To be clear in advance, when I say “return” I mean he did a derbycross at a local benefit show, and when I say “triumphant” I mean he was second of two horses in the Novice division. But if you ask Henry he definitely won Burghley so we’ll just go with his interpretation, yes? Good.
To be honest I kind of forgot I had entered this show… it’s an annual event to raise money for a local TB rescue/rehoming program and I always try to attend in the years where my schedule allows it, but I entered online a month ago and promptly forgot about it with everything else that was going on. We got home from Maryland on Monday and then I saw something about the show the next day on facebook and was like “oh yeah, right… I’m pretty sure I entered that?”. I had to message the organizer and ask to make sure. Yeah, I’m that person. Luckily Past Me had been looking out for Future Me when she entered, because all I’d signed us up for was the Derby at Novice level – and the Derby was just showjumping and cross country. Not much prep required for that with him, thank goodness.
I clipped Henry last week so he had a fresh haircut, jumped him around a course at home on Thursday, got his feet done on Friday, and then loaded all his stuff up in the trailer on Friday afternoon. We were the second ride of the morning on Saturday – hallelujah – with our stadium round at 9:05am, so we left the farm early Saturday morning. It’s still getting pretty hot here in the afternoons so I was more than happy to go early. I got there at 8, planning to have time to walk both my stadium and my XC before I got on at 8:45, but I didn’t really account for the long line at the show office. That ate up almost half an hour, so I only had time to walk stadium real quick and then meander around the top of the XC field and try to figure out what was what. Meh… good enough.
This facility is the same place we go for the occasional jumper show, so Henry kind of knows the drill by now. Plus, ya know… he’s 14 years old and a veteran show horse at this point. I tacked him up, hopped on, walked to warmup, and did a quick w/t/c each way. I always warm him up for showjumping the same way… mostly getting him relaxed, moving laterally off my leg, and a lot of lengthening and shortening the canter to make sure he’s sharp off my seat and leg. We popped over a couple jumps each way and declared it good, then headed to the ingate.
The course was interesting in that the only related distance was jumps 1 and 2, a 4 stride line that walked a touch long. I landed and asked him to open up a bit, which he readily did, and the four rode nicely. After that everything just kind of flowed well, and I made some tidier turns and rollbacks but nothing sharp or particularly “jumpery”. I wanted to keep him out in front of me knowing that XC was coming after. In typical Henry fashion he rubbed a few, but they all stayed in the cups for a clear round. Unfortunately optimum time was 130ish and we came in at 115, quite a bit under, but I wouldn’t have ridden it any differently in retrospect, so no worries. I had to chuckle a bit because back when we did the jumpers pretty much the only classes he could win were the optimum time, because he’s so NOT a fast horse nor is he careful. But the other person had a rail which converted to time, which put her closer to optimum than we were.
Hillary had come out to be my ground crew and get some video, which… thank goodness for her (as usual). If not I’d have no media, plus after SJ I kind of flung Henry at her, asking if she could put his boots on and grab my vest from the trailer while I went back out to XC to try to find the rest of the jumps that I hadn’t had time to search for earlier. I never did walk all the way to the ones in the back but I was at least able to find the right path and figure out vaguely where everything was. It was super twisty with all but 3 of the jumps clustered in the top field, and I’m not the fastest person at learning courses. I was like 80% sure I knew where I was going though, so… good enough. I hiked back up to the ring to grab my steed.
I got back on and hopped over one little long, then opted to just walk until it was our turn. The XC was very small – like very very small, pretty much all BN size aside from a couple of houses, so he was warmed up enough. What made the course a little trickier was the turns, there were lots of rollbacks or things that had a hard approach, or were set at the top or bottom of a hill off a sharp turn. I was mostly worried about keeping him on his feet since the grass was still a little dewy and he’s not drilled and tapped for studs.
Once all the jump judges were in place the first girl left of the startbox and I headed over toward it. I swear I felt Henry perk up a little. It’s been over two years since he last left the box for cross country, and I’m pretty sure he was like “wait, are we doing what I think we’re doing?”. At 10 seconds I walked him in and turned him around, and then 3-2-1, out we went. Y’all, it was the cutest thing ever. Henry just LIT UP. For a second I thought maybe I’d made a big mistake by only bringing his very loose-fitting hackamore, but he was actually quite civilized. Excited, for sure. Forward, yes. Ears pricked to the max, hunting the jumps, oh yeah absolutely. But he was also polite about it, and rideable, and listened to what I said. I mean… if I’d tried to STOP him I dunno that he would have been too pleased, but he was adjustable and made all the turns easily and listened when I told him that he had to keep his inside hind underneath him if he wanted to stay on his feet.
The little jumps were very easy for him. We started with a little box, down a steep hill to a little oxer off a short turn, straight ahead to some tires, left to a box, right to a coop, then to the water. Despite how many times Henry has been to that facility I’ve never actually schooled any of their XC so he’s never been in their water, which is pretty dark and small and looky. I had to bring him down to a trot anyway because of the very sharp turn back afterward to the line of bigger houses, and he definitely gave the water a peek as he went in. After the houses we had a long gallop down he hill and around to the back of the field in the trees to a tiny feeder, then a bench, then a hard right to a coop. I actually missed that turn (it was part of what I hadn’t walked) and had to stop and turn around and go back. Luckily I saw it immediately when we passed it. After that we headed back up to the main field over some barrels, up the hill to a hanging log, rollback to some tires, down a teeny little wannabe bank, and then sweeping around to the last fence. Was it super easy for him? Yes. Was he extremely proud of himself after the finish? Omg.
So cute. He was just so cute. It’s been so long since he’s been out there but there’s no doubt that he missed it, he was so happy afterward. All pricked ears and proud stance and “mom I was AMAZING wasn’t I?”. It didn’t matter how big the jumps were or how simple the course was, he was the happiest boy. He would be absolutely delighted to be a lower level packer, I think. It’s easy for him but he loves it all the same. Hillary had to take a call while we were on course so she only got the clip above, but you’ll have to take my word for how cute he was.
Afterward he got a bath, tried to molest the mini donkey (what is his DEAL with those things??), and munched some hay while I packed his stuff. We were home well before lunch time and he positively strutted back out to his pasture friends to tell them how fantastic he was. Cross country always puts him on a big ego trip for a few days afterward, and apparently that hasn’t changed nor is it affected by the size of the jumps he conquered. Never change, Henny. We both had a lot of fun!