Today was not set out on our original schedule. Phillip wanted the option to arrange classes based on what horses and riders needed work on. Everyone arrived early, and received a schedule for the day. The first class was stadium jumping at 8am, followed by hourly classes of cross country, with the levels increasing throughout the day.
Lesson #5 – Cross Country with Phillip Dutton
I was assigned the 9am cross country group, which was bigger today, numbering eight of us. Quarters were a little tighter, and since there were more of us to squeeze into an hour of instruction, we did longer strings of jumps, where the next rider started on course before the previous rider finished.
We repeated the myriad of obstacles we saw earlier. And today, Phillip was less forgiving of horses breaking stride from a canter or gallop, unless they were doing something super brave like taking the drop into the water.
Today, he introduced a jump we hadn’t done before – the triple log. They are three logs of varying heights running lengthwise next to the galloping track. No matter which one you take, you’re going to have to canter across the width of the track either on approach or going away. Heck, we used them as a mounting block for most of camp. Now we were going to jump them: the center one on the way downhill toward the barn, and the larger one on the way uphill toward the field.
So off we went, one at a time. And the funny thing was, we all had the same reaction: Geez, I hope I can stop before I run into one of the parked cars, especially the Porsche that was under the tree. Jumping some good sized logs wasn’t even an issue. Maybe that was Phillip’s point. Smart man…
The main instructions today were to maintain our canter or gallop with good impulsion, not to interfere with the horse’s mouth or back, and to be firm in our direction to take a particular jump.
Phillip sent each rider off in turn. As we collectively finished one string of jumps, he would call out a new pattern of different jumps, and off we’d go again. We kept at it hard for a solid hour plus. And we fought to hear those magic words from Phillip – “Good riding!” Interestingly, I found I heard them more when there was an issue, and I reacted to correct things, and then we took the jump successfully. It could be uncertainty on Charlie’s part. It could be terrain, like having to canter downhill. It could be the distraction of a tractor on the road. But when the outcome was a firm direction, and an honest jump, all you had to do was listen, and the bullhorn would sound out, “Excellent riding!”
Cross Country Boots
After the morning class, I finally caught up with Emma Ford, who had offered to help me with the fit on some cross country boots I had brought with me. I had two sets: one medium and one large. But being new to cross country boots, I wasn’t sure how they should fit. Emma kindly helped me position them correctly on Charlie’s legs, and showed me how to put them on with a slight overlap. Now we would be well prepared for the afternoon competition course.
The difference between cross country and jumping boots is essentially two-fold: First, cross country boots are waterproof. Not in the plastic raincoat sense, but in the sense that the materials that make up the boot shed water more easily and don’t retain it. You need waterproof because a wet boot causes rubs. It also makes the boots incredibly heavy so the horse has a much more difficult time lifting his feet once the boots are waterlogged. Second, jumping boots are generally open in the front, and usually just cover the inside of the ankle in back. But cross country boots go all the way around the leg, and provide much more coverage on the rear legs especially.
Course Walk with Phillip
After a lunch break for everyone, we set off on our final lesson of camp: a course walk. The closing event was to be some “good hearted competition,” a cross country gambler’s choice, run in teams. We had nearly the entire field of jumps, with points marked on the side of the obstacle.
To get us ready, we did a course walk with Phillip. He talked about how he would approach certain jumps, and how to use the field to your advantage in setting up for the next jump. You see, where stadium jumping is often about tight turns and rollbacks, cross country is different. You can ask a difficult question like a keyhole jump or a mound, and then give the horse time to re-organize himself as you gallop a fair distance to the next obstacle.
Then Phillip announced the teams. Each group had a mix of riding levels on it. I had the pleasure of being with three other ladies, all of whom I had seen ride in their own classes, and whose skill and courage I respected.
The rules were simple: We each had ten attempts available to us – any jump the rider wanted, in any order you wished, with no time limit. If the horse refused a jump, that was one of your attempts. All obstacles could be taken from either direction, and each could only be taken twice. And you had to do at least one jump in both the upper and lower fields. The team with the most points at the end would win bragging rights. Game on!
My team walked the course together, each helping the other scout out approaches and high point fences. The more advanced riders in our group went for things like the keyhole, the large coop coming out of the water, and the skinny roll top going into the water. My high point obstacles were things like the bank/drop, the mound, and the bench. We marched through the field, counting fences and points in our heads as we went. Then it was off to tack up and get to galloping.
Some Good Hearted Competition
Are you kidding me?! We’re eventers! We’re all out to win!
My group went first, and I went third of four in the group. When it was each person’s turn, Phillip coached us over a jump or two to warm up, and then you were on your own. At my turn, my best laid plan went out the window, and I secretly wished for a set course. But here we were.
To start, I took the medium log toward the cars, turned and took the large log coming back into the field. That was one and two. Then the roll top and the log for three and four. I decided to try for a mound jump that we had not done before, and Charlie refused. So much for number five. Phillip called out for us to continue, and we set out to the lower field. We took the bank/drop for number six, and a different mound for number seven. Then the bench, the other way over the bank/drop for eight and nine, and finally through the A and B parts of the water for number ten.
Remember, We’re Here to Teach the Horses!
Because we had a miscue at the first mound jump, Phillip had my teammate, Mia, lead over the mound jump that caused us trouble. His instruction was for Mia to go first, take a log and then go over the mound. I was to stay as close and as fast as possible. We sailed over the mound jump without issue.
Phillip remembered everyone else who needed extra schooling too, even when it means a fair bit of engineering. For instance, Nicholas, from the more advanced group, and his horse, George, had a tough time with the keyhole. In a flash, Phillip pulled the tractor up, took the top off the keyhole, and set it on the ground, now inverted to a “U” shape. That left the brush sticking up, but now without a 2’6” jump underneath it. He and Nicholas then schooled George over the brush until it was no big deal. Then, to cap it off, Nicholas and George went over the keyhole again (just without the top).
Evie and Phillip Dutton were superb hosts. Evie organized everything. She kept the program moving, made announcements, and made everything work. Phillip provided insightful instruction in a calm and kind way. But he pushed you too. And you were happy to make any extra effort needed out of respect for his skill and his belief in your potential.
Waylon was a great choice for the second instructor. He has his own style of teaching, but it too is quietly confident, and he is demanding in his own way.
Emma Ford and Cat Hill were fun and informative. Special thanks to both of them for being available to help out with very Charlie-specific questions.
Lee Lee Jones provided us with photos of the weekend’s activities.
The working students, starting with Callie Mitchell’s greeting each arriving trailer, were inviting and helpful. They’re a great reflection on True Prospect Farm.
Even Evie and Phillip’s younger daughters helped out, serving as team members for groups on the last day who were short by one rider, so everything came out even.
There were a host of sponsors who provided all the campers with generous product samples and informative talks on a variety of equine subjects.
One of the biggest things I appreciate about my equestrian adventures is that the sport has a way of grounding you. Even after a good ride, you’re typically standing in a dirty stall, shoveling manure, which makes it harder to get full of yourself. And this group of campers was no different. We held each other’s horses, we shared supplies, we shared tips and tricks and hacks. We rooted for each other in our lessons, and we offered each other support when the rides were tough.
Most of us were amateurs, but there were some professionals and near professionals. And it didn’t matter a lick. No one had an oversized sense of self. We were all there to do our best and learn something new. Some did that by facing a few demons along the way (like backing up my trailer). But no one held back their effort.
I’ll Be Back Next Year…
I can’t believe how quickly this camp at True Prospect Farm went by. When I started, I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it through. The days were incredibly long and exhausting. I took on more challenges (and not just riding) and accomplished more “firsts” in this experience than I ever thought possible. The dressage is more fun that it gets credit for. The show jumping is a blast. But I’m now officially hooked on cross country. It’s different than any other type of riding there is. And I love it most of all.
The riding at camp was challenging and fun. Phillip and Waylon tested my limits both physically and mentally. They repositioned my relationship with Charlie. I’ve rather spoiled him. But now I am better prepared to serve in the role of coach and rider for him. Phillip and Waylon showed more faith in my skill and potential than I gave myself credit for. And that gives me confidence and courage for other things in the future.
As we loaded Charlie into the trailer, Phillip set out to exercise one of his own horses. He called us out by name, thanked us for coming, and said farewell. We wished him a good ride, and good luck at the Great Meadow Pan Am tune up event the following week.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. Phillip’s slot on the Olympic team is safe from me. And I’ll never go up against Waylon at Bromont. But now I do hope to go further up the levels than I originally planned. And by next year’s camp, I hope to have graduated up a group or two. It will be fun to show Phillip and Waylon what we are able to accomplish in a year between camps. It’s going to be a magical adventure eventing with Charlie Brown! I can’t thank Phillip enough for getting us off on the right hoof.
See you next summer at True Prospect Farm…