Hey everyone! I'm completely & totally new to these forums, but I'm looking forward to reading some posts. Just a quick intro: the 2010 summer was my first out eventing, and it was my 9 y.o. OTTB gelding Uno's first summer out doing anything except racing. It was suprisingly successful!
So here's the deal. I can't get my speed/pace/tempo/rhythm/whatever right. My first time out I didn't wear a watch and was frankly more concerned about getting Uno over the jumps than anything else. That went great! Too bad I messed up my 2nd place dressage standing and came in 1:30 over time. Yeah.
Second event: Catalpa Corners in Iowa. My older, much more experienced and knowledgeable friend advised to let him find his own pace. Well, I came in 1:30 under. I honestly did the last half of the course in a minute flat because I was where I was supposed to be for my half-way mark. Dang.
I had one more mini-event at my boarding stable and this time came in 30 seconds under; quite the improvement. I still don't feel like I know how fast I should be going. Any tips? Thanks!
Find an obliging field, get a meter wheel and mark out 300 meters, 350 meters, and 400 meters. Wear your watch, develop a steady canter and see how long it takes you to go 350 meters (average BN speed). If it takes you much less than a minute, you've got to slow it down. More than a minute? Speed it up. Do this 6, 8, 10 times until you are getting pretty close to the mark. A week later, do it again. And again, and again, and again, until you KNOW what 350 mpm feels like on your horse. Try 300 meters in a minute, see how that feels. Try 400, just so you know what the adjustments feel like.
Now when you're walking your course part of what you have to do is factor in the footing, the terrain, the types of jumps, the turns, the weather, and whether XC is before or after SJ (will the horse be more or less tired). ALL riders have to do this. If the course is flat, the footing perfect, the jumps all very straightforward with no places that are going to require big adjustments to your speed, and the horse is fit and you expect him to be fresh and ready, then you ride the pace you've learned, check your watch a couple of times and you should be close enough to optimum to get there with only minor adjustments, assuming the speed is 350mpm. If it's 370mpm, you'll have to go a little faster or find some places to shave some meters off your line.
If it's hot, muddy, hilly, there are a bunch of turns and your horse is tired, you can expect to have to push harder to make time. You should still have your 350 mpm pace ingrained in your head. Start out at the pace you think you need, check your watch after a minute or two and see where you're at. (I'm assuming here you'll have wheeled the course and know where your minute markers are--if not, you should!)
Is all this really necessary? Of course not! You can figure this out as you go along, and time penalties are nothing to really worry about safety- and learning-wise. But this is a good exercise for teaching yourself about pace, and as you move up the levels it needs to (and will!) become second nature.
I had the opposite problem when I first started competing. Not my horse's fault, but I would find my adrenalin getting away from me to the point that I had to trot a bunch just to get my own heart rate under control! I finally seemed to get it together his Summer and was shocked at how fast the course seemed to go by. I was actually rather disappointed that it was over so quickly once I cut out all the trotting. I wear a watch, but don't always remember to check it, but if we're keeping to a good solid canter, with some gallop-y parts and the leeway to trot through a spooky area or maybe into a water or something, then I usually find we're about 40 or so seconds under optimum (but still well outside speed fault territory).
DW's right - no substitute like practice. I also find it helpful to go out and canter next to someone who has a good sense of speed and they can help you feel what 300/350/400 feels like. If you go whoa-whoa-whoa down to every single fence, you're changing your speed a lot, plus mucking up a smooth ride. Think about being consistent to your fences on course, and you'll find you're much closer to having your actual "average" speed on course match what you've practiced.
One thing I've also found useful is thinking about maintaining a constant speed, rather than speed up/slow down/speed up on course. And, helpfully a novice speed on most horses with an average step seems to me to feel pretty much like the rhythm to Row, Row, Row Your Boat. In other words, as silly as it sounds, singing that tune will often help folks figure out what a novice or BN speed should feel like (hint - it's not actually very fast at all).
I sometimes sing just to keep myself breathing. I tend to want to hold my breath when jumping. Little Bunny Fufu tends to be my favorite.
To vary things I sometimes change the words to Little Kitty Sasha slinking thru the yard.
Oh, well, clearly you're not thoroughly indoctrinated to COTH yet, because finger pointing and drawing conclusions are the cornerstones of this great online community. (Tidy Rabbit)
There is also nothing wrong with trial and error. It is great to practice on a track or a field, for sure, but I also find it isn't always the same once jumps are added. Sometimes, getting out onto a course, with your show nerves going is the best way to figure out your pace (particularly on a specific mount). Just make sure you are safe out there -- you want to have some knowledge about pace before going out. Finishing your first course too slow is not exactly a big sin, especially if you did what you needed to do to finish cleanly and safely.
Think back to each of the shows that you have already done. What did it feel like when you were going too slow? What did it feel like when you were going too fast? Knowing what you know now, how would you have ridden each of those courses differently? How would you increase your pace safely on your first go? Where could you have half-halted more and controlled your pace better on your second? Then the next time you are at a show and walking XC, incorporate your previous experiences into your plan. It really is somewhat of an art and a good trainer can really help you look at a XC course specifically for you and your horse.
I think sometimes we put too much emphasis on time faults on our first times at a new level. I was always taught that you never worry about time at your first outing at a new level. You put the emphasis on the jumps and having a safe, confidence building run. Time comes later. Yes, this is only Beginner Novice, but those competitors are generally the ones that have the least experience in pacing. Don't worry so much that you got time penalties your first couple of times out. Take your experience and learn from it!