Four things I learned competing at a long format event this fall

Photo by Terry Dyer.

The organizers and volunteers at Hagyard Midsouth Team Challenge did an excellent job offering the classic format three day event at Preliminary and Training level.  Mary Fike and Debbie Hinkle created a super learning environment, with the help of Dorothy and John Crowell and Jane Sleeper.  For many competitors, it was their first time experiencing a long format.  Thanks to the educational seminars and bountiful assistance, everyone had a great time and came away with a great deal of knowledge.  While most of the activities were old-hat for me (Dorothy’s already taught me everything she knows about three-days!), it was a good to refresh those old memories and offer help and assurance to others.

While I already knew the ins and outs of a long format, that doesn’t mean I didn’t learn anything from that weekend.  Every competition is a learning experience, and by its very nature a classic three day event can tell you a lot about your horse, yourself, and your training program.

Here are four things I learned from completing the P3D:

1.  I really, really miss the long format.  While it’s been over seven years since I last completed a long format CCI*, it all came flooding back to me.  The exhilaration of steeplechase.  The concentration of making all your gates on roads and tracks.  The organized chaos of the ten-minute box.  And the feeling of pride and accomplishment when you cross the finish flags.  And the multitude of volunteers it takes to make it all possible– who are just as passionate about the sport as you are.  Oh yes, THIS is what the sport of eventing is all about.  Y’all who are aiming for short format CCI*s, I respect you and your FEI dreams…but you’re fooling yourselves if you think that’s the best eventing has to offer.

2.  I was comfortable galloping my horse at speed and jumping the fences on steeplechase.  That’s the whole reason I really opted to do the long format– not just because it’s fun and challenging, but because I wanted to know how it felt to gallop my horse 640mpm and jump from that.  I wanted to put my hands down for three minutes, keep my leg on, and jump out of rhythm.  No picking, no pulling, just use my shoulders to balance and kick on.  I learned that he will respect a fence, even at speed, and jump it well without my interference.  And heck, he even got to good, safe distances AND lifted his knees up!  Sometimes, doing less as a rider is really doing more.

3.  My horse may be a strong monster, but I don’t have to ride cross-country with a choke hold.  I can trust him enough to let him out, and he will pick up on the jumps, listen to my upper-body half-halt, and I can keep my leg on and gallop the fly fences.  Even after steeplechase when his blood is up, he can be rideable, rateable, and I need to resist the urge to do too much too early.  And any doubts I had about a cherry roller snaffle being the right bit are laid to rest…it was perfect for my horse, enough to get his attention but allowed him to gallop into my hand with confidence.

4.  My fitness work was enough and my horse was well-prepared for the weekend.  Going into a horse’s first three-day, that’s always a concern…did you do enough?  Should you have galloped more often, or longer, or faster?  Our three sets of six or seven-minute gallops all summer built a good base of fitness, and adding two-minute sprints the last two weeks had him plenty forward enough for steeplechase.  Since our conditioning days were about 12 miles total, the 7 miles of competition on Endurance Day was well within his capability.  The proof?  He put in a beautiful clear show jumping round on Sunday.

What have I left to learn? 
One more thing: how my horse feels AFTER a three day.  It’s common for a horse to come out like King Kong in his first event back off a P3D layoff…maybe I”ll get a little run off with at our next event in January, but I know it will be because my horse has confidence and boldness after tackling his first long format three day event.

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