Ocala Winter 2: Cross Country

Yes, yes, let’s get to the fun part, shall we?

big pats for a good doodle

After SJ we made a quick trip back to the trailer to put on Presto’s XC boots and my vest/pinney/skull cap. Rumor had it that they were taking people as they came rather than going strictly by ride time, so I boogied back over there in hopes that we could go early. Once again Presto demonstrated that he knows exactly what warmup he’s in at all times because as soon as I picked up the canter he was like BYYEEEEEE and tried to zoom off into the sunset. He earned himself a few canter/halts so we were very clear that unsolicited zoomies weren’t going to happen.

Once again it was an entirely new course from last month’s event, they always change everything at Florida Horse Park, which is great. Even the start box was in a new place (this was our third Training at this venue and the third entirely different course with entirely different startbox placement). It’s something I really appreciate about the venues here, because in Texas the courses only changed once or twice a year. You never know what you’re going to get when you come here.

Well that’s a lie, you do know you’re likely to get a decently beefy, more challenging T course.

So let’s talk about this real quick. This course came out firing right from the beginning. You came to your first real question at only jump 3, which was a log, 7 bending strides to an upbank, 2 strides to a pretty substantial down bank (the log on top of it made the whole thing come up to my rib cage on the landing side) and then a 90 degree turn left to a skinny log in 6 strides. When I first walked the course I was looking at my trainer like “what the actual shit”. At least wine me and dine me a little before you throw a combo like that at me. But nope… fence 3. Alrighty then. Technically it was numbered such that you could jump off the bank, circle, and then jump 5, but Trainer told me that was a wussy way out (ok she didn’t say those specific words but that was what I heard) and I had to make the line happen. Aye aye captain.

From there we had a simple log ramp, and then you were already at the first water. The line to the A element was kind of wonky, you had to come through some trees that put you on a bit of an angle to it, but the jump at was pretty friendly. You landed with a couple strides before the water, then passed through it and out to the right over a little house on the mound. Mind you at this point you’re still not even a minute and a half into the course. Hope you didn’t want to ease your way in.

But then you did have a bit of a long gallop stretch to the MIM oxer at 8, and then another shorter stretch to the next combo, at the first crater (they love their craters here in Florida to make terrain questions). This one was a bit legit, they had a big max brush steeplechase fence at the lip of the crater so you jumped down into it, then came through it and up out of it to the right over a skinny wedge.

Then you had another gallop fence (a table) before you got to the next crater. This one had an interesting approach too, the A element was set in the trees in such a way that it kind of funneled you to the jump, which could potentially distract the horses a bit. Once again it was a jump on the edge of the crater (this one definitely smaller and friendlier than the previous one) and then you came through the crater, to the left, and out over a corner. The designer did a clever thing here where there were 2 possible paths to this corner – the obvious path over the less steep edge of the crater made the angle of the corner very severe, but you could also go up the steeper edge of the crater and have a bit more room to turn left and come straighter to the corner. I planned to take the second option, because I thought the first one just made that question a bit too hard to read for a young, green one that hasn’t seen a ton of corners yet.

From there we had a simple wagon, then we came to the next combination, the coffin. This is the same coffin complex we jumped through last month, but with a very different jump out. Last time we had an angled brush, this time we had a skinny, very square table that was set on a bit of an angle. This was a very legit question for Training, I’m not sure you’d see anything harder than that anywhere else at the level. MIM rail, two downhill strides, big wide ditch, three uphill strides to the skinny angled table.

After that it was a bench and then (you’ll never guess) another combo. This time at the second water. There was a wide house (they call it house – it was wide enough to fall into the table category IMO) at the edge of the water, and then a 90 degree left turn to a smaller skinny house on the mound edge out of the water. I thought this might ride a bit spooky, seeing as how they wouldn’t know they were going to land right on the water line until their front feet left the ground. Also where they would put their hind feet to jump the B element was still quite down at the lip of the water, so you’d have to really keep the power up to that one since it would require a lot more jumping effort from the horse than just the size of the jump itself.

From there you were home free, with just another steeplechase brush and a log box at the finish. Once I walked the bank a second time I got over it and wasn’t super concerned about any of it, I just knew that I had to get the ride right at the bank combo and the second water in particular, since those were questions he hasn’t really seen yet.

he said “wheeeee bitches” and the bitches wheeeeeed

So let’s get into how it rode!

Presto came out of the box 100% business. He was forward, he was looking for the jumps, and he was full of running. All great things, he’s gotten way more focused. Fences 1 and 2 were easy, and I let him flow forward as much as possible for those so we could set the tone. 3 came up quick, just as I expected it would, and I brought him back to a coffin canter. He hopped over 3, popped up the bank, leaped like an orangutan off the down bank (as I suspected he would) and I had to be like “EXCUSE ME SIR WE ARE NOT DONE THERE’S ANOTHER ONE”. Trainer said to put my eye on the skinny and get it done no matter what, so that’s what we did. The 6 strides ended up a bit tight because of how far off the bank he launched, but he locked right on to the skinny and was dead honest there.

no one is having a better time than him

After that I let him roll a bit again, popping over the ramp out of stride, and then bringing him back so we could pick our way through the treeline back to the water. Once again he just had a real “LEMME AT EM” attitude here so I basically just lined him up, said “that one and then that one” and he was like WHEEEEEEEE.

out over the little house on the mound

After that water I could finally gallop for real so we were off across the field, letting him open up. He was delighted. We popped over the MIM oxer in the most casual way (he’s not impressed by a lot of these T fences any more) and then I brought him back to a smaller bouncier canter for the crater. I thought he might be a little surprised here when he left the ground and discovered the drop on the other side, but no. He was like BOMBS AWAY and leapt into the crater like a little genius, then was super out over the wedge. He’s feeling very scholarly and learn-ed about it all now.

not impressed with his MIM oxer

Then we had another little gallop stretch, popping over the table out of stride,

again he’s deeply unimpressed

before I had to bring him back again for the turn into the next crater. He argued with me for a few strides about that but ultimately gave in, and he jumped super into the crater, through it out, out over the steep side, and popped over the corner easy peasy.

The wagon was also boring (his words)

honestly man, it’s a little insulting to look this bored

And then we were at the coffin. I made the canter bouncy, lined up the middle, and he picked his way through it like a gymnastic. So easy. Such a brilliant kiddo.

I was so busy patting him and telling him he was the goodest noodle that I almost missed my turn for the bench. Whoops.

Anyway, we hopped over the bench and headed to the second water. Per trainer’s instructions I brought him back early to make sure he had time to see what was approaching and keep a more balanced approach, and tapped him behind my leg quite a ways out just to reaffirm that we were going forward and staying in front of my leg here. He didn’t hesitate, just popped right on in there like no big deal, we made the left turn, and cantered out easily over the house on the edge.

As we were heading to the steeplechase jump I heard my watch beep for 5 minutes (OT was 5:24) so I slowed down a bit and just let him lope over the last two. He cruised home easily to log himself another double clear and another finish on his dressage score, which also gave us the win (in the 6yo division on his 6th birthday… very fitting don’t you think?)!

he thought so

I was kind of sad there weren’t more horses in the division, since I feel like his finishing score of 30 still would have been respectable in full company. I’ll take the blue ribbon though.

Most importantly, he feels really solid at the level now. Like past solid and into bored territory. Even for this course, which was about as challenging as you’ll see at Training, he was wholly unimpressed. There were plenty of problems throughout the course in the other Training divisions, particularly Training Horse (which would have been his division if not for the 6yo offering) where 10 of the 18 starters had an issue on XC. His 30 would have won that division too. The MIM oxer, the coffin, and the bank combo seemed to claim the most victims, although there were problems spread throughout. He just felt super confident about the whole thing, like it was easy peasy.

But even when he’s unimpressed he’s still jumping so much better than he was even just a few months ago. He’s gotten stronger and stronger, and smarter and smarter. For sure he’s making a better shape in the air now, patting the ground and keeping his shoulders up, and following through properly with his hind end.

We’ll take a little bit more of a pause now for a few weeks while we consider what to enter next. Honestly he’s ready for Modified, but we’re at a weird part in the season where the next Modified would be at the same show where there’s a 1*, and that Modified tends to mostly follow the 1* track… not sure if that’s the best choice for a move up. The next option after that would be a good one, but it’s like 2 months away, which isn’t ideal in my mind for a move up either. So we’ll just spend a couple weeks working on stuff and make a plan from there. The most important part is that he’s looking and feeling fantastic!

8 thoughts on “Ocala Winter 2: Cross Country

  1. Honestly I just can’t get over how perfect timing it was to move to Florida around the same time as Presto’s career is taking off. It’s so much fun to follow the progress he’s making so quickly and to see the kinds of results you’re getting back to back!


  2. What a great description of the course and the ride. Thank you for all that you put into this blog! Definitely a vicarious journey!


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