Rather than sharing any specific training insights following our Rolex performance I thought this would be an ideal time to give a look into how I deal with a difficult cross-country run. First and foremost I look at the positives, then I replay the round over and over looking for any areas that I could have improved, then I come up with a plan to make those improvements. I'll start by giving some insight into the lead up to Rolex 2014 and what my main focus has been..
I had to wait a month before running again and next up was the CIC*** at Carolina International, the run I needed to qualify for Rolex this year, not exactly a great place to experiment. So I went around with the goal of being efficient at the fly fences and not allowing any mistakes at the combinations which meant that I spent way too much time setting up for the combinations but we got our clear round. Next up was The Fork advanced... originally I had not plan on running at The Fork since Quincy seems to do well with 4 - 5 weeks from his last horse trials until his CCI run. Our run at Carolina was not the feeling that I wanted at Rolex so I decided to run part of the course at The Fork just to smooth things out. I used a milder bit and felt that it helped to keep Quincy from fighting me in the approach to the combinations although it did mean that I had to hold him together a bit more.
That was our lead up this spring... Because our dressage was on Thursday at Rolex I decided to use Friday morning to do a short gallop and make a decision as to what bit to use on cross-country. My concern was that if I was having to hold him together at The Fork I would not be able to help him out by the end of an 11 minute course. So I decided on the pelham I had used at Carolina but with a milder noseband, a converter for the reins, and keeping the curb chain loose. Our Friday gallop was perfect with Quincy eager to gallop on but very willing to comeback whenever I asked. My confidence grew immediately as there wasn't anything in particular on the course that had me worried, it was his overall rideability that mattered for the whole course to be a success. Warming up on Saturday solidified my feeling that we were right on track as Quincy was relaxed, responsive, and jumping amazingly so I went out wanting to be as close to the optimum time as possible. I felt we were ready for that...
As we started the course I stayed over him to jump the first two fly fences and met them right in stride then we had a long gallop to a downhill approach to 3 and 4 which is when I knew I was in trouble. Part way down the hill to fence 3 I gave a little half-halt to check Quincy's balance and he just rolled on down the hill so I stood up to use my body to change his balance and he continued on without changing. I felt as though I was galloping in a hackamore and literally had to shift his weight side to side in order to find a good stride to the jumps. We managed to jump them well but the alarms were going off in my head... the next fence was the first water where I had a turn to set him up so I figured that would get him back on track. Not so... I was barely able to get the turn done and basically had to hold him all the way to the first element since I never quite had him straight. Which made the forward 3 strides to the goose a bit of a stretch but Quincy was game and allowed me to steer him up to the angled brush. Without going through each jump I will simply say that the rest of the course was a real test for me... specifically challenging me to continue riding forward even when things were not quite right. The only reason I kept going was simply that Quincy was taking care of business! Even without me being able to give him the preparation to the jumps that I wanted to he was confident, careful, and making the jumps feel easy. I did what I could to use the turns to set him up for the combinations but Derek DiGrazia's courses never let up and he finally caught us out at The Hollow. This year we had to jump through a keyhole on the top ridge followed by a 5 stride left-hand bending line to a right pointed brush corner directly to a skinny rail oxer on the opposite ridge. We'd had an uphill run and turn to help set up for the keyhole. The horses usually take a breath at the top of the hill which I figured would allow me to bring him back a couple of gears. It did but rather than holding when he saw the keyhole he accelerated and jumped quite big landing fairly far down the slope. I tried to make the turn but he never put his eye on the corner and it took until we were up the other side of the hollow for me to even pull up... I re-routed to the option and figured the rest of the course was now a matter of getting home without any more issues. So I took the long route at the next combination and kept a positive gallop but did not press him on. The Head of the Lake also became a long option when I had trouble getting him onto the line I needed to jump directly from the duck to the corner. Frustration was starting to set in but we were now at the 8 minute mark so I continued on. He was still jumping easily over the fly fences but on the gallop up to the Normandy Bank I felt the first signs of Quincy tiring. I really had to wrestle to get his balance before the bank and he bulged right when he bounced over the rail leaving the long 3 strides to the angled brush now an impossibility. I tried to hold for 4 but he just glanced off rather than shortening his stride. In that moment I knew it was futile to continue on so I circled around and jumped the other arm of the brush just to finish on a good note.
As I was walking back I noticed Quincy was missing his right front shoe. I hadn't felt any missteps so thought it may have just happened... based on the photos I've seen it was missing at the second water, fence 9, so he jumped the majority of the course without it. What a testament to the work that was done to prepare the footing for our horses... there wasn't even the slightest chip or crack in his foot!
All of this leads me to the most important details to share... as I walked off of the course I was not upset or disappointed. That may seem odd but what I want people to realize is that even though my day didn't go as I would have liked there was no way I could be unhappy when my horse was too enthusiastic and having too easy a time with a 4* course! Plus my confidence in my ability to ride at that level was boosted as well. I was out of my comfort zone but kept riding and made the most of the situation. Yes, in the end, Quincy's lack of rideability caught up to us but simply because Derek asked questions that did not allow room for error. So we ran by a couple of jumps... but Quincy and I both came away feeling good. I was ready to find another horse so that I could go out and give it another shot! Quincy was so proud of himself afterwards that he was begging for attention. To me that is the mark of an awesome course designer.
Obviously I still have work to do to sort out how to manage being quick and accurate. There is no substitute for experience in this sport and it makes me realize how fortunate riders are to have multiple upper level horses in their barn. I feel that I am close to putting all of the pieces together but unfortunately the only time that Quincy really shows me this side of himself is on a CCI course. The horse trials courses don't have the long gallops and the jumps come up much more quickly which helps to keep Quincy tuned into me. Therefore it seems that we may be making a trip to Bromont... I feel that I could use the run there to work on my technique and try a different bridle on a similar type track. If all goes well maybe we can do some fundraising for a trip in the fall :).
I already have a few ideas in mind as far as our homework goes and will post updates as we go. I must say that being able to stay positive is made so much easier because of the great support that I have. My family and all of the owners involved in the Deep Purple Eventing syndicate realize that competing in this great sport is a journey and while I may not have my biggest successes with Quincy the experiences along the way are priceless. Having that support allows me to keep looking forward and I'm excited by what I see!