So first – apologies to those who thought I was dead in a ditch on the Poplar XC course. I am indeed alive and well. AND SO HAPPY WITH HOW THINGS WENT. What this post will not contain is photos…. alas, we managed to not have any all day. But what it will contain is lots of balls. More balls than an NFL team.
So let’s begin with Friday afternoon’s XC schooling. Nicky took me out along with another awesome little horse Harvey, who despite sitting in a field for a few years has such a calm, game little attitude. Great horse. So just the two of us headed out onto the course, and I was feeling GREAT. After Ollie’s stellar little XC lesson the week before, I felt amazeballs. But Ollie…. he heard a familiar song in his head.
Tappity tap tap tap jig….electric slide.
It was the return of the tap-dancing fool. He got out there and immediately said, I KNOW THIS ONE! THIS IS WHERE I GET TO LEAVE MY BRAIN AT HOME! IT’S AWESOME!
So he ducked out of some of the tiny logs at first, only because he could and I wasn’t riding him strongly enough. He was swerving all over the place and being snorty and stupid. But then he started to go over the other jumps at a trot, landing mostly in a canter and came back to me afterwards in a reasonable amount of time. He was clearly having fun.
Until he was having TOO MUCH FUN.
There was a jump at the top of a little hill. And afterwards a loooooong straightaway. I knew I had to get him back to a trot quickly, or it was all over with.
Yeah, it was all over with. Ollie assessed the opportunity about five strides out and said, IMMA GONNA GO. Snorted his way over the jump and ran like wind (OK, as much as a beastly Percheron cross can) and totally blew through my aids. To anyone watching, they would have thought it was a nice forward hand gallop perhaps, but that I was in control. But I wasn’t.
He happily charged forward and wouldn’t listen to me where I was supposed to be turning with him, and just cantered ahead. And, of course, there was a throng of people straight ahead walking, and I had to give the embarrassing callout of, “HEADS UP! I CAN’T STOP OR TURN HIM!” Because, if you might remember, Ollie doesn’t mind running into things. Ever. Including people.
I eventually stopped him, and I was not only not pleased, but a little freaked out at that point. I was instructed to MAKE HIM RUN MORE, FASTER AND UP THE HILLS if he tried it again. Make him think running away was a bad idea and lots of work. Which he did. I wasn’t able to totally carry on, though, as I was totally out of breath. Damn lack of stamina. My body’s an asshole sometimes.
So I finally got him over the jump he was supposed to go over, and down a hill toward the next jump, which I again didn’t ride strongly enough to and got that wicked left duckout again, where he almost ran into the pole. OK, try again. He tried to go left again, and I thought, “Alright, fucker. You wanna hit it? GO AHEAD. I’m not saving you.” So he hit it with his head and totally took out the jump number with his hard-ass noggin (OH MY GOD, POPLAR, I AM SO SORRY).
The next attempt? Golden. Last two jumps and the water complex just for funsies? Golden. He was either tired, or me letting him hit his head knocked some sense back into him.
So after not having much control, I was feeling really nervous and iffy about Saturday. I would be lying if I said I didn’t think about scratching XC. Because I really did. But in the end, I said I was going to suck it up and do it, because I paid all that money and JESUS, EVERYONE WILL KNOW.
So our dressage warm-up in a regular old warm-up ring was actually good. He felt great. He felt even OK in the dressage warm-up arena. It was time for me to go, and I trotted by the judge’s box, and Ollie suddenly felt tense and looky – for him.
“OH MY GOD, MOM, WE ARE BEING JUDGED. I can’t work like this!”
I immediately knew we were not going to look as beautiful as we’d been looking at home. But honestly, I was aiming for mere survival and not getting eliminated. And fate tempted even that.
Going down the center line, Ollie was trying to be all over the place. The judge was kind with her “fairly straight” comment. Our first turn to the right was ugly, and again, Ollie tried to run away from the judge’s box as best he could (“needs more bend”). But we got some nice trots in there (and even got ONE 7- woohoo!).
But our canter circles? Oh dear. FOURS. The overall test comment that made me laugh the most: “Very willing horse.” Yes, very willing to try to canter RIGHT OUT OF THE ARENA. Ollie saw there wasn’t a real fence. He made the calculated decision to try to exit stage left.
“MOM, we have shown them enough of how awesome I am and how inept you are. It’s time to bounce and give me second breakfast.” (He’s part Hobbit.)
To anyone watching, it doesn’t look like he’s struggling with me – which is a blessing and a curse. All the judge saw was a hard YANK after he ignored my leg. I got nice “rider needs to be more tactful with aids” and “rider throws horse off balance in circles” comments, but that’s because that’s what the judge sees. I’m just happy to have kept him in the ring, the stinker. The good news? I might be able to learn to hide these antics better in time without the judge knowing!
We ended up with a 43.5, which isn’t TOO embarrassing for a first test. But we have a lot to work on.
Stadium was actually pretty straight-forward for us. He was being the totally lope-y, huntery version of Ollie that day. We trotted most everything, as I still don’t trust him (well, trust US together, really) to make all those turns, and some of them were pretty tight. I could feel him starting to pull left a bit on a few jumps, but I gave a strong ride and nipped it in the bud BEFORE it became a problem. Amazing how that works, huh? But he made a fabulous jumping effort on them all, and we ended with just two time faults and no rails.
And then we had a few hours until XC. I had time to take a bath in my nerves, and Ollie had time to think about what he had done the day before. I made the calculated decision to NOT warm him up in the XC warm-up area, and just go in cold. It was a good decision.
We trotted into the first jump, and Ollie was pulling all over. But we made it the first try. Going into the second jump, Ollie was huffing and wiggling like a goddamn worm in the rain. He clearly objected to it for whatever asinine reason he had in his pea brain. I made the decision to halt him, KICK THE SNOT OUT OF HIM to get his attention, and move forward. He came out at a nice canter and we cantered up the hill, but then came to a trot before the next jump- we had to go sharply right, and he wasn’t listening enough yet to trust he’d make it.
So we went over it, and something amazing happened. He got his brain back. It was like he turned in his claim ticket for his brain. Like a coat check, but for brains. After that? Smooth sailing. He listened and came back to a trot after EVERY jump just like I asked him to. I was doing it in part to prove a point after his idiocy the day before, but of course, also because I’m still a weenie half-breed and it was my first XC course. Cut me some slack, will ya? GOD.
So we went over the jump that was such a problem the day before, and he trotted away like a damn champ. I heard Nicky give out a WOOOHOOOO, and I totally would have fist pumped the air if I didn’t have a death grip on those reins and an ounce of fear in my gut.
But we did it. I crossed that finish line and felt like a million damn dollars. It was amazing, and I could feel that adrenaline pumping through me like booze in a frat house. I had done it. My first event, completed without elimination or memory failure. I felt like a winner.
Although I wasn’t actually a winner. We came in 7th. Why? BECAUSE I HAD 51.2 XC TIME FAULTS. When I saw that, I had to laugh. Maybe next time I’ll trust us to canter more, but the trotting was needed for Ollie’s brain and my growing balls that day.
I came out at the end excited to do it again, and proud of how far Ollie and I have come in less than four months. It’s amazing what’s transpired so quickly. And in a fun, wistful turn of events, my former horse – who wasn’t a good match for me – was there too. And he also completed his first event, but at BN. It completely warmed my heart to see us both succeeding for the first time, and it made me reflect.
Although we didn’t work out as a team, it was a good reminder that there’s always hope no matter how bad it seems at the time. I wasn’t an awful rider. He wasn’t an awful horse. We were just awfully matched together. He had gained so much athleticism and confidence with his new people, and I had gained so much more confidence in myself – and in Ollie – with my new trainer.
Halliea and Leandria, thanks for being to JJ what I could never be. I am sure this is going to be just the first in a long line of events for him. And for me too – we’re both going to do great things. Neither of us got ribbons that day. But what we received was so much more: Confidence. Progress. Redemption. We’re each so much more than we thought we could be just a year ago. I think that makes us both winners after all.