Wednesday, August 1, 2012

My FIRST Cross Country Schooling

Dodon Farm.  Steuart Pittman.  We already know how I feel about this establishment/owner from my previous blog post My Visit to DodonFarm.  Steuart Pittman will be offering cross country schooling RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET from me.  Thank you Facebook for keeping me in touch with people who (ridiculous blog posts and crashing through oxers aside) would probably not remember me. 

I am considering this.  I broadcast my consideration to the world of Facebook by inquiring about the time of said schooling.  There.  There it is in writing (kind of).  I am considering cross country schooling.  I am soooo considering this, I even text Steuart the day before to confirm times for the lower level schooling (elementary anyone?).  I could easily NOT go, I have a million excuses, my 9-5 workday being the most legitimate.  

Steuart leaves me a voicemail with the time slots.  "Will you be riding your horse that bucks you off?"  (bucks, rears, bucks and rears, whatever). 

Oh my.  No, no, Steuart, I want to LIVE.  This is my FIRST cross country schooling EVER and I would like to survive it in hopes of a second.   No Bernie = possible chance of survival.  

Bernie looks rather un-intimidating in his blanket and fuzzy bell boots
 I am running late. 

I arrive at the barn and Rocky, my rock solid, rock star mount, is.....eating his dinner.  If you've ever waited for a horse to finish his grain, its like waiting for water to boil.  It really doesn't take THAT long, but when you are watching and waiting (and already late) its slower than 5pm on Friday.   I make an attempt to pick his feet while he's eating.  Just.  Don't.   I retreat from the stall and continue my waiting.  FINALLY, I get tacked up. 

I have to borrow a vest.  As newbie eventer I have not yet acquired all of the appropriate eventer gear.  A vest just shot up to the top of the list.  (And after this outing, an appropriately sized helmet). 

We hack over to Loch Moy and I grossly underestimate how long this hack will take.  I am now a half hour late.  There is a small, teensy part of me that is slightly relieved.  I might be too late and I may not be able to participate.   I spot Steuart, decked out in Dodon green and he assures me they are running late too and I'm right on time.  Oh, excellent.  I manage a nervous smile. 

We joke about my blog (yes, this one, where I previously typed how I briefly considered asking Steuart to sign my cleavage.  Comments like that are amusing to share via internet blog, but slightly more embarrassing when you see the person again.  Way to keep it classy Julie).  I anxiously  nonchalantly tell Steuart this is my FIRST cross country schooling ever.   Aside from my melt down on rearing Bernie (see blog post And WeRide!  And then we cry....) I've managed a couple of non-committal trot sets in the field and popped over two different logs that are literally laying on the ground.  That's it.  Steuart looks skeptical (or possibly concerned since my last "first" with Steuart was my very first oxer, which I subsequently crashed through).  BUT, this is not trusty-steed-Rocky's first rodeo.  He is Kerry's training level packer, and she graciously lets me ride him, pretty much at whim.   

And we are off.  We warm up and Steuart tells me to gallop up a hill and then come back down a bit slower just to get a feel for Rocky on cross country.  I'm quite sure we quietly canter up the hill, and slightly pick up speed coming back down.  Steuart kinda gives me this look like "I saw what you did there, and that was not a gallop."  No, no it wasn't. 

He points us to the first fence and sends us (me and three other riders) off to jump it at a trot.  Oh God.  Do or die time here.  If you can make it over the first obstacle, there is a reasonable chance you will survive the rest.  I go into "Nike" mode.  Just do it.  We pick up a decent trot (for once in his life Rocky is a bit up and ready to go, apparently he likes cross country) I crank my heels down and leg on, especially the left one which tends to slip over fences, I close my eyes (no I don't, that would be silly) say a prayer and we make it.  Steuart tells me to do it again and to smile this time.  I'm trying not to shit my pants, but I will attempt a smile, for you Steuart.  We did it again with some coaching and then we canter it and another similar fence.  And Rocky is his rock star self and I'm making a respectable effort to keep up with him and its not bad!  I'm waiting for the fence, I'm not leaning forward and I sync with my horse.  This is new.  My heart rate is starting to come down a bit as we head into the woods.  Another rider asks how I feel:  "Slightly less terrified than when we started."  Which is true!!  If I can get through the next hour without falling off, crying or wimping out on something, this might turn out to be my most successful riding experience yet!

We do a little combination of a coop-y looking jump to a pheasant feeder jump thing.  And again, Rocky and I are feeling like a pretty good team.  We may even look okay too, because Steuart hasn't had a lot of correction for us (of course, maybe he is just happy we are making it from point A to point B without incident).  My own "in retrospect" critique would be to stay out of Rocky's mouth a bit more.  I was a bit, well, terrified at the start and gripped him too much in the beginning.  Towards the end I was more relaxed and so was he.   We finish our woods jaunt and head over to a ditch.  I've never jumped a ditch before (shocker), I have no idea how to ride a ditch differently than a normal fence (which I barely know how to ride) and I have no clue how horses normally respond to a ditch.  After some much welcomed instruction from Steuart, the first horse launches over this tiny little ditch and it scares me a tad (a lot).  Oh f*^k, is Rocky going to superman me over this ditch? 

Um, no.  He actually stops and steps IN the ditch. 

We jump it the next time around and true to his normal Rocky self, he does not exert more energy than necessary to clear this ditch, or the larger one next to it.  What I am finding challenging is steering and stopping after jumping.  The steering issue is caused by my complete lack of decision on where to go after we land. 
 It goes something like this:

"Holy shit we made it!  Woohoo!  Oh f*^k there's a tree!  Turn, uh, left!  Shit, don't run into that other rider!"

Finally Steuart says, "Julie, turn right this time."

And now to string it all together for a small course.  A whatta heh?  Did he just say course? 

I almost chicken out. 

But I don't.

We head to the first obstacle......and Rocky RUNS OUT! 

Well played Rocky, well played.  Okay, if you are going to FORCE me to sit up and ride, I will do it. 

We circle, I clamp down on the right rein and left leg, no where to go but over and we make it.  We trot into the water and do the obstacle again without issue.  Galloping (cantering, whatever) up the hill to obstacle #2, and its not horrendous!  Into the woods to the coop and pheasant feeder combo and our course is complete and successful.  Small issue with the brakes because my normally half asleep horse is ready for MORE!  We are walking back to the group and I realize I forgot the ditch.  I was sooooo excited to clear the peasant feeder, I forgot about the ditch. 

Peasant feeder? 

Peasant feeder, pheasant feeder, I mean really, its not feeding either.  To me it looks like the thatched roof of a hobbit hole.  While I'm on the subject, let's discuss the naming of these fences.  And by discuss I mean ridicule the ones I don't know.  Vertical and cross rail I get.  Bank, ditch, roll top, gate, brush, drop, and coop all seem self-explanatory.  Table, while really scary, is visually accurate.  I will even let corner and skinny slide.  But oxer, chevron, PHeasant feeder, trakehner, bullfinch and coffin (really?),  I have no idea what these are.  Oxer I've learned since I crashed into one, chevron I thought was a gas station, pheasant feeder feeds no pheasants (or peasants), trakehner I was pretty sure was a horse breed, a bullfinch sounds like (and is) a type of bird and coffin is an ominously stupid name for a solid state horse jump.  Not tempting fate at all with the naming of that one.  So to reiterate, I'm crashing through that oxer, running to the gas station to feed some pheasants (and maybe some peasants), and then I'm jumping the light-warmblood-horse to bird-sitting-on-a-bull's-ass to wooden-box-reserved-for-dead-bodies triple.  Uh huh, I got this.

Okay, ranting aside, I have one more mini course to do before the  long hack home if I'm to meet my evening clients on time (for real, not just an excuse).  Okay, over the house thingy into the water, out of the water over other little house thingy, up the hill over the lattice gate, over some log-ish fence, down the hill over another fence, back into the water over first house thingy again (optional).  Uh, okay, yeah, I can remember that. 

House thingy to water to other house thingy goes well.  Lattice fence was nice because I actually RODE to it.  I wanted Rocky to throw in the extra step, I sat up and asked for it, he gave it to me and it was good.  Log-ish jump was fine too.  Now down the hill to fence five we have what I think is a racehorse pace.
Just like this, I swear.

 But Rocky wants more. 

And I give it to him.  And its awesome. 

We approach the fence, I sit up and wait for it and its.....


And then I get lost. 

Water!  Circle back to the water!  Shit.  Approaching the water from down the hill you can't really tell where your entry point is. could be your nice BN entry, 

awwww, so peaceful
or if you choose poorly, it could be a massive drop into the water. 

Massive drop

Needless to say, drops terrify me, so this is a crucial choice. 

You have chosen....wisely. 
Indiana Jones chose wisely too

We easily canter in and, in a brief moment of actual confidence, I even take the optional house thingy jump at the end. 

Things I learned:

Cross country is FUN.  The most fun. On a horse.  Ever.  This is what riding is all about.  I might could actually pull off a BN event sometime this year.  

Clearly, my main issue going cross country will be knowing where the hell to go next and not forgetting fences.  My normal, absent-minded, A.D.D. self will have to pay extra-close attention to course walks if I ever make it to an event.

Apparently my helmet is ill-fitting unless my ridiculous Rapunzel-like hair is styled just so to keep my helmet in place and prevent this:

Yeah, that guy can't see so well

Rocky LOVES cross country.

Steuart Pittman really is as awesome as I remembered.  And still really tall. 

Storing a check in your half-chap on a hot day is less-than-brilliant and it will disintegrate upon attempted retrieval.  Fail.  As they say, the check is in the mail.  (No, really, it is)

Later that week:

As I am still coming down from my cross country schooling cloud 9, Dodon Farm posts this on their facebook page:

Working Student / Apprentice Opening: Our summer working student, Katie Klenk, has made the position indispensable. We must replace her. Seeking an outstanding rider with a great work ethic. Arrangement can include housing, a  horse or no horse, and includes grooming, riding, some stalls and feeding, and the best work environment and education anywhere. Email resumes to Steuart  Pittman at We will select only one applicant.

OMG.  This innocuous post is literally my dream job.  Forget the resume (which BTW, mine is very nice, full of all sorts of un-horsey-related skills, unless your horse needs a logo), I would GROVEL AND BRIBE for this.   If I wasn't too old to be considered a "student", and didn't have need of my full-time job to pay for my full-time bills and full-time responsibilities and if they removed could be lenient on the whole "outstanding rider" requirement, I COULD DO THIS!!!


  1. I seriously love your blog. I laughed the whole time. Can't wait to read more riding adventures!