The Hoosier Horse Park, our local show/XC venue (also host to the 1987 Pan Am Games, fun fact) offered open XC schooling this weekend and we took advantage to prepare for IEA Horse Trials at the beginning of next month. They didn’t put a lot of jumps out, but there was water and honestly, plenty of fences for my level (aka THE SMALL SHIT).
We needed to be down there by 8am which meant a 5am alarm clock and being on the road by 6:30am – ouch. Loading was an adventure itself (tl;dr Archie had never been in a straight load, he was awful for 30 minutes and then the mom with us took him, patted his neck and walked him right on at which point he looked at us and went, “What’s the big deal guys?” HORSES.) but soon enough we were on the road, everyone unloaded easily and we got tacked up. Our lesson wasn’t due to start until 9:30 so we decided we’d just go hack around. Archie wasn’t so sure what this giant open field was all about, but after kaleidoscoping his head around, he settled right in and was happy to go hack around.
Due to scheduling I ended up in a lesson with a junior and another amateur from my barn who are both schooling training level so we spent some time watching the ‘big brave horses jump big things’. It was really, really good for Archie’s brain to just be out and about. We made our way to the water complex – it’s a really nice one down there – big shallow entrance, plus banks of every size in and out. We have a small water at home Archie goes in and out of all the time, plus I make him walk through every puddle in our path. Yet, this water? This water was TERRIFYING. We tried to follow other horses in, we had his friends stand in the water, we tried standing next to the water. Arch was not having it. Finally, I ended up getting off and walking him in a few times and it seemed to click in his brain that this was the same thing as at home. Cue facepalm. After that we went in and out about a hundred times. He still tried to be an ass and insist he was afraid about midway through, but guess what, he’s a terrible liar.
From the water, I found some cute starter fences I said I wanted to jump. A little grey coop and a baby hanging rail – we jumped them both individually and then strung them together. For all of Archie’s insistence he had no idea what he was doing earlier that day, when it came to jumping he went, “Yawn, this?” and loped around all of them. This horse is wildly frustrating sometimes and then 10 minutes later he’ll be perfect. Humbling sport, that’s for sure.
We finished the day with another little coop over on the backside (near the old water, for those familiar) and finally, with another one set two strides off a little hill/path through the woods. We jumped them both ways and this damn horse didn’t put a foot wrong. With that we called it a day – Archie had jumped a grand total of 5 fences, probably about 12 efforts and was soaked like he’d just run prelim, but that’s what happens when you a) insist on being a drama llama and b) are a little… rotund at the moment.
I came off course having gone through a rollercoaster of emotions – everything from ‘f this, I should sell him’ to ‘wow, he’s going to be so fun next month!’ but two days later I can say we’re going to be just fine. It’s hard to go from a horse like Iggy, who had totally been there-done that, gone Training, etc. to Arch, who I still have to remember had never been offsite XC schooling before Saturday and has XC schooled maybe seven? eight? times total. We’re going to IEA next month with zero pressure. If we get down there and can do a dressage test? Awesome. If we feel good enough to jump stadium? Super. If we can hold our brain together in XC warmup? Great! If we jump one XC fence? That’s an accomplishment. We’re going for the experience, not the show record or ribbons. The more experiences and repetition we get, the better we’ll be. Once upon a time, Doc and Iggy and every other horse I’ve ridden was green on XC too. The only way it gets better is practice. Summer of XC schooling it is.