It’s no secret that turning Archie into a XC horse has been the biggest challenge for me. It’s not really him, it’s just us together. Even when I don’t think I’m nervous, surprise, I’m really good at getting nervous. Archie feels that and goes, “Well shit. If she’s nervous, I think I should go very very slow and not jump things so she stays on.” Kind, but not really… what we want.
Our last three fences at Cobblestone, I finally felt “it” – where it clicked for him and he really took me to the jumps and I rode forward and it was all just wonderful, so I knew coming into XC here I needed to get that feeling right off the bat. He’d been schooling amazing at home (and much bigger) so if we got it, we shouldn’t have any issues with the course.
Of course I decided to start the morning off absolutely nauseous with nerves because.. I don’t know. My friend at one point looked at me and asked if I’d eaten anything and apparently the response, “caffeine and prescription pharmaceuticals” was not an appropriate one, so I was drug off to the concession stand and forced to consume a smoothie and half a grilled cheese. It’s funny – I never got nervous to show growing up, but it’s like I become an adult and suddenly a 2’3″ XC course makes me want to barf. We were also trying my new XC prep routine here – headphones in when I start tacking up, put myself in a corner at some point and visualize my ride a few times, get into a ‘zone’. I’m sure I looked crazy sitting in a chair, fully dressed, facing a corner, but whatever works right?
Finally, it was go time. Archie, normally lazy and chill, tried to jig his way the whole way up the horse path to XC warmup, so I finally told him to just GO and thought we’d just use it as a warm up. He cantered off about 10 strides and then thought better of it and came back to his normal, easygoing walk. At least he’s not particularly dedicated to being spicy? We also discovered at Cobblestone that some solid pump-up music on the walk over helps keep me in that ‘go, focus, ride your ass off’ zone, so I was also jamming the whole way over. (Side note, is this a playlist anyone else wants lol? I have spent an inordinate amount of time perfecting it)
My coach met us in warmup and Archie was immediately awake and ready to go – we ended up just jumping our vertical, oxer and coop twice and being so happy with it, just going on that. Big difference than our warmups earlier this year where I had to jump over and over because I wouldn’t go forward enough and kept pulling. Nothing like nailing your warmup to make you confident leaving the startbox.
I haven’t worn a watch all year because that’s not my focus at all right now so I didn’t even know what speed/time fault times were. My only focus was each fence as it came and going an appropriate pace. I also tried keeping him moving and busy versus standing in the box (thanks Ride iQ office hours) to keep his brain engaged. He left the box hunting down the first fence and popped over easily.
From here we crossed the road and turned right to a rolltop set on a slight hill. I figured if anything would be a little sketchy early on it might be this – leaving warm up, the downhill side was towards warmup and open, but to my (happy) surprise, he absolutely took me to it – to the point I was trying to remind him he DID know what a half halt was and if he could listen, that would be great. After two we were supposed to go through the fenceline and swing a right to a coop. No problem… except I was already so in the zone I went through the first fence opening… not the marked second one. Oops. I realized my error when I emerged between the two Hagyard vet trailers (and probably gave the poor girl climbing out of the truck a heart attack). I had a split second of ‘fuckfuckfuck’ before I saw the ropes end and figured out how to get back to my fence from there. It gave us a less than ideal approach, but I just sat up, put Archie on the fence and rode and he was like “gotta slice across this? SURE MOM!” Here is where I went, HOT DAMN I HAVE A XC HORSE. It’s also where I realized I might need a different XC bit…
Four was downhill to a little fan palisade. We’d jumped a bigger one at Cobblestone without problems, so I wasn’t worried about the fence, but I could have done without the “I DONT HALF HALT I FLY FAST I AM ARCHIE” attitude we had going. Needless to say, it was not an issue and we cruised from there to a little bench. Six was a really fun steeplechase brush. I didn’t think it would be an issue by this point, but he hadn’t seen brush before, so I wasn’t going to take any chances. He got a little tap one or two out and barely flicked an ear back at me like, “Oh that? Whatever!” I’m pretty sure I let out a huge whoop here and it might have included a “FUCK YEAH” oops.
Seven was a rolltop up the hill to eight – a water option. The water entrance was a little sketchy so we picked the option. This was the only place on the entire course I felt him back off even the smallest amount. The fence was a raised log stack downhill in the trees jumping into a narrow path and he questioned me for a half-second, I clucked him forward and he proceeded to jump the hell out of it. We’ll take it. At this point we were three from home and I was psyched.
I chatter incessantly through my courses – partly to keep myself breathing, partly just… because? Well, apparently on XC I YELL. One of our barn mates was actually announcing and he said they could hear me essentially through the entire course. Which I mostly find hilarious, but uh, sorry for anyone I yelled at?
The last three fences were all uphill – a cute table to a grey box and finish over a brown stepped table/fandango. At this point, Archie was picking his own speed and I was basically just there to point him at the right fence. It felt awesome though; I could have picked any fence out there and he would have jumped it. It’s really the first time I felt him absolutely lock into fences and take me there for a full course. He did it a little at our home schooling HT this summer on the back half, but here he was like “I KNOW THIS GAME!”
We jumped the last three clear and immediately after finishing I was just an absolute emotional mess. The joy from finally, FINALLY making it happen and it all coming together, knowing I did this, the horse who got eliminated on XC just a few months ago going clear with total confidence. There are a lot of people who wouldn’t have wanted to deal with Archie, but I always (well, almost, when I wasn’t cursing him out HAH) thought if we could just channel that attitude in the right direction he was going to be awesome. I’m so proud of him, he is not the same horse he was when he arrived a year ago and I know we’re just getting started.
When results went up, I originally had almost 8 speed faults – which would have meant I did almost 425mpm the entire course. I mean, we were fast but… surely not THAT fast. About 15 minutes later, they changed my time to a much more realistic 3:48 – only one second under speed fault time, but not 425mpm fast. I guess I have to be grateful for my little ‘getting lost’ detour from 2 to 3?
When all was said and done, we ended up 9th out of 16 and I couldn’t be happier. We brought home a big beautiful silver ribbon (which Archie had 0 interest in posing with) and the most perfect end to our season.
He’ll get some time off while I go to the Maryland 5 Star this week and then winter dressage boot camp starts! Here we come BN!