Saturday, February 23, 2008


Russell R.

As I sit looking at the snow and the icy footing here and there, dreaming of sunny skies and pleasant rides, I keep remembering days gone by.
I think the posts on Caroline's blog about jumping trakheners and ditches reminded me of Russell R.
Here we are on one of our eventing adventures. I don't recall how we placed but I do know we went clean cross country.

Russell loved to jump and would carry me safely as long as he understood what he was supposed to do. Ironically, our eventing career came to an end when we faced a trakhener with no obvious ground line. I didn't know what to tell him to do, and he was totally confused. He ended up walking down into the wooden lined ditch, hitting his chin on the heavy cross pole over the ditch and then stood there. We backed out, and I eventually retired at that fence.

Back then they used to let riders finish the course after an elimination, so off we went galloping happily along over the rest of the fences including a three jump combo coffin jump that left everyone gasping. Russ had a hold of the bit as I came out of the woods, so I pulled him back to a trot to keep him on line and under control. My friends were gathered at the combo, and apparently the other spectators cried, "Oh, no, she's not going to jump this thing from a trot!!" Well, the jumps were at 3'3"- 3'6" and we jumped that in schooling from a trot all the time, so my friends just kind of shrugged. Russell went in in a nice forward motion and soared over all three jumps in perfect form. It was a moment to treasure.

After that ride I did one more lower level event and then retired to dressage. I realized I just didn't have the nerve to "command" him over the tricky jumps if he needed me.

One of my favorite events was the first time I moved up to training level...3'3"-3'6" back then. We had a not so good dressage score, and when I walked the cross country, I was not too sure we'd do OK. There was a really big brush fence, and a combo going across a dirt road down into the dark woods, and, at the end, a ditch combination. There was also a pretty steep hill with a jump at the bottom. I decided to trot to that one as the hill was challenging.

Off we went with Russell totally convinced this was going to be a grand ride. After the second stone wall I had tears of joy in my eyes. He jumped the brush with a huge leap. Soon we were headed to the woods. I had decided to take a roundabout route so I could get a straight line across the road and into the woods. It paid off as we were perfect and clean. By the time we got to the hill, Russell would have none of that "slowing down" stuff so we galloped down the hill, over the hay bales and off towards the ditch combo. I heard cries of "Heads up" as I got there. A horse was stuck in the middle, having refused the ditch. At the last second the rider managed to get out of my way and we soared through with the stuck horse quite happy to follow us out. I think I whooped in joy as we finished over the last log jump.

Stadium jumping was the last phase back then, and the field was a deep, muddy mess. As Russell and I watched, horse after horse refused, struggling with the footing and one narrow panel by the road. When our turn arrived, I left it all in Russell's hands--hoofs. To this day, I have no idea how he managed. At every take off, he sank in over his fetlocks, and yet he put in an amazing effort. Somehow, with twists and turns of his body to get all his feet over, he managed a clear round. I was thrilled.

After settling back at the trailer, I think I was wearing the biggest smiled I'd ever had. Then they began to announce the placings in reverse order. When they got to third and still hadn't called my number, I was on the run to the ribbon stand. Sure enough, my call came at first place! The clear cross country and stadium had moved us up from a dismal 7th or so in dressage to the winner's spot.

Turns out that decision to take the long route into the dark woods had been one of the turning points as we were one of only a very few teams that had gone clean there. Everyone who'd tried to go in at an angle had shocked their horses out of jumping the second fence in the shadows.

Then, of course, all those refusals we'd watched on the stadium course had finished my Cinderella story.

Mind you, Russell had a ton of show jumping training with lots and lots of gymnastics. He had been competing successfully as a hunter/jumper in the show ring over 3'6" courses for quite a while so he knew his job to perfection. Still, that day, with the sterling cross country effort, and an amzing effort in that awful, deep, sticky mud, he was beyond heroic.

And even better than that, it was FUN!!! What more can anyone ever ask of her horse?


  1. Lovely story! thanks for telling. I can only imagine you smiling ^-^

    What do you mean by gymnastic : shoulder-in, leg-yield etc... ???

  2. wow! that must have been fantastic..

    mind, I've always been of the view that most events are won on the eventing/jumping....if you have a horse that can, will and does, then you're most of the way.

  3. Muriel, jumping gymnastics include lots of small fences set in all kinds of combinations, patterns, and distances to challenge the horse to figure out how to jump them successfully.

    You might have a broad jump followed by a narrow jump at a close stride, for example to teach the horse to collect up after a big effort and then "climb" the next fence to get over. You might set up two fences to jump one after the other and then keep changing the striding distance between them so the horse learns to adjust his stride. You might jump things at an angle or after a sharp turn. Or you might jump from a trot instead of a canter to help him learn to lift himself over the fence with his hind end. Gradually, you raise the height of the fences as the horse gets better and better at handling himself.

    The idea is to help the horse learn all the different ways he might need to jump something in competition and, most importantly, if he or the rider makes a mistake, you are teaching him to be able to figure a way out so he can still jump what's in front of him.

  4. Fabulous pic and story.
    I often wish I could have had a go at XC but with riding trotters through my teens and twenties then Polo's crazyness when out and about(athough he more than has the jump in him) its kind of passed me by.

  5. Wonderful picture, great eventing seat Jean. And what a fantastic memory to have.

    Claire eventing in this country today is usually won on the dressage. To win now, you have to have a dressage horse that jumps. It used to be that you had to have a jumper that did a bit of dressage, but not any more. I preferred the old way - big rider frightenters. Now we have such technical stuff, even at Pre-novice.

    Nicola I first evented at the age of 35, you're not too old!!


  6. where's your photo gone? i went back to have a look at it after commenting on the Si post, and it wasn't there...