I ventured back to True Prospect Farm for another 6:30am arrival, making sure that Charlie Brown had enough time to eat slowly before we go to work. I seem to keep drawing the early rides. And while the wake-up call is painful, I’m grateful for the earlier time so we can get our first ride of the day done before the sun hits its peak. Fortunately, the weather on Saturday wasn’t so hot or humid as it was the day before. Plus we got a nice breeze to keep both horses and riders a little cooler.
And so we set off at 7:30, fed, groomed, tacked, and headed out to warm up, making sure we were ready and at the appointed meeting place 10 minutes before our lesson.
Lesson #3 – Cross Country with Phillip Dutton
Phillip began by reminding us of his admonition before stadium jumping class yesterday. “A horse’s first impulse must be to go forward.” So for good measure, we practiced galloping. There were only three of us in the group today (the groups varied from lesson to lesson), so we had plenty of space to gallop around in a large circle.
Once we had our gallops down, Phillip started us over a relatively small, straightforward log. The purpose of the exercise was to get us over the center of the log, without any second guessing from the horse. Phillip said that we have to get out of our horse’s way, and let them get us over the jumps. Especially on cross country, that takes an energetic gallop, and a firm focus by the rider.
Phillip had shortened my stirrups by one hole in the stadium jumping class yesterday. But this morning, he took them up an additional hole to help me stay out of the saddle during the gallops between jumps. He pointed out that galloping between obstacles is how you make up time on a cross country course.
When a couple of attempts at our little log were met with hesitation on the part of the horse, Phillip took the opportunity to school everyone on proper use of a crop around a cross country jump. We cantered into the same log, and three strides out we bridged our reins. Then one stride out, we took our crop hand down to the side as if we were going to use the stick behind our leg, at the girth. Then we repeated the exercise with the crop in the opposite hand.
Being ambidextrous is a valuable skill here. I’m extremely right handed, so this part is a little tougher for me. At first, I had trouble dropping the rein with my right hand to move the crop into position. Hey, I’m galloping around an open field here! But a small leap of faith, and I got it done on the right side. The left side is still a challenge. I’m just a lot less coordinated with my left hand. I guess I’ll be practicing this one a lot on my own.
At this point, Phillip introduced us to every conceivable type of cross country jump available on his course, sending us far into the field alone, and chasing after us in his golf cart. There were logs, and coops, and banks, and drops, and small tables, and mounds. Charlie Brown took them all in good humor. The mound, in particular, was new to us, but he watched others, and took on the challenge himself with ease.
Then there was the ditch <insert horror movie music here>. I had mentioned earlier that Charlie didn’t much care for the ditch we tried schooling at home, so Phillip dropped his Trakehner (a rail over a ditch) so that the log rail laid on the ground across the ditch opening. That didn’t matter to Charlie. He still didn’t like it. We went to take it the first time, and he refused entirely. Nothing dramatic or dirty, just, “Nope. Not doing it mom.”
Phillip noted that Charlie was trying to slip out to the left, so he directed me to use a big spur and a stout tap with the crop on Charlie’s left side (remember, I’m VERY right handed). It wouldn’t win any style prizes, but I got the aids on, and we went over, albeit way to the left. In fact, we went over the standard that normally held up the log that was lying on the ground. I had to laugh. Charlie put way more effort into getting over the standard than it would have taken him to just pop over the little ditch. <sigh>
As if you didn’t know this already, that wasn’t good enough for Phillip, and he sent us over again. This time – brave man – he stood in tightly on our left, giving Charlie less and less room to wiggle out, and at one point nearly pushed on Charlie’s body with his hands as we veered left in mid-air. We took that jump over and over until we got a reasonable performance.
Then, to finish our cross country escapade, we went to the water. I only had my jumping boots on, which I know aren’t the right equipment because they retain water and get heavy. We started by simply cantering through the water. The horses tend to slow down when they get to the water, so Phillip shouted to us to keep them cantering. Then he added a jump on the way into the water. When we did that respectably, he added a second jump coming out of the water. So even though these weren’t huge jumps, the concepts were getting much more advanced – especially for the horses.
Charlie loved it! He took to it like he had done it every day of his life. And I think he enjoyed getting me wet in the process. It was nice to end the lesson on a good note. We both felt like we had accomplished something.
Grooming Like an Eventer
The grooming session with Emma and Cat offered the chance to have Cat help out with a particular grooming issue. For us, that was Charlie’s tail. Since he’s half Friesian, it’s crazy bushy. Many of the people in my barn have Thoroughbreds, so they’d like to have a little more of what Charlie has tail-wise. So since no one has experience with pulling a tail like eventers do, I asked Cat to help get us started.
We began by pulling the thumbnail width of hairs from the bottom of the side of his tail, keeping an arced shape. Then she separated out a “V” shaped wedge of hair on the top of his tail and moved it aside. The remaining hairs needed to be thinned a good deal, but not completely. Special thanks to Cat for getting us started, and to Charlie Brown for his patience. I promised to send Cat progress reports so we can get this tail looking amazing.
Lesson #4 – Dressage with Waylon Roberts
After a mid-day break, we set out in another group of three for our dressage lesson with Waylon. Since the morning lesson was nearly an hour and a half, our dressage lesson was slated to be just 30 minutes. But with Waylon’s enthusiasm, and everyone’s willingness to work, we went over that, and not by a little bit. I think it was an hour before we finished.
He started us on a four loop serpentine, but only out as far as the quarter line, to work on getting the horses supple and responsive with their bending. Riding the Titanic (see Day #2’s blog) we had some issues with missing our spots and winding up without enough room at the end of the long side to make the last turn. We continued with the serpentines and 20m circles, and then went back to the previous day’s topic of pace, modified for dressage.
To close the lesson, Waylon had each of us ride an actual dressage test. The other two riders went first. When it came our turn, Waylon changed tactic. He pointed out that Charlie would likely have a repeat of the same issues we had experienced during the lesson. So instead, he had us work on getting to be hotter off the leg, whether that was pace or bend.
Then, just before we finished, he had me dismount and Waylon hopped on Charlie Brown. Eeeppp!!! I’ve got a phenomenal rider schooling my horse. He worked Charlie hard for about 10 minutes. That doesn’t sound like much, but Waylon squeezed a ton of work into that short time slot: transitions, bending, and pace. It was a joy to watch. And it was really cool to see my horse perform so well. When Waylon went to hand Charlie back to me, he said, “You’ve got a really nice horse there.” Wow! Now that’s high praise! Perhaps most importantly, I’ve now seen a top rider school Charlie, and I can work on those same lessons at home.
A Special Event at Bit of Britain
As a “thank you” to the riders, True Prospect Farm had arranged a shopping trip to Bit of Britain. It’s one of the few independently owned tack shops left, and owner John Nunn is an eventer himself. So there is a passionate and knowledgeable rider as a resource at this store. Plus, there’s a discount for USEA members. If you don’t live in Pennsylvania, you can still shop on their website at www.bitofbritain.com. John also runs Tack of the Day, a daily special deal sent out by e-mail. To sign up, go to www.tackoftheday.com.
I didn’t buy the place out, like my husband predicted I would, but I found some really nice things that I haven’t seen elsewhere.
Dinner at Phillip and Evie’s House
To wind up the day, everyone came to Philip and Evie’s house for dinner, and an evening of relaxed conversation with Phillip, Evie, Emma, Waylon, and several of the working students. The house is on the property at True Prospect Farm, just up the road from the wash stalls. Everyone was a gracious host – warm, welcoming, and willing to share their knowledge. The food, sponsored by Bit of Britain, was great. But the company was even better. It’s not every day I get to share a meal with an Olympian.
Another Long Day…
I wandered back down the road to the barn where Charlie Brown was stabled. I cleaned up his stall, got him fresh water, checked his salt, and fed him dinner. Then I stayed for a bit to trade stories about the day’s adventures with him. I think he’s having fun. I know I am. It was another long day today, but it was jammed full of new experiences, fun, and accomplishment.
I can’t wait for tomorrow…