My Classic-Format Three-Day Event Experience

Last weekend I had a tremendous ride around the cross-country and steeplechase courses at the Galway Downs International Three-Day Event, where I was competing my mare Alba (show name Firebolt) in the classic-format CCI1*. You can see video footage of us on steeplechase and on cross-country by going to the Galway Downs website and going to the Saturday video coverage. (Click on the ?Event Video Coverage? tab on the right side of the home page.) you’ll see us about halfway through the extremely professional Saturday coverage by Josh Walker of the U.S. Eventing Association. Host Frankie Therriot interviews me and my son Wesley (who doesn’t say much), and you’ll see part of the steeplechase phase from my perspective (because I wore Josh?s helmet camera) and see a few minutes of us going cross-country too. You can also see two fantastic photos of Alba and me by going to the Galway Downs photo album of photographer Julia Reynolds? Facebook page. Julia took the two photos of us at the fourth-last jump, a skinny wedge-shaped brush that was six strides on a left turn from a maximum-sized table. At this point, my 15.1-had appendix Quarter Horse mare had gone 13,000 meters (about 8 miles) and jumped 33 jumps, and you’ll see from the photo how full of run she still was. She was absolutely still looking for more jumps to attack, on her way to finishing in third place. Riding Alba in this classic-format three-day event was meaningful to me in a number of ways. Readers of this space (and of many other things I’ve written) know of my belief in the classic format as a training tool for horse and rider, because it requires us to know our horses physically and mentally and to thoroughly prepare them for what I consider the ultimate test of horse training. With Alba I truly experienced what that the classic speed-and-endurance day teaches an event horse. As we trotted through phase A, the first roads and tracks phase, Alba was a bit worried and confused. She was fitter than sHe’s ever been in her life, and sHe’s now done enough events that she could tell by the electricity in the air (and the nip in the air, since it was only about 45 degrees!) that today was a big day. SHe’s a smart girl, and I suspect she expected that it was cross-country day, and she couldn?t understand why we seemed to be wasting our time going on a hack. This made no sense to my little workaholic, because she knew she was ready to run. She?d settled down a bit by the time we returned to the steeplechase course (phase B), but I think she was still a bit confused, because, yes, there was a start box, but it didn’t look like the cross-country courses she was used to. But then I sent her off at a gallop, with a tiny nagging worry about how well she?d handle this phase for the first time. But 10 or so strides from the first steeplechase fence, my worry evaporated as I could feel her lock on and then fly over it, and then we hit warp 10 as she said, ?Yee ha! This is great fun!? We were almost 15 seconds fast to the first marker, and when I got her to slow down after the third fence, I sort of fell asleep enjoying her lovely gallop, until I realized we were slow about 400 meters from the finish. So we disappointingly ended up 10 seconds slow. But she went out on phase C in a much more relaxed state, now beginning to understand, in her workaholic mind, the point to the exercise. We had a lovely ride around the grounds on phase C and finished almost 4 minutes early, giving us some extra time in the vet box. I’d anticipated (hoped, really) that phases A, B and C would get Alba to the start of cross-country in a much more relaxed state than sHe’s ever been for the start of cross-country, and that’s exactly what happened. In fact, the only somewhat uncertain fence we jumped was fence 1, because for the first time ever she didn’t come out of the start box like she?d been shot out of a cannon and her tail was on fire, her head in my face as I tried to restrain her. She actually galloped to the first fence like a normal horse, and neither of us were 100-percent sure what to do. We hopped over it a bit awkwardly, and on the 150-meter gallop to fence 2 we chatted a bit before jumping fences 2 and 3 perfectly on our way to fence 4AB, the first combination. Throughout the course, Alba was the perfect combination of bold but rideable, the way sHe’s always been from about a third of the way through the course. But this time she was that way from the start. She just flew into both water jumps, and she jumped the coffin combination and the down-bank combination well. And she was perfect on The Moat, the combination right before this photo and an effort you can see in the video. The Moat was two maximum-sized trakehners (logs over water-filled ditches) set on a very forward five-stride line that you had to find between a giant pampas grass bush on the left side of the first trakehner and a giant chess piece set on your right, about halfway between the two jumps. This jump was a test of courage (of horse and rider), of fitness (since it was fence 17), and of rideability, and when I walked the course I’d thought, ?This is where I’m going to find out if my little girl really is a three-day horse.? As you’ll see in the video, she flew through it like it was just a gymnastic exercise. And, 30 seconds later, she perfectly handled the combination that’s pictured and then galloped up a little berm to fly over a very narrow brush-filled corner, which she locked on to as we made the right turn to it. The seven-minute alarm sounded on my watch as we approached the next fence, the second-last, and we cantered in 20 seconds fast. My Quarter Horse mare, who came into our lives three years ago when her former owner paid her first month’s training board and then vanished, had proven that she is really a three-day horse. I was doubly proud of her because I taught her to jump and I’ve taught her how to play a game she wasn?t bred to do. And she went out there on Saturday and ran around like a superstar. My only real regret of the weekend was that, after leading Alba and me into the cross-country start box, my wonderful wife, Heather, was too nervous to watch us gallop around the course. Some very nice friends held her hand as she listened to announcer Michael Tucker?s commentary, and sHe’s seen part?s of Alba?s effort on Josh?s video and some photos. I’ve ordered the full video from the videographers, Ride On Video, and I can’t wait for it to arrive so she can see the whole thing, and then we can both appreciate the heart that Alba has.

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