Cross County: Praise Jesus We Lived Through It
I'm not going to pretend I was anything other than utterly terrified to ride this XC course. It ended up being completely the opposite of what I was expecting, so much so that I'm debating sending a note to show management letting them know that building a course that isn't as advertised in the prize list is just not okay. ANYWAY...
Walking the course, I actually felt really good about the first three fences. Fence 1 was a very friendly log with a nice groundline, with a sweeping right turn to Fence 2 - the white rolltop that I had jumped earlier in the week. Fence 3 was a long gallop down the field to the little house which Dino and I had also already conquered. Then we got to Fence 4, a very wide feeder/table on a slight downhill approach, and I started getting a little more nervous. It was wider than anything I'd ever jumped before on cross country, and downhill is not my favorite orientation. We would continue around the edge of the field to the chevron at Fence 5. I wasn't too worried about this one with its straightforward appraoch, but hoped that Dino would be able to read the airy shape of the fence.
The footing was questionable going into the woods for Fence 6, and I made note of the best route around the deep ruts. There was also deep mud a few strides out from the jump, which was a max-height massive-looking pyramid of logs. The change from bright sunlight to shaded woods might also play with both Dino's and my eyes. It was at this point on the course walk that my stomach began to churn. Could we do this? I wasn't sure.
Fence 7 was a mercifully straightforward gate that we had jumped before, with an easy sweeping gallop to the water's edge, which was flagged as Fence 8. Fence 9 was a large ramp only one stride out of the water. With the drag I felt through the water in our schooling earlier in the week, I wasn't sure if Dino would have enough power to get up and over the jump. Worry gnawed away at me. Were we really ready for a course like this? Did I make a mistake?
Fence 10 eased my nerves just a little bit; it was a very straightforward, friendly feeder that we'd jumped in schooling before. Fence 11 I also felt okay about - it was very similar to The Mound at Flora Lea, although it was definitely steeper on the backside. I planned to walk down, and then ride a wide turn to Fence 12, a hanging log I'd jumped many times before.
After that we'd gallop uphill to Fence 13, some nice friendly barrels, and then move on to the ditch, Fence 14, which we are awesome at. No problems there. But when I saw the dreaded Green Bench flagged as our 15th fence, my stomach flipped. It looked HUGE. Really huge. Just as huge was the last jump, Fence 16, a max-height produce stand. Never jumped one of those before, either. And after running the rest of the course in the high humidity, I wasn't sure that I'd have the strength to ride it well. I was not feeling confident after the course walk, and was seriously doubting my ability to get through the course in one piece.
Dino warmed up INCREDIBLY for cross country. He absolutely nailed our warm-up oxers, and gave me one of the best jumps I've ever felt - captured beautifully in the screen shot above! He was jumping great, but I still had my doubts. I tried to swallow my fear as best I could as we left the start box and headed out on course.
Fences 1-3 jumped very well as I had expected them to. I rode strongly and decisively until I felt Dino land and hunt for the next jump, and then relaxed and let him cruise a little bit. He was giving each fence PLENTY of clearance, and I felt like he had room to spare over everything. We both sighted in to Fence 4, and as I settled Dino into a more uphill canter his head started coming up, trying to figure out this next jump. I kept my leg on, but he bounced to a stop right in front of it, unsure of the downward-sloping landing side.
I felt absolutely defeated. Not even halfway through the course and we had already picked up a refusal. My legs were weak. I was breathing hard. Part of me wanted to give up right then and there. But I made myself regroup and re-approach the fence, which Dino then jumped with no issues. The chevron was next, and I didn't want a repeat of our last effort. Trying to avoid the rutted footing at the base, I rode to the right of the fence. Between my crooked approach and the unfamiliar looks of the chevron, Dino glanced off of it to the right. Refusal #2. Even more discouraged than ever, I figured I had nothing to lose and may as well keep trying until I couldn't try anymore. Dino stepped right up and jumped it like a total champ on the second try, and then it was into the woods.
Dino was VERY cautious about heading into the trees - he backed way off and we actually ended up walking the first few steps onto the path, before picking up a trot as we got closer and closer to the giant log pile. I barely got him cantering before Fence 6, and he practically levitated over it, jumping me way out of the tack.
I swore, took a few strides to recover, and gathered us up for Fence 7. That one was uneventful, as was the entrance into the water complex. Dino took a moment's hesitation and then trotted in boldly, sighting in to the ramp on the other side and totally taking us right to it! He was a ROCKSTAR in that water complex - I had nothing to fear about that jump out of the water!
At this point I was starting to get tired. It was so humid out, this course seemed so long, and I had wasted a lot of energy being nervous. It took a lot for me to gather myself up for the last few jumps, but thankfully fences 10-14 all rode REALLY well. I was actually starting to feel more confident, even though I was exhausted. After we loped over the ditch, I set my sights on the Green Bench of Doom and gave Dino a strong half-halt to get him off his front end and rocked back on his butt. He answered with a strong, balanced canter, and I squeezed him off the ground from a good distance and jumped that stupid bench like a real eventer! I was so ready to be done, I felt like I could barely breathe, but there was one more fence. I gave it the same treatment that I had the bench: strong half-halt, lots of leg off the ground, and Dino launched over and took us across the finish line.
I was totally relieved more than anything else. WE HAD DONE IT. We had lived. I had just jumped around a recognized-caliber Beginner Novice cross country course and survived. I didn't fall off, I jumped all the fences, and my pony was a complete and total badass. Dino was there for me at every turn, and even when he was unsure and stopped, he rallied and jumped everything I asked him to, even though I was having huge doubts about it.
I just can't believe we DID IT! We're legit eventers now, I guess. Now that I know what to expect, and know that we CAN do this thing, our next foray into Beginner Novice will be much smoother and more confident.