Cross country jumps: unmasked
We've all been there...you did a beautiful dressage test (and the judge actually agreed with you for once - hurray!), you floated gracefully around the show jumping leaving the poles safely in their cups and then you stormed out of the start box for cross country like you were leading a cavalry charge.
And then, with seemingly no reason nor forewarning, you find yourself crashing to a halt.
You take a look at the jump that is still 5 strides away.
You are sure you and your horse have jumped this before.
You circle and ask a second time, then a third, but no, your horse is waving a white flag above his head (no, not literally, otherwise he would (a) be worth a lot more £££ and (b) probably performing daily in some sort of circus).
He is very sorry, of course, but he simply cannot go near that terrifying jump.
The fence judge is sympathetic (which makes it worse; pity is the last thing you need right now.....couldn't she have passed you up a glass of vodka/whisky/[insert favourite anti-depressant] instead?!) but unfortunately your triumphant day has come to an abrupt end and you are suffering the humiliation of a long, slow walk back to the lorry.
Well, today's post is to educate you, the rider, about what just happened there and why. To put it simply: your horse has saved your life.
You're welcome. Now, let's take a moment to break it down.
You were urging him on towards certain death - you just couldn't see it, because you are a human, and as such your brain cells are infinitely smaller and less numerous than that of your four-legged steed.
You thought that what lay before you was a lovely, inviting table with four strides to a roll-top, but how wrong were you…
Pass 'go' but do not collect £200, because the 'table' was, in fact, a dangerous and deadly trap.
And whilst your horse could have attempted the jump and let natural selection take its course, he decided to save his own skin and yours by deftly swerving the white and red flags (and what signifies danger more clearly than a red flag) and heading for home.
So, to avoid any future misunderstandings, and an undeserved lack of carrots after said save, here is your very own guide to cross country jumps and their true nature. HINT - they are not all they appear to be.....
They graze amongst them, they shelter under them: what could be more inviting to a horse than a log, right? Wrong. You are asking your horse to jump over a fallen tree (emphasis on the 'fallen'). Many questions spring to mind. Why has the tree fallen? Is this an earthquake-zone? Was that a tremor? Is there some form of tree rot disease spreading around here? Is it infectious? Was there a recent natural disaster in the area? Whatever the reason, you do not want 'FELLED' inscribed in cursive on your tombstone. That's a joke that will never grow old (...geddit?) and neither will you if your horse blindly follows your instructions and heads towards it.
Plus, did you know trees attract lightning?!
Because naming a jump after a weapon of war makes it soooo much more inviting. Arrow heads were the things horses tried to avoid on the battlefields of old and now you want him to jump over a large one? Self-preservation 101: if it sounds dangerous, it probably is.
Your horse is happily cantering round in the open (it's safe there) but then you turn the rules on their head and steer him towards a hedge with a fence running through the middle of it. He is confused – normally he gets told off for field-hopping. This fence is the epitome of mixed signals. If you get him to clamber over this, he will spend the rest of his days wondering if every field boundary is a jump whilst out hacking and when he is grazing in his 'grass-less-green' field. You will then watch, amazed, as he demonstrates his athleticism ("look mum, I can do it, see...") and gallops off down the lane towards the M25. Furthermore, he knows that, sometimes, there are cows or sheep on the other side of the hedge. Being a very intelligent animal, your horse is well aware of the serial killer propensities of cows and sheep and will need to look over the hedge from a standstill before committing to jumping over it. If you rush the investigatory procedure, it's on you.
Isn't it bad manners to jump on/over furniture? Plus, there's a lot of space
underneath that table where murderers and/or deadly blades of grass could be hiding. Your horse may have an understandable lack of impulsion to go careering over picnic benches because, quite frankly, they are for eating small, triangle sandwiches and ready salted crisps on. Besides, everyone knows that picnic benches attract wasps and wasps are very angry bees (like, completely lost their shit angry). Your horse could well be severely allergic to wasp stings – and he does not want to find out the hard way. Dressing the picnic table up with brightly coloured objects just makes the risk level higher – everyone knows wasps are attracted to things that look like flowers!
You know that horrendous machine at the gym that forces you to climb up never-ending steps....you know, the one that you NEVER use because it's far too much effort and brings on asthma attacks, tomato-face syndrome and more sweat than a man in a sauna full of Swedish models?! Yeah, you get the point. Steps are really only for the health-mad yoga nuts and the odd fire drill (high five to all those ground floor office dwellers). For the rest of the population, there's this wonderful modern invention called a 'lift' (or an elevator, if you're 'Merican). We are not in the dark ages. Even worse, these steps have been made TOO BIG and now he has to jump up them! Why on earth would he do that, when he can see that there's a nice, easy route around the steps? Do you ever see humans jumping up steps?! No, of course you don't, because that would be madness.
COFFIN. C-O-F-F-I-N. And you want him to willingly jump towards and over that?! Enough said. Also known as 'ditch' i.e. ditch the rider that tries to get you over that.
A coffin (see above) with a wooden pole above it, to try and confuse the horse into forgetting about the big hole in the ground. Usually has the opposite effect and results in the horse realising that there is, in fact, a ditch underneath said pole right at the last minute and slamming on the brakes in sheer panic. Crazy invention of doctors and personal injury lawyers whose businesses needed a boost.
It may not be deep. It may not be wide. But horses, and humans, are land-dwelling mammals. If we were meant to go into water, we would have scales, or fins, or gills. Do we have any of those? Do we? No. The water will inevitably be muddy and cold (and no-one likes an ice bath). You spent a long time getting your horse beautifully clean for the show (and he stood so patiently, like the saint that he is) and you expect him to just plough on into that filth without a thought for your efforts? Are you crazy?! You bought him a bling browband - you created the diva. As if that wasn't enough reason, water is also a known habitat for crocodiles and sharks (duh). Unless you want to get off first and check that there is nothing hiding in there, it's a no from me.
PS. if you don't, your horse may give you a helpful nudge anyway by galloping towards the water and then slamming on the brakes at the edge, catapulting you in. Because he wants to go clear, but you need to put the effort in too.
So there you go - it's not him, it's YOU. Crazy eventer human.