When we left off yesterday, our intrepid baby Noodle had delivered a personal best dressage test for both of us and left all the rails in the cups to sit us comfortably in first place after day 1. All that was left was cross country. No pressure.
I do happen to be sat on a brave horse that loves cross country, so I felt pretty confident that as long as I rode to plan and didn’t do anything too stupid, we’d be good. The course was pretty much as you would expect for the level. There were a few combinations: a down bank with 6 bending strides to a roll top, a jump a couple strides in front of the water, and a couple of ramps that you could either angle or jump more as a bending line. There was also a ditch with a 90 degree left hand turn to a rolltop that wasn’t numbered as an A/B but rode as a combination since they were so close together.
The jumps themselves though – I didn’t see anything that gave me any real concern. I did actually remember to do a Course Walk with photos, which you can see here (except I forgot to take a pic of the last jump because I spotted the horse chiro and started chatting with her).
We got to the show about an hour before my start time, which gave me some time to just sit and hang out for a bit and for Presto to stand at the trailer and relax before I had to get ready. I got on him about 20 minutes before my time, went to warmup, and got to work. Really it was just getting him moving, making sure I could open and close and open and close the gallop, and popping over a few jumps straight and on an angle. He was a little amped, and VERY interested in watching all the horses that were on course, but he kept it together. Then it was over to the box for our countdown and away we went.
My mission for the first few fences was to make sure he was straight and thinking forward and focused on the task at hand. Heading out of the box you had warmup to the right and all the trailer parking to the left, so there was some possibility that he might be a little fussy or distracted about leaving all that. No worries though, I came out and said “alright sir, get in front of my leg and lets do this” and he went “Hell yeah lets go!”. Not even so much as an ear flicker in any direction but forward.
With combinations and some twisting/turning through the woods later in the course, I wanted to use to beginning to 1) get him jumping out of stride, 2) get a little bit up on the time. The speed was 400mpm, which is max speed for Novice, but really if we’re looking at a moveup then I wanted to try to get on the quicker end of the time allowed, closer to the speed fault time, which was calculated at 450mpm. He’s gotta start learning how to add a little more speed in there.
Presto popped over the first 3 very easily, which were all pretty basic.. little house, coop with a bit of a downhill landing, bench. Then it was the first max table, which came up out of stride too. Next was a little dark bench with some bright flowers in the middle… again, he just loped over. After that was the first combo on course, the down bank to the roll. I brought him back to a quiet canter for the bank, and he popped right off and over the rolltop easy peasy. Pretty sure he was just having fun.
From there we headed to the water. He always peeks and hops into water as if there’s a jump on the edge, but he didn’t do it as flamboyantly here as he’d done at the FHP show. He’s going in, he’s just gotta do it with flair.
From there we had a few gallop fences…
A little house at 8, and a brush fence at 9. I opened him up again and asked him to keep coming forward to jump out of stride rather than me rebalancing him so much before each one. He needs to start being responsible for some of that himself.
After that we had an S-line from the feeder, right turn inside the tree to the ditch, left turn to the rolltop.
He didn’t blink at any of that either, just popped right through.
Then it was the corner, which at this size really just jumps like a table, to the steps, to another round-faced table. I was pretty much spot on where I wanted to be with my minute markers by that point.
The path between 15 and the combo at 16 was interesting… they did that thing again where a tree was directly in the middle of the straight route, so you had to decide which way you wanted to come into that bending line. I chose to come in from the right side, angling the first jump to line up more with the second jump. To take the right side you kind of had to duck under a tree, and I got a face full of Spanish Moss, but no biggie. Presto was on auto pilot by this point.
After that we had another table
at which point I checked my watch and saw that I might end up a hair too fast (I had a few points in hand so it wouldn’t have mattered, but ya know… I wanted double clear), so I slowed down a bit and loped over the last.
We came in at 4:56, two seconds inside the time and pretty darn close to where I was aiming (5 mins). Most importantly, it felt very very easy. Presto is so happy out there, and you can feel him thinking and learning as he goes. Super fun.
I only had two real bits of feedback to Steph – 1) We need to work a little more on him keeping his own balance up to the base of the gallop fences. He still really wants/expects me to help him, but at some point that’s his responsibility. He wants to get a little flat off the ground there, so he needs to get better about keeping a good shape off the ground from a more open gallop. Granted, he got better about it even just as we went around the course and I made him take a little more responsibility for himself. 2) I might need just a hair more bit. Not much, but just a “hello sir I’m still here and I meant now” so that I don’t have to get quite as loud with the half-halts in the tighter combinations.
Our double clear meant that we kept our spot, leading the division from start to finish! I had no expectations for placing or scores coming into the weekend, I just wanted to have a run that felt easy. So to win here, in Ocala, in an Open division, filled with pros and imports, on a score like that… not gonna lie, it was pretty fucking cool.
I love Presto of course, but for him to be able to not just hold his own in this kind of company, but to come out on top – that feels pretty great, not gonna lie. A US bred with an amateur rider. It’s a bit of validation, not just in the horse I bred (and we ALL raised) but also in the fact that this partnership could actually be something someday. It took a good 12-24 hours to sink in but man. I’m just so fucking proud of him. It was one thing to see him do well last year with a pro in the irons, but it’s another thing entirely to do it myself. This is it… this is my dream boy, out here doing the thing we’ve dreamed of for so long. I’ve giving myself permission to enjoy that feeling for a few days before we go back to work mode.