XC / Derby training today


lifelong sufferer of restless brain syndrome
Oct 28, 2004
New Zealand
(Apologies in advance - no photos, and very long!)

One of our local competition venues hosts the Normandy Horse Show every August. Last year they introduced a Derby day - for those who don't know a Derby is a showjumping class mixed with rustic / XC type obstacles and sometimes involve jumping in and out of the arena - and it was such a hit they have decided to make it a regular thing. To give you an idea of what it was like at this particular venue, this is my boss doing it there last year (in between the two clips they go down the hill to do the water obstacle and then come back up.)

Obviously my boss is riding Jam, as they used to event and excel at Derby classes, and I'm not confident enough jumping to compete any of her other horses, but Mouse's rider owns a 14hh pony who jumps beautifully so I asked her very very nicely if I could borrow him for the 1m class. I had him for schooling last year and we competed in a few SJ classes, I know that we get on well and that I'm confident jumping him so I thought why not! She was sweet and said she'd love for him to do something different, so that was that. Her mum is doing it too, and another one of my boss's clients, both of whom get very nervous and stressed competing so my boss is going to have a great time coaching them whilst riding two of her own :p

As none of the horses have done a Derby before we fancied doing a bit of training first. This afternoon we hired the facilities at the venue (5 euros per horse, hardly broke the bank!) and as my boss is away competing at the Championships of France this week we asked a friend who events and teaches if she would come and give us a lesson. Mouse came along too so that L could join in.

My warmup on the flat was "interesting", Ugo hasn't been ridden by an adult all year and has re-established all the bad habits I thought I had schooled him out of :rolleyes: I haven't ridden him since September and it felt like we were right back at square one with the flatwork. He has gone from strength to strength with L as a forward-going point-and-shoot pony but is very much in the habit of doing his own thing and I think he has suffered slightly for not having an experienced rider working him as well. I had to be fairly hard on him to start with as there was lots of napping and arguing and mini-rears - he did start to behave after a while but I think I would have to do a lot of work to get him back to where he was before.

The coach started us off with exercises to help us establish the correct canter. For a Derby you want more canter than a normal SJ class but less than an XC course and it can be tricky to find something in the middle. I struggled with this somewhat as when he's in canter Ugo just wants to GO and is quite strong and heavy in the hand. She then had us doing a loop cantering in and out of the arena (leaving the arena can be quite a surprise for a showjumping horse so it's something worth trying to prepare them for!). Mouse is not massively fit so he didn't do a great deal of canter but the coach adapted and had L working on his trot instead.

Then we moved over to the bank you can see in the video. As well as a log at the bottom there were several others in that area including one with a fairly steep slope on the landing side. None of them were over 60cm which was fantastic because (a) we could focus on our technique and canter without having to worry about the actual obstacles, and (b) it meant Mouse could do everything too :D After doing the bank in canter and jumping all the individual logs a few times, we joined 2 or 3 together in various formations and changing between trot and canter to make sure the horses were responsive and listening.

To begin with Ugo was quite strong and kept trying to do his usual thing of tanking off in the last few strides and jumping from way too far out, but I focused on holding him together and making him wait and he improved really quickly, I think our jump schooling from last year started to come back to him as although strong he didn't make a fuss about being held steady. He refused the log with the drop the first time as I didn't have enough leg on and let him look down, but jumped it beautifully the second time. Everything else was no trouble.

After that we joined everything together - a long canter round the outside of the grass arena (working on getting a bolder canter on the straight lines and bringing them back to us for the turns), then up over the bank with the log at the bottom, over another line of two logs (one simple one and then the one on the slope), looped around a couple of trees and turned back on ourselves to jump up the slope to finish.

We did it one at a time while the others waited by the logs. Ugo never really does anything by himself and was anxious about being away from his friends, so our canter the first time was too fast and flat and not very controlled as he wanted to get back to them as soon as possible. We went up the bank way too fast, descended even faster and then he slammed the brakes on before the log and nearly had me off over his shoulder. I turned him around straight away and jumped it from trot, went back into canter and he took off a stride early over the next log, so we did the last one from trot in both directions to confirm that I was the one who got to choose the speed! The second time we did it he was much better, I had a bit more control in the canter as he knew he was going to be back with the others eventually, and the jumping part was more controlled too.

To finish off we did the same thing again, but instead of turning and jumping up the slope, we went further down and then turned around and came up over a jump we hadn't yet done. It was about 90cm and a solid wooden block covered in the green fuzzy stuff they use on food shelves. The first time I got to it with Ugo he hesitated a few strides out and so did I, didn't put my leg on and so he thought about stopping and then gathered himself up and leapt over it from a near-standstill. Another close shave for me! We had cracked the canter part by then so for our final go I started on the bank and just did the jumps. Ugo was fab, everything we'd worked on throughout the session came together and he didn't put a foot wrong, and finished with a beautiful bold jump over the last.

As for Mouse... well what can I say about my wonderful pony other than he is frigging awesome :D He did everything the big ones did, except the green jump (too big) and the long canters (too long!), jumped so nicely and without hesitation, and cantered keenly up and down the big bank despite being tired (it was only the power-naps between his goes which gave him away!). Such a dude of a pony :cool: And his dudeness wasn't over yet!

We'd been in the saddle for over an hour by then and the horses had all been going nicely so as a final exercise we went down to do the water. There won't be a jump in it on Derby day, but it will be an obligatory passage and will still be counted as a refusal if the horse doesn't go straight in, so we wanted to work on going in from trot and canter without letting the horses hesitate. L had been going on about how much Ugo likes going in puddles and streams, so we were going to give everyone a lead in - needless to say he planted his feet and refused point blank to go in :p The other two horses did the same so guess who ended up giving us all a lead in... Mouselet of course, he went straight in :D He has always hated water since he was a baby so this was great!

After lots of splashing around we took it in turns to trot in and out without letting the horses hesitate. No problem for Ugo this time. Then we'd each leave the water and trot up the steep bank to the grass arena, canter a circle in there then leave the arena, canter down the bank, go back to trot at the bottom, trot into the water then go around the markers and leave it at canter. Every one of the horses did this beautifully. Then we made it a little harder - everyone went up to the grass arena out of sight of the water, and we took it in turns to leave the arena alone and canter down to the water and back up again - more of a challenge as the horses were doing the water AWAY from their friends, not towards them. Ugo surprised us by being perfectly happy to leave them (though he did piss off with me when we cantered back into the arena, he was having fun!). Mouse was super too and even came back into the arena going buckbuckbuck :D He was knackered by then and goodness knows where he found the energy to do that, but that's my boy for you :p

So a few tricky things with Ugo but in general I was pleased with him and the coach was quite complimentary about how I rode him which was a nice confidence-boost. We had a great afternoon and are all now very much looking forward to the Derby - it's just a shame Mouse can't do it as I'm sure he would be fab, he was such a little star today!


2 loves of my life
Jul 22, 2015
well done - that looks a lovely flowing course - quite long though = good luck in august for the derby - look forward to seeing maybe video of yourself and your friends too


Well-Known Member
Dec 21, 2003
Glad you had a nice day - Very interested that you ran into the same problems with the pony as I did. Obviously almost all the horses I ride are RS horses but mostly they do seem to have some memory of what I asked of them and a quick refresher course is all it takes. I even feel they prefer to have my "nice" riding.

The pony, No! They like to take charge - Your quality of riding is far higher than mine - I was riding my very very best the day I fell off. One feels it is not worth the effort sometimes. It is part of your work, but in my case as an old lady, the RI meant well having me hack the ponies because they are smaller.And it is no comfort that you, a professional, describe the same disappointment.

KP nut

I'd rather be riding.
Dec 22, 2008
Sounds like a great day out. Mouse is such a super-star. Interesting to hear about the pony's schooling - on a separate thread a suggestion was made that I should not school Zak as it would be confusing/stressful for him to cope with me expecting him to work well and then have the girls ride him. But from what you say, the opposite is true - at least for this pony. He was naughtier and less easy to ride as a result of no longer having a better rider expecting more of him.
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