We made the trek out to Poplar Place last weekend in Georgia to run their Advanced. I knew it would be a tough second Advanced, and I was right. Walking the course on Thursday definitely made my eyes pop out a bit, especially for the modified Weldon's, which was a skinny brush set on an angle with a ditch. Poplar takes their brush fence seriously, with the lowest side of the brush cut at about four and a half feet. The tall side on the left must have been up to about six and a half feet, as you can see in the following photo.
(I'm 5'3'', for reference.)
There were some combinations that I knew would be tough. The first combination was a hanging log, a sharp turn left five strides to a huge left handed corner, and then a sharp turn right five strides to a skinny house. I was a bit nervous about the Weldon's. The cannon combo came up the hill, jump two cannons on a left-handed angle with one stride in between, then downhill with three LONG strides to a left handed corner. It was set perpendicular to a prelim combination that also ended with a corner. (Remember that, it's important later.) We also had a hanging log, one stride to a bank with a huge drop on a steep downhill, to a ditch, then one stride to a wedge. Next up was the infamous Indian Burial Mound, which had been modified to be a true Irish Bank, one stride to a log on top. The final combination that concerned me was a big/long bounce into the main water. There were a few other combinations on course, but these were the ones that looked tough to me.
So basically, most of the course looked tough to me.
I was really excited to get to it, but first we had to get through dressage. I tried yet another warmup technique this time, going for a long trot and canter set in the am of my dressage test, hoping to wear him out. Then I got on about ten minutes before my ride. It didn't really work. Dante started off with trot work that was a bit duller than that of Rocking Horse. He built steam throughout the test, until our final canter work was barely controllable, which was an improvement over Rocking Horse when our canter work at the end was UNcontrollable. So we're back to square one again. The good news is that it doesn't seem to be the environment or the ring that affects him, but rather performing the actual test that works him up. I think that perhaps by running through test after test after test (starting with Novice), I might actually get him used to that and prevent the mental build.
In any case, my trot work didn't score as well, but my canter work scored better, and I ended up with a 43.1, one point improvement over Rocking Horse. We won't have another stab at the Advanced test for a while, but I'm satisfied with the result.
Next up, cross country! It had rained quite a bit on Friday, but since the ground before was so hard, the footing ended up being absolutely perfect. We put in big studs to make sure we didn't slip, but the turf was spongy and non-concussive. We set off across the country and Dante jumped the first four fences great, especially number four, a big hanging table that was probably the largest fence on course. We came to number five, the first corner combination, which had been causing lots of problems already. I really concentrated on turning to the corner before thinking about the final element, and Dante jumped through great. We continued on, jumping the bounce bank in the woods with no problem, before coming to the Weldon's.
At the Weldon's, Dante decided in the very last stride that the right side of the fence was scary and it would be better to jump the left side instead. The six and a half foot side. Oh yes, there was a large shrub on the landing side on the left too. I have a memory of going up, and up, and up. Dante did brush at least some of it, but he must have cleared at least five and a half feet. Considering that the largest I have ever jumped was four and a half feet, I was a bit in shock. In mid-air, he saw that the shrub interfered with our first stride after landing. His front feet struck the ground, and he twisted hard to the right to avoid the shrub. I grabbed mane and barely stayed atop as he navigated around the shrub and continued gamely on. I love my horse.
(I hate him a little too, though. Seriously, horse?)
For the record, I did end up trekking back out to that fence later to see if I could find his hoof prints, and sure enough, there they were; two deep solid circles (from his pads) at least two feet to the left of everyone else's tracks, and solidly placed in front of the shrub.
In any case, we continued on. Unfortunately, we ran into trouble at the cannons. Dante jumped the cannons extremely straight, but immediately after sighted the Prelim corner to the right and headed for it. I corrected his path, but it was too late. There was no way, with the hard wiggle, to make the three long strides to our corner. We got there on three and a half and Dante simply couldn't jump. Circling around, Dante jumped it like a champ on the next approach, but the damage was done. Leslie Law later told my trainer that he thought the two corner combinations were extremely difficult, so that made me feel better at least. I know for sure that Dante could have done the combination on the first try, so in the future, I will make note of other fences he might lock onto instead of our own, and ride accordingly. A photo of the combination in question can be found here.
Next up was the bank/ditch combo, which Dante jumped well. Then we tackled the Indian Burial Mound, which he jumped extremely well. The final bounce into the water, we rode perfectly, although we ended a touch off the canoe on the out and Dante clobbered it a little. I was extremely proud of his bravery jumping into the water. It has taken four years, but he finally has zero hesitation upon entering water. Go Dante!
Dante was a little tired from the hills by the end, but recovered quickly and well. He was back to his annoying self within thirty minutes. The next morning he practically bounced out of his stall, and he felt extremely up during warm up. I knew that as long as I met the fences well, he would jump clear.
Unfortunately, I did not even remotely hold up my end of the bargain.
I missed badly at the first fence and that ended up setting the tone for the rest of the course. I rarely get to ride in such a large arena, and I had a bit too much pace. Last year, I never had enough pace, and I've gone a bit the other direction. I also think that Dante is well trained enough now that he is too responsive to the bit, and I'm afraid subconsciously to take a hold and put him between my leg and hand because he'll drop back too much. Instead, I had all leg going out the front and none coming into my hand. Not Dante's fault at all, completely mine. In any case, my round was pretty embarrassing. I missed badly to four jumps, causing him to basically punch through them in varying degrees. I missed a little to a final fence, getting him a bit too deep to a vertical, and he wasn't inclined to help me out anymore, so I had a fifth rail.
So, a mixed bag of results at Poplar. I am extremely proud of him for the way he handled the XC course. We're going to go home and work on accuracy (for the Weldon's), and listening (to make sure he locks onto the right jump). I foresee jumping lots of upright barrels in our future. For show jumping, we'll play with some different bits and jumping out in the field. I have no plans to do a CIC3* until next year, so the fact that we didn't get a QR this weekend is really ok. Right now, I have every intention of simply gaining experience at the Advanced level, and we accomplished that this weekend.