Lessons Learned- Schooling Training Level

First of all, let this post be a secondary declaration of my amateur status, which will not be in question (not that it ever was) after finishing this post.

Also, let this post be a testament to both how difficult Jack can be, and how forgiving. Bless.

After finishing our dressage from the weekend before, we changed tack and headed out to the XC course to get our first miles over solid training fences.

The most amateur of amateur hours

Because he was basically warmed up already, we started by popping over a Novice fence once then coming back at it’s Training brother- a tall roll top in the shade. That went well enough, so we moved on to fences 2-4, which were out on the galloping track and set with lots of running in between. Though Jack peeked hard at 3 and 4 (no pics, but a max table and cabin with interesting cutouts), he obliged with a reminder from Mr. Tappy and went over. This horse has just the BEST gallop, and it’s so fun to let him rip and eat up the turf.

Since we were schooling the course in order, 5AB were next- a 2 stride roll top combination with some terrain in between. These War Horse shows take no prisoners, so of course they were again maxed out. Jack has jumped plenty of two stride combinations in showjumping, but this was his first on the XC, and his first time through he dove right over the B element, jumping it but causing my right foot to take out the flag. On representing, Holly had me create the straightness by being forward, and it made all the difference.

Next up was the coffin complex, which includes a ditch that Jack generally hates, and the feeling is mutual. The questions was a (again, max- just assume everything is maxed) roll top, 2 strides to the ditch, then a short angled one stride to a skinny roll top. This felt a little much for a horse green to the level, so we opted to just school the ditch, which you can see in the video.

We then made our way up the hill to another combination on course, yet another skinny followed by a left hand turn back to a brush fence. This ended up riding beautifully, and was a real confidence builder for me.

Thankfully we had had a good schooling up until then, because from here on out our greenness at the level was glaringly obvious. We got to the water, which included a log pile in that went between 2 pine trees (I admit I GOOFED this line the first time because I couldn’t tell which trees to go between!), through the water then up a bank, 2 strides to a roll top. We had a real stop and start rhthym at the point, not only because of my issues reading the lines but also because of interruptions from other groups schooling and being a bit oblivious to the other riders there. I don’t know if it was this that got Jack all jazzed, or my own anxiety rising, but homeboy got strong all of the sudden, and somewhat difficult to manage. That made me think I had to ride backwards to get over the log pile… and as you’ll see in the video. It’s not pretty. So despite that taking some time to figure out, he did make the bank-rolltop seem quite easy, so I’ll take the small victories where I can.

Issues with the ‘in’ element continued with the next combination (seriously, there were very few single fences on this course), a cabin-to-cabin situation on a hard bending 6 left. Since Jack has always bulged through his right shoulder, we absolutely blew by the 2nd fence on the first attempt, and it took me putting both hands on the left rein to correct our steering. So the second time through I tried to fix that by jumping in a bit weaker (read: not the right decision) over the A element, which allowed us to hit the B element but still not as tidy as I’d have liked.

Out over the B

Luckily we were able to get some mojo back over a large corner and skinny-to-skinny combo that was near the end of the course. Despite being wiggly (and still strong), Jack took it the first time without a whole lot of issue, but we were encourage to really get to it in a super forward canter. I also lengthened my reins and got a little behind him as instructed, which made the whole thing ride beautifully, and I was just effing thrilled to be done and have survived. You couldn’t have wiped the grin off my face if you’d tried.

To say I learned a lot that day is an understatement. I learned that Jack absolutely has this in him, and there are pieces that feel fairly easy (skinnies) and plenty to work on (ditches, turning, straightness). The biggest difference for me is knowing how he needs to jump over these wider, larger XC fences, and how I need to ride differently to accommodate that. Mainly, I need to ride with longer reins than I do in showjumping, and get a little more into chair seat on the approach. I also need to get more comfortable with really traveling to the fences to create the straightness, and trust that he’s going to jump- some of my holding and therefore hollow jumps are from trying to maintain the control that I have in SJ, and it’s just a different animal at this level compared to Novice.

All in all though, despite our mutual mistakes, I am so thrilled with Jack and trying to be forgiving of my own mistakes. Mostly, it just makes me want to get out there and try again now that I’ve learned so much. Hopefully some of this will translate into our Boyd clinic this weekend, but I’m just grateful to say that we survived our first real foray into Training land!

Smitty’s First Cross Country School

I’ve officially owned this tall drink of water for a month, and so it was time to get off property and introduce him formally to a proposed life in eventing. With the help of my friend A, we took a long afternoon with no time constraints to head to a local schooling venue.

Smitty doesn’t appear to have loaded into a step-up trailer before, but after some honest coaxing we got him on and soon enough arrive at the venue. We got him off and I led him around the giant field scattered with cross country fences. With each one he would look at it, snort, touch it, and then immediately nosh on the surrounding grass. After a few minutes of this even a dilapidated pile of wood that once was a corner was no big deal to him.


We tacked up (a two person job without crossties- such the wiggle worm!) and meandered around the field again. When nothing had changed, we went for a big trot and canter. A quick check on transitions and steering and it was time for some “real” cross-country stuff.

The first was a baby ditch, more like a swale with a ground line. But for a baby eventing horse, it was the perfect introduction. Walking and trotting over this proved to be no big deal, so we progressed onto eventing requirement numero dos- banks. The first attempt, he didn’t understand the question, but on the re-approach went up it like a champ. We trotted up it a couple times, then came back down it at a walk and trot. On landing, he happily cantered off without any drama.


Next up was the bowl, which we used to show him terrain and how to balance himself going up and down the steep hills. Bar one moment of exuberance, this too was no big deal. Onto the water!

The water was interesting, because in its current state it was obviously home to frogs and dragonflies and a crap ton of algae. It took some minutes to insist to Smitty that it was truly water, and not some kind of toxic sludge. But as soon as he stuck his nose in it you could see the light bulb go on, and he marched through and around it without looking back. In fact, he cracked me up because when we went to exit the water, he took it upon himself to leap out!


To say I’m thrilled with our first adventure is an understatement. Smitty handled everything with as sensibly as a baby can, and really seemed to take to the idea of working out in the open. Now that I know that he can be such a good boy, I can’t help but think up all sorts of things that we can do next!

Running Start XC Schooling

So, I am back in Raleigh again, for the time being at least. We did indeed make it to the dinner and reception of the wedding, which was really special! Then Sunday I was able to spend some quality time catching up with Foster, pulling his mane to an actually desirable length and getting him otherwise trimmed up. Then yesterday, thanks to warmer temps melting the snow, we were able to go school XC!

XC schooling last year

XC schooling last year

I went down by myself (therefore no photos), as my original partner in crime’s horse came up dead lame 2 days prior, and had scheduled a lesson with a trainer I’ve never worked with before. I will admit there were some differences in communication, and I felt like a pretty big dummy at several times. I’ll further admit that I even got a little emotional, as I know I tend to do when I am feeling sick (which I was/am, fighting off a nasty cold and having stomach issues to boot).


In any case, here is what I did manage to learn from the lesson:

  • Sit into the saddle longer while posting to encourage him to use his backend
  • Always imagine keeping the hind end underneath me (especially through turns)
  • Soft, bent knees – no standing in the stirrups!
  • Make him maintain a rythym (particularly on terrain)
  • No pulling on the away side of the fence
  • Ride the canter, don’t just allow it to happen
  • Swing my hips and connect to him as I ride to the fence (don’t stop riding!)

While I was trying to learn/remember all of this, Foster was thankfully proving himself a mature, solid citizen. He warmed up really nicely, and took to the fences like he’d done it yesterday, not 3 months ago. There was no hesitation at all jumping the Novice questions. The two fences I was most concerned about, the jump over a log into water (he has only done a cross rail version of this), and the trakehner, were ridiculously easy.

What I thought would happen at the water jump

What I thought would happen at the water jump

He attacked the water jump. Where I thought I’d be saying Go, I was saying WHOA! Definitely not going to be a problem, and it felt really great to see how confident he has become.

Ali and Baron jumping out over the log jump last summer

Ali and Baron jumping out over the log jump last summer

The trakehner was also excellent. This was a super friendly jump, where the ditch was not boxed in but still gave the impression of a taller fence and something to look at. There was still a bit of snow on the ground around the fence, so I was a little apprehensive that things might get slippy if he were to suddenly react. Once again, my fears were completely unfounded, and he went over it beautifully. If only I had a photo to prove it!

Because he was so good, and surprisingly peppy even at the end of our schooling, I have committed to the show this weekend. I know we won’t be as prepared as I would like, but I think it will be a good first outing for him at the Novice level. The course will be maxed out technically speaking (there will be a half coffin, bank to pheasant feeder, terrain questions, and of course the water jump), but it won’t be maxed out with height and width. Tonight Foster is going to get an easy stretchy ride and we will prepare as much as possible for a crazy week! Get excited!