For my third blog in the series of a show hunter’s misadventures trying various other horsie sports, I suited up in a crash vest and headed out to four-star eventer Sharon White’s Last Frontier Farm in Summit Point, W.Va., to see what going cross-country was all about!
You may be thinking that this doesn’t seem all that different of an experience for a hunter/jumper rider. I mean, jumping is jumping right? WRONG. So wrong.
We of the hunter/jumper world jump on perfectly manicured sand rings or very level grass rings with fences that crumble to pieces when someone (we’ll say me) asks their horse to leave from outer space and crashes through the top rails. You can do the Superman jump and live to be embarrassed about it when the fences fall down. You can’t crash through a solid log! Maybe there was a foam course Sharon made all of her students do before they were allowed to do a real one, with a log jump that was made out of the foam noodles from pools, I thought to myself. That would be a nice soft landing for my inevitable miss-n-launch move.
I may look the part wearing a crash vest and color coordinating with my crop and shirt,
Arriving at Sharon’s farm for the lesson, a theme was very readily apparent: orange. Orange paddock gates, orange stall guards, orange cross ties, orange fly sheets drying on the fence. For someone with the last name White, this lady loves her orange. Alyssa Peterson, another top-notch eventer based out of Sharon’s farm, warmed me up on the flat, and then Sharon came out to the field on golf cart to send us over some jumps. (The golf cart was not orange, but it had a can of orange paint in the back, so I’m sure it’s a work in progress.)
Not knowing me or my riding history other than I ride hunters, Sharon asked if I had ever gone cross-country before, which I have not. I have jumped a couple stand-alone logs with my horse, but that’s about it. She then asked “But you’re good with jumping, yes?”
I ran through the stock footage in my head of some of my great jumping moments in the ring—getting launched to the far side of an oxer after trying to leave a stride out of a line, pop-chip-crashing the first vertical in a derby, missing to a two-stride and stopping/sliding almost to my horse’s ears after jumping ahead. “Yeah I’m good with the jumping.”
With that little fib out of the way, we started warming up, first over some regular show jumping fences and then moving on to Sharon’s novice cross-country course. The first couple of cross-country fences were a little quick, and I was turning too sharp, so Sharon had me start again, but after that the novice course went swell!
After galloping a ditch, up a hill to a log, across the field to a chevron and popping over two tables, I started getting a pretty big head. This was my first time going cross-country ever, and I was doing this well hadn’t crashed yet? Was I a cross-country prodigy? Should someone call the chef d’equipe of the novice eventing team and tell him he has a new contender for the WEG?
Then a down bank happened. I think my face says all one needs to know about how this hunter rider felt about that experience!
|I take it back Charlie, I don’t want to go to the novice WEG. Just please don’t leave me to die in this water obstacle.|
So needless to say, that got me off my high horse really quickly. Since I had never done a down bank before, Sharon told me to trot it, which can be interesting when you’re as terrible at trot fences as I am. I cannot jump a normal trot fence correctly to save my life, let alone a bank. I never get the timing right and either throw myself ahead of the motion or get stuck in the back seat. When combined with the novel concept of jumping from higher to lower ground, it made for a very nice photo series!
|OK, this is going all right, I can do this, oh wait no, no I can’t, losing stirrup in second picture, found
stirrup in last picture, but also added a lovely grimace to my face, which pretty
much encapsulates my feelings about basically jumping off the edge of a small cliff.
Charlie was such a good boy through the whole ordeal. I suppose it was only an ordeal for me—he’s probably done a million of these based on his very relaxed facial expression, which is a nice juxtaposition to my look of utter terror.
We ended up jumping around various different fences at the novice and training heights, and I highly recommend if anyone ever wants to try going cross-country they call up Alice Sudduth, one of Sharon White’s customers, and beg her to let them borrow her horse Charlie. They will have to schedule around his trip to Rome, however—he’s being canonized a saint for putting up with me.
On multiple occasions during our lesson, I saw nice forward hunter-gap distances to logs or tables and would ride up to it and say JUMP! To which Charlie would reply with a firm no, add another stride, and say something like, “Whoa crazy lady. This is eventing. We have ditches on the other side of our jumps sometimes, and didn’t I just hear Sharon tell you to ride to the base of everything? Are there ears attached to that noggin of yours, or just eyes that see bad distances?” (Charlie is very snarky in my head.)
“See here now, Ann, this is how we jump a log properly.
|There’s a hole in the ground, and we’re jumping over it!|
Despite the look on my face in that lovely bank picture, going-cross country was so much fun and so exciting. It’s definitely the most entertaining jumping lesson I’ve had in a while. Occasionally while approaching a fence during the lesson, the spoil-sport voice in the back of my head would whine, “Annnnnn these are solid! You’re barely competent over the ones that fall down!”
But then Charlie and I would gallop up a hill and over a training level table, and the whiney voice would get drowned out by its adrenaline junkie cousin yelling “WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! Again, again, again!” Your inner dare devil will be yelling the same thing if you ever give cross-country a try, which everyone should (as long as they have a Charlie in the barn).
|Charlie, the saint himself—thanks so much to Alice Sudduth for letting me ride this amazing horse!|
Our intrepid summer intern has been trying out all kinds of equestrian disciplines! Check out her other adventures…