Even though we’ve had kind of a revelation this year about what Cally is happy doing as her “day job,” I still believe that having a well rounded horse is important, one that does all sorts of things, even if it’s not their primary job. So we continue to do dressage once a week, even though I’ve realized that it’s not what she want to do, and we’re even entered in one more dressage show for the year. But this weekend we stepped way outside the box.
On Saturday, I woke up dark and early, with only 4 hours of sleep after getting off work at 2AM, and headed out to the barn to meet a barnmate to go try out the local hunt’s foxchasing clinic. It’s something I’ve wanted to try for years, so I was excited to get to try it. I wasn’t sure how Cally would take to it; frankly I knew she’d be find with the hacking around the countryside, because she’s evented and been out trail riding, but I wasn’t sure how she’d do with being in a group, because she’s not even good in hack classes and prefers for things to be All About Cally. But we were going to go try hunting with my hunter!
It was foggy and the grass was wet with dew on top of hard dry ground, so I was a little unsure how she’d do, but she warmed up really nicely, and I was optimistic as we opted to head out with the small First Field group, who would be cantering and jumping.
We started off well, with the Master leading us into and out of the ring over some small log jumps, then out across a few of the jumps on their hunt course to get us started, and Cally felt great, flying right along.
But as we headed into the woods, the barnmate we were along with started having trouble with her horse, who I don’t think has done a lot out at speed, and wasn’t so sure about the whole situation. So we’d gone about 3/4 mile when we opted to drop back to Second Field with them. I think that was my big mistake of the day–I should have stayed up front, where Cally was comfortable with the pace, and was able to go happily forward. Because in Second, we separated a bit from the barnmate, but Cally was having trouble staying behind the other horses. We were going single file, and I was having to ride the brakes hard to keep her together enough to not overtake the horses in front of us, which is hard when you’re on a horse that easily has a proper 14′ step outside, but is behind a 15H paint and you have to avoid landing on top of them after going over a fence. We actually had to go around one fence so as not to run someone over. Because of being constantly ridden on the brakes, Cally was getting a bit cranky, and started acting up, so we ended up dropping back to the walk-and-some-trot hilltoppers, where she was fine, since we were pretty much walking, but still had to be ridden the entire time, no soft rein and swingy walk, or she’d have been half a mile past the Master’s cute cob in no time flat.
We headed back in and introduced the hounds to the horses, and Cally was totally intrigued by them! And what happy, handsome boys they were, bounding around, happy to be out and obviously thinking they were heading out to do their job. Afterwards, we went into the clubhouse for a light lunch and a bit of a lecture on how to actually come out hunting, proper attire if we do, etc. After having done the clinic, we’re all invited to come out and cap a cubbing hunt at half price, and I’m a little torn. I’d like to try it, but I’m not sure we’re up for First Field, since I didn’t feel like we got to stick with it long enough to see if she’d be fine there, and I know she’d be miserable being in the back, forced to a short, collected walk to keep her place in line with the Hilltoppers. So I’m not sure whether we should give it another try or not.
On Sunday I headed out to see how she was feeling after a long day’s riding on Saturday, and the Jousting group that rents our big ring once a month was out practicing. I walked up to the fenceline to watch as I was catching Cally from the pasture, and was eagerly greeted and offered the chance to “play” with them. Why yes, yes I would like to give that a try! I figured the dressage saddle would be the most secure for craziness, so I tacked up in that and headed up to the ring, and rode her around past all the unusual gear and horses. Cally mostly seemed to care about the face that the barrels that had been under a jump were now somewhere new, so when we were offered the chance to get started and try something, I jumped at it!
It took a minute for Cally to be OK with them handing me the lance for jousting, which was fine, as it was apparently the idea to get her used to seeing it move around a bit before I took it. Then we headed down the little jousting lane, as I tried to coordinate both riding and my poor hand-eye skills to spear a ring.
I was so tickled with her! But I was informed that the rings were actually the least awesome thing they do, and was offered a SWORD!
So we tried out this game called Reeds, which was initially chopping the tops of reed posts for training, where you make a figure-8 with the sword and lop the little peg tops off posts. Cally was a little unsure about the sword flying around above her head (maybe because she’s smart enough to know that you’d have to be nuts to give Jen a sword!), but we actually did pretty good with it!
The last thing to try was the quintain, which you’ve probably seen in movies, where someone rides at a little figure with a lance, hits it, and it spins around a bag of rocks or whatever to hit that person off their horse. But since these folks are nice and not trying to actually injure anyone, you just ride past it and spin it. It apparently usually scares the horses the first few times, just because of the impact and spinning, so we made a couple passes where I just hit it with my hand, and we managed to do that at a walk, trot, and canter! They seemed pretty impressed I tried it at the canter, and Cally was awesomely good about it, so they handed me the lance. It was a lot bigger and heavier than the one for the ring jousting, so I rode around with it a bit, with the end resting on my toe. Cally wasn’t too sure about it, but was being good, so we gave it a try. The difficult part there was that I didn’t just have to tilt it forward, it had to go forward across her heck, and she was a little skeptical about that whole endeavor before I even hit the quintain.
Despite all the craziness, that was the biggest spook out of her the whole day, and she totally recovered, walked away, and let me drop the lance! She got lots of pats, and mints when we got back down to the barn. They’re back once a month, and I’m totally going to try it again with her occasionally!
Totally insane? Maybe, but I’m a big believer in that a more a horse is exposed to, the more tolerant of everything they’re going to be. Is my horse probably going to be the only horse at MAEF that’s tried jousting? Probably, but I know she’s not going to be so worried about riding past oddly shaped things, or me carrying something on her now. And maybe even most important, she learns to handle totally new and weird experiences in a good way, and knows they’re going to work out fine. So that next time we try something crazy, she’s just as awesome for that, too.
WELL DONE, Cally!