Monday, September 15, 2008

A Bit of Education at the AEC, Sponsored by Bit of Britain

Even though the upper-level cross-country got rained out at the AEC, Boyd and an intrepid group of eventers slogged around the preliminary cross-country course on Friday in a course walk sponsored by Bit of Britain Saddlery, sponsors of Boyd and Silva Martin. Company owner John Nunn joined the group and after a rousing introduction we set off through the mud, dodging training-level competitors as Boyd offered advice for how to ride the course.

I joined the group with camera and notebook in hand, but it's hard to take notes in the pouring rain - paper gets soggy and ink tends to run, so the notes end up looking more like a Rorschach inkblot test. I managed to copy down a few of Boyd's comments from key fences and will share them here:

Fence 3, a hanging log in the trees. "A green or spooky horse will look here because it's in the dark and on a slight uphill. I'd set up a bit and then move up to it, but you don't want a long, flat gallop."

The next two fences were straightforward and Boyd commented, "The object of the first five fences is to get going forward and feel how the horse is going. After that it's down to business."

Fence 10, the bank complex. "This is a test of your horse's courage and boldness. You don't want to get waiting and quiet to this one or he'll do a cat leap - encourage him forwrad and strong. I think it's a tough fence for prelim."

11. The Coffin. "Don't waste time after the bank, because here you want to balance the horse up a bit. Hopefully it will ride as a one-stride to a one-stride (the coffin consisted of a standard-width vertical to a reveted ditch and out over a skinny arrowhead). The danger is if the horse looks in the ditch - that's when you get one catching a knee on the jump in. Realize the horse might hesitate and stay behind with your position, shoulders back. After the ditch don't give up - do everything you can to get over that skinny."

Water complex: a big drop in, then a bending line to a corner in the water (black flag option to go past the corner, make a right-hand turn back over a log into the water and then out again). "A corner in the water is a big call...The quieter you jump in to the water, the more rideable the horse will be for the turn to the corner in the water."

17-18 was a skinny to a skinny on a wide right-hand turn. "I'd take the turn out of the line a bit by jumping in left-to-right; if you have a problem here it would be a run out to the left at 18 because the horse drops its shoulder. You have to hold the horse on the line and react quickly to what the horse does.

A word on pace: "At preliminary you have to go faster than at the lower levels. The first thing you want to achieve is to get around - do all you can not to stop or fall off. Then you want to go clear. Then you want to go fast. Making the time is not just for crazy people, it's for those who are economical. If you can land and get away from each fence a second faster than everyone else, that puts you ahead of the game."

Even though the competitors who participated in Boyd's course walk at the AEC did not have a chance to put his advice into practice, it was a fun and educational opportunity for all. Look for more of these sponsored course walks at future events!

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