Today Fudge and I went XC schooling with Lucinda Green at Ely Eventing Centre.
Lucinda is just like she is on the telly, apart from the swearing ;-)
Thankfully none of the swearing was aimed at me or Fudge (although we did get a stiff talking to), and I thought she was rather hard on one girl, but it did work in the end!
There were 6 horses and riders in the group, and after a chat to learn names and to find out what we each did, we started with about 7 skinny poles (max 3' long) and various plastic wings or blocks. All the poles were on the ground, and our mission was to get over/under/through them without cantering, in any way possible, stopping and clambering was OK, but running out was not. I didn't think this would be a problem for Fudge, but he did take exception to some green blocks, so that was interesting to begin with, by the 3rd time he was fine with them. After this she asked us all to name the 2 things we thought were most important in this exercise. I said keeping my legs on and focusing on where I was going. Others said similar things and she was pleased that between us we covered all the essentials for good XC riding! She said her phrase was that your legs and eyes create a tube that your horse has to go in, which was an analogy I liked.
So we had to do the same exercise again, some poles were now raised, and gradually she and her helper put all of them up to about 2' high, then we had to do a small course of them, and this time cantering was allowed too. After the last pole we had to stop and halt for 10 seconds before patting horse and giving them a long rein. Lucinda watched each one of us in turn.
One of the riders with a relatively new horse had a great deal of difficulty and ended up falling off (she was fine, bounced straight up to her feet), and the horse escaped across the field. She set off in pursuit ... I didn't think we'd see them again!
Then it was my go, a good start jumping 3 poles one after the other, but I then discovered my steering was not great, as the fences were not placed in straight lines to each other, and had a couple of run outs, missed one out completely, and Fudge refused to stop until he was near other horses again, so I was called over for a chat ...
Lucinda said in her opinion, when Fudge takes charge and decides to charge off to join the other horses, I've taught myself not to do much about it, and therefore I've taught him that he can. Hmmm, it seemed very silly and very embarrasing when it was put that way, but I think she's absolutely right. She asked why I turned him in a tight circle to slow down and then stop, instead of stopping in a straight line. I said because I didn't think I could stop him in a straight line, so she made me do exactly that, in between every fence! Yes it was hard, and I failed completely between the 1st and 2nd fences, but each time got quicker, and by the 4th one Fudge was totally bored by it and just stopped, albeit throwing his head in the air. First major thing I learned.
Lucinda said that she was pleased with us, she could see that he likes his jumping and that I'll be fine most of the time, but I need strategies that will help/fix it when he decides he's going to run out or simply gallop off with me, for example on a course heading for home on the last few jumps, and she's completely correct, he does do that, and it can be quite scary, although I also know I secretly rather enjoy it ...
Once we'd all done the short course a couple of times, the other rider re-joined us having caught her horse, and seemed none the worse for it. Lucinda sympathised that the mare was difficult, and could see what the rider was up against, she recommended that she trot and canter round the field away from all of us until the mare settled and realised who was boss!
So we carried on to the water to walk in/out up/down the banks and up a small step out. They were all fine with this. Then we went to a coffin combination and began with a log, dip and another log which we had to jump in both directions and stop afterwards in a straight line for 10 seconds as before. Then we walked over the ditch by itself - ditches had been identified earlier by a few of us as the thing we have most difficulty with. Typically Fudge didn't hesitate at all, so then we had to trot the ditch and up a short slope to jump a palisade fence after it.This was fine too, although I thought the palisade was a bit bigger than I was happy jumping, and got a bit worried that Fudge was only trotting, and wouldn't have enough oomph to get over it. I was wrong, and was the 2nd major thing I learned.
I think I still think of our jumping ability as it was a few years ago, and I forget how far we've come, how much fitter and how much better muscled Fudge is now. Multiple times that afternoon I realised that Fudge can jump 2'6" obstacles from a virtual standstill, with no bother at all, and I was very proud of him :-) Then we reversed direction, jumped the palisade, which looked even bigger from the other direction (why is that?), then ditch and onto some tyres to make a combination. We then went back to the water, and joined the two together, step into water in walk, trot up 2 steps out of the water, across the field, and back to jump the coffin. I was especially pleased doing this because Fudge listened to me perfectly when I said he was going too fast after the water, and stopped him after the last fence perfectly in a straight line as soon as I asked. My horse learns fast :-)
Somewhere in the middle of all this, the mare and rider we'd lost earlier, re-joined us and began to jump the logs and coffin. Boy that mare could jump, and frankly I thought it was a different rider, she became so confident! We also lost the young girl who had previously had a lot of stops and falls XC, hence the Lucinda schooling that her Mum had paid for. Her pony stopped at the first log, and the girl burst into tears. Lucinda was very hard on her, she said she did understand how hard it was, but until the girl f***ing took charge, it was going to continue happening - more tears. I really did think this was too far, but she left her to mop up her tears whilst she sorted out another who was having run outs at the coffin and got into quite a state about it! Once that was solved, Lucinda turned back to the young girl, and said right lets get you some tools! She produced spurs and 2 schooling whips from her car, and gave the girl instructions to use them all if she thought her pony was going to stop! This she did, to a classic look of shock on the pony's face! She then jumped everything she was pointed at ;-)
So now we had a full class of 6 again, we set off for a different field, joined another few jumps together into a little course, and then a big step up and enormous log. I had thought it was big, but hadn't realised quite how big, and neither had Fudge. We jumped it, but didn't clear it, poor Fudge scraped the inside of his knee on it, and rocked the log in doing so! We got shouted at to come round to do it all again. Needless to say, this time I kept my leg on much more, and he cleared it by a mile. I checked his leg and it was grazed, bleeding a little, but basically OK, so we carried on.
We had found another complex with different sized ditches, and had to walk/trot/canter each one a number of times. So, we'd had about 2.5 hours by this time, and called it a day after Lucinda had talked to each one of us. Oh yes, and she insisted that we all get off and loosen girths and walk the horses back to the lorry park. I agree with that completely, but I've never had a XC schooling session where it's been insisted on before.
Lucinda followed us all back to the lorry park and stayed chatting for quite a while. I washed Fudge's scraped leg, and put some wound powder on it - hey for the first time, I used the first aid kit that's been in the lorry for years!! He wasn't bothered, tough guy that he is, and only wanted some hay by this point.
It was a great session and I would definitely recommend her, yes it's
expensive but I did learn loads. Mind you, I was completely shattered when I got home.