

  2. what a good feeling after a ride! making changes in our riding is such a process sometimes but it's nice to know that the horse is game when we get our shit together!

  3. Sounds like a really solid day with a lot of progress made!


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