The second day of the Lesley Law clinic was cross country, so my anxiety level was up. I felt good after the first day of show jumping. But cross country was the demon I came to exorcise. So even though the jumps weren’t that high, their importance was monumental. It was enough to make me nauseous, but I had a choice to make: either suck it up and go out, or wimp out and go home.  So I pulled out the photo that I had printed out from Facebook for inspiration:

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What happened next? I swallowed hard, stared my demon in the face, told it to “go to hell,” and drove to the barn. Today, we ride!

When I arrived, the crew of riders had assembled for breakfast.  At that hour, a morning dose of caffeine was mandatory for all of us. As the coffee began to flow, we all became more awake, and the more advanced groups prepared to ride, we talked about what we wanted to accomplish on the cross country course.  Jokingly, someone said “not fall off.”  I offered a tense giggle.  Secretly, that was one of my goals.

The other big goal was to get photos and video of our cross country experience. We had a neat phenomenon where out of all our clinic participants, we had two married couples, both of whom were riding. One couple, Ezra and Jen, was split between two different groups, so they could take photos and video for each other. The other couple, Rebecca and Scott, was riding together in the same group. So they asked me to take video of them, and in exchange offered to take video for me when I rode, since I was alone.  I immediately agreed.

When it was time for the first group to go out, something happened — nearly everyone came out to observe, to carry water, and to cheer each other on. It was phenomenal. There was a unique energy to each of the classes. I had never been in a clinic environment where so many other riders went out to support each other. Typically, I’ve experienced clinics where each class goes out essentially on their own, without a big band of followers so this was really cool to be a part of.

The most advanced group went out first. They were jumping training and prelim questions, which I found intimidating from the ground, but as the group went through schooling each obstacle and circled around, Lesley gave us a little color on the questions and what made them challenging, the riders’ strengths, and the horses’ reactions. For instance, she sent the group to school a ditch. This one, however, had a downhill approach from both sides.  It was also on a tree line, so it was half in the sun and half in the shade.  Lesley sent everyone down to it, while we all remained with her in the golf cart. Lesley explained why and how those characteristics made the ditch particularly challenging.  And as I watched her take each successive group out, I discovered how she broke down a ditch from the most complex version, to the most simple over which to begin, and how to build from one to the other.

My new idol from that group is a woman named Angel. She’s 65 and doing training/prelim. She is beautifully fluid and elegant in how she rides, and that conveys to her horse as an effortless confidence. When she isn’t riding, she bombs around the cross country course on a mini dirt bike.  So cool!  She has ridden with Lesley for several several years, and Lesley said Angel had only become so confident in the last couple of years. I’m taking that to mean there’s hope for 50-year old me yet!

The novice group went next. They took a great mix of questions — bank, drop, ditch, log, coop, lattice, trakehner… I gained a huge amount of respect for one rider in particular, Kris on her horse Elliott.  She probably wouldn’t describe her ride as her best ever, but she rode her butt off! Elliott was being pretty ill-behaved, but she stuck with it and schooled him through it all. I learned a lot about courage, trust and endurance by watching them.

I was really impressed with Lesley for her willingness to go until people felt like they had reached their goal for the clinic. This group wanted to practice over skinnies and chevrons.  But the only ones of those on the property were way up the road — Lesley didn’t care! We all piled in the golf cart and drove up the road while the horses took a different path to get to the schooling field, and we stayed there while the group schooled to their heart’s content.

We took a break for lunch, and to rehydrate in the heat and humidity. Then the beginner novice group took the field. My hero in this group was another woman, also named Angel on her adorable quarter horse gelding Denver (also known as Bubba). Because beginner novice is the next step up for me, I was careful to study her ride for as long as I could. It can be summed up by saying her rides were successful because she had a quiet seat and hands, and she stayed out of Bubba’s way throughout the ride.

Then it was our turn. The first order of business was to show Lesley that we could control our horse in the open field.  Charlie took a leisurely spin around our section of the field, and came back calmly to join his friends. Yeah! Then, Lesley reminded us that upon approach, the rider owes it to the horse to let them know something is coming, so shift your weight down and back about 5-7 strides out.  Then 2-3 strides out, put your leg on, grab mane, and give the horse the ability to reach with his head and neck to get over the fence.

Lesley then took us over each of the jumps that would eventually be on our cross country course at the horse trial a couple of days later. We started over two fences on fairly flat terrain, leading to a downhill approach to a third fence, so Lesley said make sure to take these jumps at just a trot because you don’t need a ton of momentum to get over them, and it’s more important to maintain control and not get strung out. Our next challenge was a hill. Charlie very dutifully stopped and checked in to see if I really meant it about going down the steep far side. When I said “yes,” he stepped gingerly, taking care of me as best he could.  So cute!  We had a log, brush, and a coop in this part of the field.

We moved on to an open field ditch. After this experience, I guess I can’t say anymore that Charlie doesn’t like ditches. He rather lurched at it the first time over, but once he had seen it, he was totally non-plussed about the whole thing. I chose to take it a few more times on our own, just to get across the idea that he could walk over it, and it was really no big deal. Charlie agreed and we moved on.

Our last challenges were water, which given the heat was a nice way to end our session. For Charlie, water isn’t much of a challenge. Actually the challenge is to get him to canter through it without playing in it or drinking it! Lesley turned it into a game were all four horses were running through the water together.

She checked in to make sure everyone had met their objective — we had! Fundamentally, we stayed on. Our fences weren’t perfect, but we established the conversation between Charlie and me about pace and direction. Beyond that, we improved both Charlie’s confidence, and mine. Most importantly, we found the fun!

Special thank you to Rebecca and Scott for the videos!