I came downstairs this morning and thought I'd walked through a vortex into someone else's house. This one was so tidy, it couldn't possibly be mine. By the end of breakfast it had assumed the proportions I recognised. Mr O has a fear and terror of throwing anything away. I am not even sure if he knows where the bin is. This means I am constantly throwing packaging away in the kitchen. One meal and my house resembled a building site. Good old messy familiarity.
I soon realised I felt too sick to eat, because... in a rash moment last week I rang Hazelbarrow Cross Country course and booked us in.
Our plans were slightly re-arranged, though, as the whole point of going was to take Zak. Mr O picked his feet out and discovered a missing shoe on a front foot. How come we didn't notice yesterday?! So Mr O took Zak's tack out of the lorry and put Barnaby's in instead. Max was in denial, hiding at the back of the stable, hoping I might forget he was there. I went in with his travel boots, and he jumped. My goodness, I have a horse who is scared of his own travel boots. It's like a person being frightened of their own slippers.
I managed to get them on him, and put his travel rug on, and a red tail bandage. Barnaby was loaded up first, and went straight up the ramp, so I got Max out quickly, as Barnaby gets stressed in the lorry if he can't see Max straight away. Max went straight up, too, so we heaved the ramp up and away we went.
We did go a bit wrong on the way there. There were far too many roundabouts to go round. The satnav was confused, bless 'er. We pulled into a petrol station and asked the staff, who fortunately knew where we were trying to get to. We got back in the lorry, went round a few roundabouts until we all got dizzy, and we were there. The satnav has gone in for counselling.
It was quite a nice yard, nearly as muddy as ours, and full of 'stuff', bits of metal sheeting and tractor parts. There was a sign on the gate saying, 'No Tipping'. It was tempting to say, "You do have a problem with people dumping rubbish, don't you?" for the farmer to say, "Actually this is all ours." Good job I know when to keep my mouth shut. It gave Max lots to ogle at while I tacked him up, though.
The farmer was really nice, actually, and gave us directions down to the course. We each signed a disclamer - you know the sort of thing, doing a Girl Guide salute while reciting, 'I promise, if I die out here today, not to sue anyone or hold anyone else responsible, really the whole thing was entirely my fault, how was I to know that tree was there?' That sort of thing.
Barnaby was absolutely raring to go, and I was taking Max because I wanted to give him a run, but I don't believe in galloping when I don't know where I am (sure-fire way to gallop off a cliff). I felt so sick while we were tacking up I decided to tell myself I was just going for a hack and wasn't going to jump anything. I am amazed at my own ability to convince myself. Really - I'm so gullible. Then I saw the first fence, a little log and couldn't resist it. Max just flew over it and we carried on from there. We had a good old canter up the hill, then slowed down to check out the other obstacles.
It's a very low-key place, nothing fancy about the fences, but they'd used the terrain really well. We came to the water jump. I am very fortunate that Max likes water, and doesn't hesitate. The bottom looked quite solid. Mr O was trying to get Barnaby to jump in the highest bit. Barnaby said no. He also said, "Look I can run backwards, or sideways, I don't mind." Mr O saw the error of his ways, and followed me into the water from the low side. Barnaby was fine with this, so we went round again, then tried him from the higher side and he jumped straight in. It was good fun, actually, as I thought Max was going to surge up out of the water like this:
but he just seemed to do an energetic step and he was out. Bear in mind that we'd taken the decision not to wear body protectors and not to put boots on the horses, so neither of us wanted to fall off, but we were both totally confident.
We rode round and jumped some more logs, then went down a long field and into the woods. It was very muddy in places, so we sank a bit, but most of it was beautiful. Then to my dismay, there was a big ditch with a little bridge over it, about a foot wide (ie, tiny). Mr O (known as 'Gung-Ho' to his friends) went straight down, across and up the ditch. Problem for Mrs O: a sure and certain knowledge, based on six years experience, that Max will jump the ditch. I was not ready for this today, so I hopped off. Then I had a different problem. If I tried to lead Max over the ditch, he would probably still try to jump it, and either drag me across or land on me, thus killing me in the process. I took his reins over his head, and decided to walk over the bridge, and he could deal with the ditch as he saw fit. I can't describe my astonishment when I realised he had opted to follow me over the bridge. I could hear his little hooves clip-cloping on the stone. I didn't dare look behind me to put him off, and just kept walking. We have a TREC competition next week. If he doesn't ride over the bridge there, I will be having serious words with him, now he's proved he can do it. I was very proud of him, to be honest.
Not much further on from this there were two logs blocking the track. There was no option but to jump them. I asked Mr O if I could go in front. It makes Max listen to me and jump better than just blindly following Barnaby. I gave him a squeeze, and away he went, clearing them both beautifully, first a quite big one, two strides, then straight over the smaller one. I was grinning like an absolute idiot afterwards.
We came to a gate at the end, rode round some fields and then made our way back to the start, and jumped some more fences. I love cross country, I always have, and prefer it to showjumping. There's no logic to that. Any normal person would prefer showjumping, knowing that if you knock a fence, it will come down, whereas a rock-solid cross country fence is going to stay motionless, while the rider comes down, but I have a thing about Max getting his legs caught in loads of poles rolling about on the floor and falling over or something. Silly really.
I was quite content with all of this, as Max isn't particularly fit at the moment and we have our normal jumping lesson on Monday, so we decided to call it a day there and came home. I am totally impressed with Max's behaviour as he listened to me the whole time, had an absolute blasting gallop up the fields without getting silly and coped with lots of new sights. Going cross country on this horse is one of the greatest pleasures of my life, and it's thrilling to know I can still do it.
And now the adrenaline is slowly leaving my body, I think it's going to be a very early night for me. Busy day tomorrow...
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