Here there be dragons...

"I'm telling you stories. Trust me." - Winterson

Lexi learns XC with Blyth Tait

*edited - have to go to the barn, but for those who *really* want the story...  Here's the first draft.  Lessons learned etc will be its own post (maybe tonight) cause this is already long!*

XC day of the Blyth Tait clinic was yesterday.  I had to leave early to get back to the barn in time to teach.  By the time I got home from work and uploaded all the photos (cause let's be honest. people care more about photos than blog posts *g*) I was done.  Really done.

BUT thanks to the absolutely amazing Kennedy who got up early to do the barn for me, I got to sleep in!  Woohoo!  So now you're getting a day-time blog post.  I never write during the day. Partially because I write best at night and partially because I'm always *busy* during the day *g*   So we'll see how this goes.  Meeting the vet at the barn this aft, so I have till then to type (not Lexi, but one of my other horses is 3-legged lame and I'm super worried about him...)

Got there Sunday morning with lots of time to feed my pony (which was not so necessary thanks tons to Dani!) and get ready to go.  As I didn't have anybody with me (and realistically, Lexi had a stall and *should* be exhausted so I didn't really need anybody) I begged Sabrina to take photos for me.  hahaha so mini camera tutorial and then go to tack up.  Well I turn around and Vanessa's handing me tack and Sabrina's getting me organized and both Dani and Kitty were there too -- apparently it takes four-five people to get me ready *g*  I put it down to being invited to stay in Arthur's barn -- you get spoiled there :)   Really it was just social hour as nobody else was riding till later, and social hour when comprised of several helpful people gets things done quickly.

Take Lexi out to the arena and all of a sudden she's not so tired...  Spinning in circles, fairly concerned.  Fortunately at just that moment I saw Emily riding Lexi's new best friend (as of yesterday) out to XC.   I called out to her and she very kindly came in the ring to babysit until we were ready.  The spinning came down right away and became more of a pacing -- at which point Kitty magically appeared to help get Lex to pause long enough for me to get on *g*  hahaha clearly need a little more experience before I'll be able to handle my pony entirely on our own.  You wouldn't know she rides alone Every Single Day at home.  Sheesh.

So Lexi glues herself to Mya and we hike our way to the XC course with no major drama.  But once we get there, I asked her to *gasp* go a slightly different direction!  OMG!  hahaha we had a *really* impressive leap in the air and then quite a lovely hand-gallop around the field.  Which didn't actually take us anywhere near Emily and Mya who were walking around like civilized creatures.  But sobeit :)  After our little run which Blyth seemed somewhat bemused by he suggested we not try to stand still and that I just keep her moving around (at a walk preferably) until the others got there.  Right.  
Learning stuff :)
The others arrived and we had a chat -- Lexi and I vulturing the well-behaved horses who were all standing still.   hahaha ah well -- nobody seemed to mind.  (Vulturing - to the uninitiated - is a GRS term for those who pace circles around somebody else...)  Anybody who hadn't arrived with their stirrups shorter than they'd ridden stadium, were asked to shorten them.  With speed, the horse's centre of gravity moves forward -- so too must the rider and shorter stirrups make this easier.  They're also critical for properly absorbing drop fences.  Mine were already cranked up so no worries there -- good thing as I'm not sure we would've paused long enough to fix!

So you'll remember (if my blog post wasn't too incoherent!) - stadium day was all about creating the quality canter.  XC day was all about applying it.  On Sunday Lexi hadn't so much learned about a quality canter as learned about a canter *g*  hahaha but sobeit. So we were to trot around a bit -- mostly to give Lexi a chance to find her brain -- and then canter.
The only picture I have so far *g*  I particularly love the flying mane!
And this actually went really well.  She was super-high, but nowhere near the drama of the Lucinda clinic.  We went forward in the gait I wanted mostly in the direction I wanted :)  And even though our first canter was to the right, she picked up the lead like an old pro :)  Yeah!  And then my photographer told me my camera wasn't working :(  Booo.   Fortunately both Adriana and Kitty had cameras and were happy to document our adventures; unfortunately, I don't have those photos yet!

And then it was time to jump.  Our first task was to trot or canter away from our circle around a mini-trakhener and out over a tiny log that's part of the coffin.  To put this in perspective for those who know my place, I doubt that log's any bigger than the one people sit on in the back field :)   If you chose to trot in, the rule was you had to canter away.  Jumping toward the barn, but with a convenient fence in front of them so they wouldn't be too excited.  Perfect start.  And Lexi's first ever xc fence was beautiful!  YEAH!!!!
Our first XC fence ever!
Our second attempt we were told to canter the approach.  My training with babies on XC has always been similar to Lucinda's teaching -- very slow, very quiet.  But came to learn so go with what I was told and canter gamely on with no questions asked.  Absolutely perfect.  Sweet.

Then we moved on to a "real" xc jump.  There are very few E or smaller jumps on this property but this was one. Totally suitable, but definitely bigger than anything she's jumped with a rider on *g*  Totally inviting little hogsback on level ground.  Perfect.  Get told to canter it as it's a little big to trot.  Ummmm sure, why not? >;-P   Right - well we held our line and we went over it.  I got *launched* -- the photos from that one that I haven't gotten yet will be laughed at and then promptly deleted.  Frig.   Fully expected to do it again, but no, change direction and jump it the other way.   And you know what?  She was pretty much a pro star.  Super stoked at my baby horse.

Here Blyth made a point of reminding people to watch their transitions.  Don't just boot your horse from a halt to a gallop.  Establish a good trot first and then a decent canter transition.  Often the horses get hot on XC because the riders get hot.  If you take your time and give them a chance, they'll respond accordingly.  And with consistent reminders before every start, several horses that had been quite hot settled really nicely.

Then...  *insert jaws theme music here* the tires.  Expected discussion about the scariness factor of tires and how to ride them.  After the barrels at the Lucinda clinic I'd been expecting some serious drama about tires so yesterday on our xc walk I led her up to them to see.  Far less drama than I'd expected (remember the plastic hay bales in the arena?  Couldn't even get her *near* those).   Placed some mints on the jump for her and the world was good.  So today I trotted toward it while the others were still getting organized.  Fairly defensive ride.  And she hesitated -- but totally gave it a solid effort!  I was so proud of her.  Not even any drama!  And since Blyth didn't see it, she got to go again :)  And she was all for it!  No hesitation at all and happily cantering away all proud of herself afterwards.  Woohoo!  Pony likes this game.
What a superstar!
Did another random fence -- one that's slightly more vertical and on an uphill.  We trotted it the first time when Blyth wasn't looking *g*   And then cantered it bravely on the second attempt.  Super good both times!
Second attempt = super confident.
Next was an exercise made out of show jumps, with a vertical on top of the hill then 4-5 strides to a skinny at the bottom of the hill.  Again, the focus was on quality of the canter and maintaining rhythm and balance down the hill.   Equitation discussion about the importance of controlling your upper body -- jumping ahead or throwing your shoulders when you need to land balanced on a downhill doesn't just look ugly, it's very unsafe.   Being the baby group, we got to introduce this one fence at a time, starting with the skinny at the bottom.  Lexi even had permission (more than that, was strongly encouraged) to do it at trot the first time.  Yeah *g*  And she did look at it, but she held her line and popped over it and cantered away.  Next try in canter.  I couldn't believe how well she responded when I asked her to tuck her butt under her and keep it there down the hill.  Amazingly well balanced.  I'm still kinda stunned about that actually -- this exercise was the one that impressed me the most from her response.  Nice and soft in my hands, focused on what she was doing, and in this great collected canter (ummm to put in perspective, still longer than most of the other horse's regular canters, but for her, it was amazing!)  So then the first fence got added in and away we went -- absolutely prostar.  Had a slight serpentine effect the first time, but really not bad at all.  Second try straight and confident.  Woohoo!!!   And all this coming in in canter as well.  Yeah.

The next exercise was the mini trakhener.  I waivered on this one and then opted out.  Part of me is really disappointed and part of me is saying I *finally* made an adult decision.  Being an adult sucks >;-P   You're supposed to finish any training session saying "we could've done more" -- and I absolutely feel we could've done that.  And if it had been an exercise at the *end* of the school instead of the beginning, I think we would've done it.  But at that point I thought we had probably an 80% chance of getting over it.  The problem is, if we'd ended in the other 20% it would've been the kind of drama that makes for great blog posts.  hahaha and at the moment, my horse is tackling everything I ask of her -- I *really* don't want to scare her.  And I know from previous experience that that ditch, while tiny, is deep and houses monsters.   Blyth didn't push one way or the other.  He said he thought she could do it, but as she has so little ditch experience might be better not to.  So we opted out.  

But even opting out was a schooling experience, because to get to the line Blyth wanted them to take, all the other horses were out of Lexi's sight.  I expected all kinds of drama from this -- but I knew the first one would be back in a minute or two so figured I'd just deal with whatever I got...  But no - I don't think Lexi even noticed they left.  She was being sucky with one of the spectators and occasionally munching grass.  And tired.  Did I mention tired?  More cantering in two days than in her entire life.  hahaha  So yeah, standing quietly while the herd left and then came galloping back one at a time -- pretty good schooling.

I am disappointed we didn't jump it though.  Logically I think it was the right choice.  Emotionally, I wanted to do it.  Ah well.

Next was an introduction to corners -- built out of stadium rails.  We were running parallel to the hill and the skinny side of the corner was on the downhill, making it all kinds of inviting.  For Lexi's first go, he didn't make it any narrower, but he put the two wide ends on the ground so the inviting low side drew her away from the inviting runout.   This one had a long canter approach and he wanted us up off the horse's back.  A few people were doing a posting canter -- not acceptable.  To ride xc you have to be fit and balanced enough to stay up off your horse or you make them work far harder than they should.  The other thing he repeated often was "sit up but don't sit down" -- shoulders up and back, but no weight in the saddle.  Use your legs or stick if necessary to create impulsion, don't shove with your seat.  
Lexi's pretty sure she can jump the moon.
He warned me she'd probably break to trot right before the fence to inspect it.  She hesitated briefly but surprising us all, jumped it out of the canter :)  Woohoo!   So then he put the ends up and we went again.  We got to a wickedly long distance but she tried her heart out for me and cleared it to tons of pats.  He used this as an example of a couple things.  First, why the adjustable canter is so important.  He said I rode it properly, but she didn't have the strength or the knowledge to come back when I asked her to.  Second, why you introduce things like this with stadium fences or tiny jumps so that if they miss horribly, they don't get hurt.  She cleared it, but potentially...   And third how important it is to reward your horse and that they trust you. She tried her heart out there -- she didn't have to do that.  And if she'd been scared or something negative had happened in her history, she probably wouldn't have.

Anyways, with Lexi having no idea anything wrong had happened, it was time for our first little mini-course.  Tires, over the drop jump through the trees, then up the bank.  Introduced with discussion about how to ride the drop fence (typical ski-jump type, twice the size on landing as on take-off, but tiny on take-off).  Focus on weight in the irons and irons under your body.  Equitation isn't just to make you look pretty, it's important because it's what's effective.  And also about slipping the reins.  Slipping them - not dropping them.  Just allow the horse to take what they need.

So we *cantered* the tires -- and she took me to them!  Was amazing!  hahhaa but then it kind've all fell apart.  You see, to get to the drop fence, we had to go through a fairly thick treeline...  Sucked way back to the slowest trot and zig-zaged  our way through, and then her eyeballs just about bulged out of her little head when she noticed the drop, but a tap with the stick on takeoff had her going (impressive -- she doesn't usually respond well to the stick, but it was the only option I had at that moment.  I certainly wasn't about to take my leg off to kick!).  Then we had a fairly discombobulated canter but did eventually manage to scramble our way up the bank and canter away.  Slightly less than brilliant, but she did do everything on the first try at least!
Pats for the cantering pony
As for the stick -- in later groups Blyth was actively teaching that technique and recommending people practice it before they ever need it.  The ability to take your hand off the reins at the last second and use the stick behind your leg on takeoff when you feel that last-second hesitation.  Esp at ditches, trakheners, drops into water, etc...

The rest of the group next practiced jumping the grown-up trakhener.  This would've been beyond Lexi even if we had done the baby one, so we sat this one out.  Good practice watching everybody leave her again.  We did head over so we could at least try jumping the bank down, which she didn't beautifully and went for a lovely canter afterwards :)
Emily and Mya giving us a lead into the water
Then it was down to the water -- Lexi was so much braver about this this time.  We took a lead the first trip walking and then trotting through!  Woohoo.  Then she got to trot through on her own -- such a star :)   Next it was canter through and jump after (not out of the water -- a couple strides on dry land).  The jump was big by Lexi standards *g*   We weren't able to maintain the canter in the water, but at least had a solid trot.  She started to go towards the jump but then all the other horses disappeared in front of her (they went around a corner) and she hesitated pretty seriously.  We got over it, but it definitely wasn't our prettiest or most confident jump of the day *sigh*.   Then it was jump in, canter through the water.  Warning here that anybody who chose to get ahead of the motion over the jump would be swimming *g*   I loved the surprised tone "are you going to do this?" he asked.  Ummmm sure, why not?  We've already jumped the fence and been in the water.  "You better sit up and be prepared for a stop."
Making a splash!
No problem.  hahaha my super pony jumped the log like she was an old school master.  Came back to trot for the water, but continued through it without stopping.  Woohoo!  hahaha I was so proud of her.  So with lots of pats, we called it on that.   I was sort of amused though that others trotting through the water was okay, but when others cantered through the water she'd have a mini-meltdown each time.  I parked her a little farther away so she was a 'safe' distance from the scary noises and let her hang out while the rest finished their school.  They added in a jump out and then they were done.   
Not 100% sure, but certainly willing to try!
Emily hacked back with me because I wanted to detour via the baby ditch, and she offered to both babysit and give a lead.  Well I tell ya, Lexi was all for this.  I was just going to walk her over it, but oh no - she focused on the obstacle, picked up a canter, cleared it by a ridiculous amount, and booked it up the hill.  I was all set for a wicked buck but it never happened.   SOOOO happy with my superpony.  Of course the walk back was terribly spooky and we nearly trampled a pedestrian or two, but you know, other than that *g*

I'll be grinning like this for days!
So what I found really interesting for me with the two clinics back to back.  Lucinda's methodology is more what I'm comfortable with.  But Blyth's worked way better for Lexi.  Now to be fair, if we hadn't done Lucinda's clinic first, I think this one would've been a bit much for Lexi's first ever outing.  But since she had at least seen a ditch and a bank before, this worked amazingly well for her.  By the end she was taking me to the fences, super eager and super confident and just overall having a blast.  Woohoo!

And then I got to take more photos :)   For those who are interested, links below.  Feel free to pass on to any and all.  Settings are such so that no FB account is needed to view.  Quality is, umm less than professional at times *g*   I'm trying to learn to work the advanced features of my camera, so rapid-fire, auto-mode, and wide "to be cropped later" zoom are all turned off.  Varying degrees of success. hahaha 




XC - Group 2 and a tiny portion of Group 3: 

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