This entry is based on my experience of the past weeks and how great things can come together at the wrong time.
Willie and I competed at the Marlborough Horse Trials a couple weeks ago. We wound up fifth when we should have been third because we had a rail in show jumping. David had been working with me on maintaining impulsion with Willie. Willie even told me two fences before that he wasn’t happy and started losing impulsion. I sat there fat, dumb and happy until he finally took the rail and then I lit him up. After that, he began to jump beautifully. He took that beautiful style right over to cross country and was fantastic. I made up my mind I was going to get him in front of my leg at Morven from the start and keep him there.
Last Saturday I was jumping the Bird with David and he stopped at a fence. I jammed my hand into his neck breaking my pinkie finger. Many of you don’t know I lost my ring finger so it doesn’t take much to damage the pinkie – it’s just out there. We put a splint on it and I had no intention of going to the doctors for a pinkie finger until I started riding on Sunday. The splint wasn’t good enough. With no ring finger the pinkie was out there so I needed more protection if I was going to ride at all, let alone compete at Morven.
Monday morning I went to Kaiser and basically spent the day getting a new, “rudy kazoo” fiberglass cast which I proceeded to remodel less than two hours after it was put on. Now I could ride and the finger was protected. I made some calls to be sure I would be allowed to ride in a cast at Morven, and it was a go.
Fiberglass is really nice, but it’s abrasive and at night I was sanding myself and my husband with the cast. I proceeded to wrap it in vetrap which also helped protect it from moisture.
On Friday I went to David’s for a lesson on Willie to be sure we were ready. I wanted to be sure I could jump him safely in the cast. It was the absolute most fabulous lesson and Willie was amazing. This was exciting.
Saturday I went to Morven to walk the course. I had schooled Birdie with Jimmy there last year and I really wanted to compete there. It is the toughest Novice course I’ve ever walked, but I knew Willie and I were prepared, so I was really looking forward to it. There was a forward galloping jump which preceded a downhill descent to the water which was not wide and the exit was a jump out over a log. I knew Willie would not like this so my approach needed to be at a pace that was forward/in front of my leg, but slow enough that he would have time to understand the question. Willie had never jumped out of water before. I knew his first impression would be that there was no way out of there, until he recognized the log was a jump, not a barrier. ( I always try to see it from their point of view ) I liked the challenge of the course and I looked forward to riding it.
I told a friend I was competing on Sunday and she looked at me and said “How are you going to get the dressage jacket on?”
Oh, hadn’t thought of that.
Saturday night I struggled and got the jacket on, but it was very uncomfortable because I couldn’t get it far enough up my arm, making it tight in the shoulder. It was also really hard to get off.
Sunday morning everything was running on time. Bernadette came over at 5 and put the braids in – that’s a good friend. When I got to Morven, Willie settled right in and I went to get my packet. I decided not to walk the course again because I was comfortable with it. Instead I went back to the trailer and called Elizabeth to talk about the dressage jacket. I wanted to know if she thought they would excuse me from wearing it under the circumstances. She said no, but suggested I spray the cast with Show Sheen to get the jacket on.
Wait a minute, how could I be such a noodle head? The vetrap is grippy and added size to the cast. I removed it and presto, the jacket went right on!
Thank you Elizabeth.
Elizabeth Madlener arrived to spend the day at Morven with me. She coached Willie and I to the best dressage score to date. It would have been a winning test but he became distracted during the test and our performance eroded. He’s still quite green and with each competition, his performance is improving, so overall I was thrilled. Improvement is a good thing.
As I walked the show jumping course, I realized it was going to be more difficult to keep Willie in front of my leg than I had anticipated. The ground was chewed up and there was a pit on the landing side of each jump. It was this way at Seneca and Willie had attempted to see what was on the other side of each fence and pick a spot to land. It’s really quite intelligent when you think about it, but it was going to make him want to suck back before each jump. Basically I was going to have correct him by convincing him not to look before he leaped. Now who’s the dummy? — Willie thought.
My strategy during show jumping warm up went like this. I galloped him around the warm up area both directions to get him in front of the leg and forward. Then a couple trots over the cross rail. Then forward canter to vertical. “Nope, not falling for it human, I am going to look before I leap, what do you think I’m stupid?” So I had to gig him over the fence, but he went. Oxer, same thing. I come round again, put both reins in the left hand ( the hand with the cast ) and I hit him as he starts to suck back. Willie launches into the air and jumps beautifully. I come back once more and he gets it, he sails over the jump with the greatest of ease.
I decide to make a wide circle to the first jump and get our momentum going. “Gernk, gig,” over he goes. Damn it Willie. Fence two same thing. Then we roll back to fence three and I take the reins into my left hand ( cast hand) and hit him, he sails over the fence and lands bucking. “Damn it human. If you want to see in front of the leg, I’ll show you in front of the leg like you’ve never seen it!!”
Now Willie is running off.
In the show jumping.
I summon my inner exercise rider and work on getting him back, but I can’t keep the left rein, it keeps slipping out of my hand, because Willie is pulling. Basically each time he jumps he pulls the rein long because I can’t grasp it enough with the cast on. So I have to get it back, then navigate to the next fence, which is hard because this is a course with lots of turns. I fail to get it back soon enough before fence 7 and he takes a rail, but we make it through all ten jumps without going off course. Willie takes off after the tenth fence. I had to stand up on him to take him back and people were looking at me. I wish I had video of that ride.
Elizabeth told me once Willie got going he was jumping beautifully. I told her he was running off! However I knew if I had had both hands, I would have been able to package all that power and unleash it at the fence. I was sure Willie wondered why I kept giving him the left rein and holding him straight with my legs. “Stupid Human”.
My original strategy for cross country was to send him out of the start box. Okay, better rethink that. The first fence is your usual log, beside a bigger Training log, beside a bigger Prelim log. As we depart the start box, Willie is dragging me and he’s veering toward the Prelim log. “Which one human? I like the big one.” Please understand Willie has never dragged me to any fence ever. It’s been me who did the dragging.
Who are you and what did you do with Willie? Fence two is out there alone, and I had plenty of time to get the left rein back. Fence three, another multiple choice in Willie’s mind. He starts veering toward Prelim land. No, Willie, the little one.
I am now settling into riding the new, “drag you to the fence” Willie. I cope by gathering the rein back after each jump and again two strides before the next. As we gallop, I can’t keep hold of it and it slips longer and longer. I can’t squeeze my fingers tight enough because the cast is in the way.
We come to the first big question for Willie. He’s never done a bank, one stride to a jump. He sails up the bank and of course now the left rein is loopy. Thank you Lucinda Green for your “keep him in the tunnel with your legs and open your arms to keep contact with the reins technique.”
The next fence is the ramp, it’s a galloping fence so I don’t even bother to take up the left rein, I already know I’ll lose it over the fence and have to take it back anyway. Besides, Willie is in a very nice rhythm and he’s forward and relaxed. I want to inject here that although this is particularly challenging for me, Willie is having the time of his life!
My plan was to gallop straight until I got him back ( and now until I got my rein back and got him back) and then turn left down the hill toward the water ( that I know Willie is going to question/hate ). I get the rein back and Willie comes back to me and then I turn left down the hill. Willie grabs the reins, pulling the left long and takes off down the hill. “Slow down Willie, water you’re going to hate is coming!” I see the fence judges laughing at what I’m saying. GERNK!! “Why the hell didn’t you tell me there was water??” Have I mentioned how athletic Willie is? He goes from running off to running backwards with ease. I’m hitting him but he doesn’t care. He’s now backed up at least fifty feet, no joking, we get near this truck that’s parked on the course and he starts going forward, gallops into the water and jumps out over the log. Thank you truck – I think.
Through the woods, jump. Out of the woods, left turn, stone wall that Willie doesn’t like the looks of but jumps anyway and now we’re heading down hill again. Willie is starting to really like down hill – A LOT. We are heading to a rather substantial brush fence. Oh Hell, we might do a Classic Three Day some day. Willie jumps it steeplechase style. Another right turn and down the hill more. We’re headed to a ditch to a log. WILLIE, something is coming! This time Willie responds, I guess he learned from the water jump I was trying to warn him about. Easy, peasy, now right turn to Trakehner. No problem, but my left hand is getting really tired and useless. I am getting really good at getting the reins back and when necessary galloping with a loopy left rein.
Up the hill, over the road and down the hill to a barn, easy. I’ve got my eye on the last fence now and I go directly to it. My hand is tired, but I cross the finish patting Willie and telling him how great he is. He was in front of my leg for the entire trip, (well he took a brief intermission at the water ), but today Willie had become an eventer!
“Kim Clark!!” Some one is calling my name. Oh no, it’s an official. He’s going to yell at me for wreckless riding.
“You missed fence 16, did you know that?”
Well, no it hadn’t occurred to me, but now that you mention it…
A stupid little cabin/barn thing and I went right by it on purpose because all I could think about was making it to the last fence. I had managed to guide Willie to every fence in show jumping and cross country with a bum hand and my brain had let me down by forgetting about Fence 16.
Willie and I headed off the course so I could get off him and walk him home. He was beaming. So happy and he loved it!! I can’t be disappointed, I just can’t.
I rode his hair off. This was a tough course and I rode it without a left rein, while Willie was half running off and somehow managed to have fun. I got him honestly in front of my leg. I can’t be disappointed.
During my fabulous lesson with David, I had the vetrap on the cast and it has a tacky nature, making it easy to keep the left rein in position. Without it the fiberglass is quite slick even though it is rough.
Strategy is a key component in eventing. When you have a cast on your hand, don’t try to put the horse in front of your leg. Instead gig him over fences for one more competition.
If you do decide to get him in front of your leg. Take the vetrap off to get the dressage jacket on, but put it back on for the jumping, so you can keep hold of the reins and capture the power you’ve generated until you unleash it at the fence.
If you always walk the course in the morning. Walk the course in the morning.
Rubicon, here we come!