Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Cross-Country Jumping at Kelly's Ford

I can't remember when I first learned about Kelly's Ford Equestrian Center.  It must have been several years ago, when I moved my horse to the very general area.  My last dressage trainer was always trying to convince me to go there for schooling or a show, but I was a lot more excited about the cross-country jumping course. 

I have wanted to do cross country jumping ever since I first moved to Virginia and started boarding my horse at a barn that had a few cross-country jumps in the fields.  At the time, my older horse was approaching her late 20's and she really wasn't up to any jumping.  My young horse, however, showed some wonderful promise.  Unfortunately, it wasn't long after I moved to Virginia that he was diagnosed with navicular disease and a few months later, I had to put him down after he shattered one of his hocks in the pasture.  It was a devastating loss because he was one of those once-in-a-lifetime horses, and he was only 6 years old.  Someday, I may do a post about him, but even though he died over 12 years ago, I still have trouble thinking about him without crying.

Anyway, back to my cross-country jumping desires.  I have put them on the backburner because Nimo indicated from an early age that keeping all four feet on the ground was a serious priority for him.  It has taken years and years of work to get him to feel comfortable going over ground poles and cavaletti.  He will even occasionally allow himself to be guided over a small cross-rail jump in the arena, but jumping is just not his thing.  Or so I thought...

I first took him to the cross-country course at Frying Pan Park in January of 2012, when I was in my first trimester of being pregnant with my daughter.  Because it totally makes sense to start jumping your horse when you're pregnant...Actually, my thought process went something like, "Well, soon I will be to uncomfortable and unbalanced to do any jumping and then I will have a baby and who knows how long it will be before I can ride or will even feel like riding."  I know not everyone feels the same way about riding when pregnant, but I literally cannot imagine going 9 plus months without riding.  Pregnancy can be a difficult time and taking away what was my number one joy didn't seem like a good idea.

Plus, I had been doing some work with Nimo out of the arena at the time and he had been slowly getting better.  By getting better, I mean that the spooking and bolting and bucking behavior was only occurring about once a month instead of every ride.

So I prevailed upon my best friend (also a rider) to come with me.  She would be on foot and her only job would be to keep track of me and provide assistance if things didn't go well.  She also had a camera:)

Our trip to Frying Pan Park turned out to be one of the highlights of my life up to that point (and still kind of is).  Even though there were no other horses at the park that day (because it was January and cold and windy and normal people had better things to do), Nimo was so solid.  He didn't spook at the guy on the 4-wheeler or the assorted baby strollers or the crazy dogs.  And he jumped!  We only did a few obstacles that were really small, but after his first attempt at a coop, which literally involved him climbing over it, he started to get the hang of it.  Here are a few pictures (please forgive my horrifying position - I've only had one jumping lesson in my life at age 16 and I never have the chance to practice, so I think it's kind of a miracle that I stay on).

Warming up in one of the outdoor arenas
The water was terrifying for him, but eventually he went through it!

My friend is not a super great photographer, but she's otherwise awesome!:)
Brave, brave Nimo!
Even braver going down!
Our last jump, which we approached at a canter!  And yes, I'm riding, but like I said, my friend is not the world's greatest photographer:)
Such a good boy!
So we had a great time and Nimo did so much better than I expected.  But, the realities of being pregnant set in, and I didn't do any more jumping after that trip.  I think winter weather was probably a factor and then when things warmed up, I was in my second trimester and I remember doing a lot of work around the house and then it was July and we had this record heat and I was supposed to be taking it easy and then you know, I had a baby.  Most of what happened after I had a baby can be read on a couple of my previous posts (Reflections, part 1 and Reflections, part 2), but suffice it to say, getting back into regular riding was a challenge.

Over the past couple of years, my focus has really been on conditioning for endurance rides.  We have spent the last couple of winters doing dressage over cavaletti lessons, which have been great fun.  But, they are not the same as cross-country jumping.  And my desire to have Nimo try the course at Kelly's Ford, which is less than a half an hour from his barn, kept creeping in.

As it turns out, I've become friends with a lady who does low-level eventing on her horse.  She boards at my barn and she is familiar with the course at Kelly's Ford.  (I really didn't want my first time at the course to be on my own.  When I went to Frying Pan Park, I had been there before on another horse, so I knew the the system for checking in, paying, parking, and getting around the course.)

My friend's horse is one of those horses who seems to have trouble keeping herself uninjured, so we've been trying to get to Kelly's Ford for awhile.  Finally, on November 21, everyone was available and uninjured, so we headed out.  We met another lady there, and the three of us proceeded to go through the course.

I wasn't sure what to expect, having only been on one cross-country course before.  The course was laid out over what was probably 100 plus acres.  The terrain was pretty level, although there were a few random, little hills built in.  We started off just walking the horses around to warm up and then went over a couple of very small logs. 

Then the real fun started.  We first checked out what I will refer to as a big bank jump.  Cross-country riders would probably scoff at that description, but I swear even the smallest bank was at least 2 1/2 feet and the jump was part of a hill, so that made it feel bigger.  Nimo was more than happy to go up the hill next to the jump, but he could not understand why he would need to go over the wooden part when there was a perfectly good hill right next to it.  I decided to leave it for the moment and come back later, because it really was a big jump for him.

Then, we headed over to a water jump, which was basically a small pond, maybe 6-8" deep, with a bank jump out of it.  The height of the jump was maybe 18", so very doable, and Nimo had no trouble walking up it:)

Then we did a coop and another type of wooden fence.  My friend gave us a lead over the fences so Nimo could follow.  I wasn't sure how confident he would be, and the jumps at Kelly's Ford were a minimum of 18".  The jumps we did at Frying Pan were smaller and several years ago, so I wanted to make sure Nimo didn't feel too worried.

With several jumps under our belt, my friend asked if we wanted to go over the ditch.  I emphatically said no, because I remembered that Nimo had adamantly refused to get within 20 feet of what was the tiniest ditch ever made on a cross-country course at Frying Pan Park, and I didn't even think we should try it.  And then I reconsidered.  He'd been doing really well.  He seemed confident and comfortable, especially after he realized we weren't on some kind of endurance ride.  He'd started out like he was going down a trail with a destination.  Once he realized we were just sort of wandering around and hanging out, he settled quickly.  So, I changed my mind and we headed over to the ditches.  There were several choices, from reasonable to you-must-be-out-of-your-mind in nature.  We picked the one intended for Introductory level, which was maybe 18-24" wide.  And Nimo just followed my friend's horse over it, almost without hesitation.  Huh.  So to make sure it wasn't a fluke, we went over it like 7 more times.  And he was totally fine.  He was careful about where he put his feet, but he would trot up to it without trying to duck out, then slow down and walk over it.  Perfect!

So we moved on and did a few more jumps made out of logs (I'm not sure there are any other kind).  Some were actual logs while others looked like small piles of stumps with a tiny table on top (there are probably proper names for them, but I have no idea what those names are).  The heights and widths varied a little, but they were always the lowest level of jumps.  I did try one that was slightly higher than its neighbor, which Nimo did very well, but Nimo was clear that it was too high, and I didn't push it.  Aside from the bank jump at the beginning of the ride, he had done every jump I'd asked him to do, so I figured a refusal was an honest answer to a question I probably shouldn't have asked in the first place.  My friend suggested just taking him over a smaller jump to make sure his confidence wasn't affected, which we did without any problem.  In fact, both ladies that I was riding with marveled at Nimo's ability to handle the jumps as if they were cavaletti.  Essentially, he either walked or trotted over them.  He only truly jumped a couple of the wider obstacles, which is apparently a good thing.  I didn't quite understand why, because I was just thrilled he made it over anything, but maybe it has to do with the horse expending the appropriate effort to get over the jump?  (If you happen to know, please tell me!) 

Then we headed over to the warm-up area, which was in the middle of the course.  There were a several log jumps laid out next to each other in increasing heights, and I was pretty sure Nimo could do the first 3.  So, we started going out over the smallest one, then the next one, and finally over the largest one of the three.  I ended up doing a serpentine over the three jumps and Nimo did really well, even sort of trying to jump the highest one.

We gave the horses a little break after that and just walked around for awhile before heading over to the last line of jumps that we hadn't tried.  There were two that I thought we could do.  I changed my mind to only one when I saw the first one, though.  It looked like a pallet on the ground.  (In fact, that is probably what it was, although it was painted and situated next to a tiny statue, which apparently scares some of the horses during competitions.)  I have to admit that the pallet looked really wide to me and I thought Nimo would either refuse it or walk on top of it.  As it turned out, he did neither.  He jumped it!  Twice!

Then, we did the jump next to it, which I think could probably be categorized as a roll-top.  Again, Nimo was really solid.
Sadly, my only picture of the day because I never expected things to go so well!
After that, we decided to head back and do a few jumps on the way back to the trailers that the horses had already done.  One of those was the ditch.  We did the ditch a couple of times and then I decided to ask Nimo to move a little bit more actively over it.  Sigh...Somehow, I managed to lose my left stirrup about 1 second before Nimo jumped.  And instead of forgetting about it and just going with the flow, because it was an 18" wide jump with no height, I thought it would be a good idea to lean over and focus on how aggravating it was to lose my stirrup at such a critical point.  Ahem.  For those of you who are wondering, yes, yes, I did fall off.  Nimo actually crow-hopped a bit after landing, probably because I was hanging off of his left side, completely unbalanced.  I did manage not to fall on my head this time.  But the alternative was really not that much better.  At first I felt like I had the wind knocked out of me and while I rolled around on the ground gasping like a fish out of water, my friend calmly retrieved my horse for me.  And then she checked to make sure I was OK (she's an eventer).  I thought I was, but I still needed a minute because I made myself dizzy rolling all over the ground (I still can't say why I thought that was the best way to deal with the situation).  While I got myself together, my friend led Nimo over the ditch several times, and he was a perfect gentleman.  By that time, I could tell that I landed on my butt.  It felt kind of sore, but I really dismissed it as the price to be paid for sheer stupidity and bad riding.  The great thing about falling off on a cross-country course is that there are plenty of jumps to use as mounting blocks, so I climbed back on and headed back to the ditch.  Which we did several more times.  Each time, Nimo was perfect.  I think it was just a weird fluke and once again, I'm glad I wear a helmet.  I'm also thankful I was riding with two people who literally made no big deal out of the situation once I assured them I was OK.

We continued our ride and we headed back to the water jump to let the horses play a bit, wandered around a field with no jumps and let the horses have a snack.  Then we went back to the bank jump that we had seen at the beginning of ride that Nimo had not wanted to do.  I really thought he could do it because it wasn't anything worse than he'd done out in the mountains.  But he still was reluctant about it.  So my friend suggested that I use the bigger bank jump that was not built into the hill so much as a way to desensitize him.  If we went over the jump from the side, where the height was not as great, she thought I might convince Nimo to try the bigger height.  So that's what we did.  I started him at the base of the hill, right at the point where the side of the jump started (I swear I'll get pictures next time!) and the height was only a few inches and we went up and down with no problems.  Then I moved Nimo toward the middle of the side of the jump where the height was increased, and again, no issue.  I did that one more time with success, and then I pointed him at our target bank jump.  And he went right up it!  Yay!  It was really cool because it felt like he was really climbing.

I figured we were done at that point and we walked the horses back to the trailers.  However, it turns out we had one more jump to do.  Apparently, there is something called a Hunter Derby.  It is essentially cross-country jumping in an arena.  There was a hill built into the arena with a straw bale jump at the top that looked like a lot of fun, so we did that jump as our finale.  Nimo took it slow, but he did go right over it without a lead horse.  So maybe, just maybe, there is hope for my cross-country jumping dreams after all...assuming I can manage to stay on my horse:)

Oh, and to top it all off, Nimo loaded himself in the trailer for the very first time and without even being asked.  I have never really worked on self-loading with him because it is very rare that we haul with another horse and I removed the middle divider in the trailer to give him more room.  Because of that, it easier to walk on with him and clip his lead rope than it would be to send him on by himself.  This day, though, we'd hauled my friend's horse, who was already on the trailer.  Loading the second horse is kind of a pain because the front divider doesn't open and the escape door is on the other side, so you have to crawl under the front divider to get out.  Normally, I'm happy to do that and it isn't a big deal.  But because my backside was really starting to feel pretty sore, I wasn't super excited about bending down.  As I was walking Nimo toward the trailer, I could tell he was really motivated to get on, so I just stopped walking and let him continue on sort of a whim to see what he would do.  And he just walked right on!  I really couldn't have been happier with him.

Which is why I gave him the week off so I could nurse my injury:)  Nothing was broken, but I will say that the first couple of days were a bit brutal, especially getting out of bed in the morning.  And there was the most bizarre sensation of one area in my lower back - there was a feeling of both numbness and like someone was ripping my skin off at the same time.  Anyway, it's almost all better now, and I'm back to riding.  And the next time I do any cross-country jumping, I'm going to shorten my stirrups a hole or two and work on my balance:)



    And please, stop falling off that skyscraper. Dear goodness that is a long way to the ground! Glad you're okay and glad you had so much fun!!!

    1. Haha! You are welcome to come down anytime and I'll show you the course:) And yes, I definitely intend to work harder on not falling off!

  2. This sounds like so much fun. Minus the falling, of course, but so much fun.