Early Days

Galway Downs XC Clinic Recap

I’ve been holding off on this post in hopes of getting photos from a friend, but oh well. The good news is my shoulder and head and face are on the mend. I should be back in the saddle within a week or so!

Luckily there was more to the clinic besides the whole falling-off-going-to-the-ER situation.  I wish I could say it was a smashing success – it wasn’t. Let’s go with “learning experience.”


Hemie settled in at Galway Downs like a champ, even though we were stabled in and among the racing trainers. There lots of lovely young thoroughbreds and we got to see a few getting workouts on the track. One day I’d like to gallop on a racetrack and see how fast we can fly.

Hemie played a fun game of “let’s roll in the shavings anytime my mommy grooms me early.” I must have brushed his tail out at least 6 times.

That’s what shavings are for, Mom!
I also settled in well. I was quite lucky to stay with a friend in her RV on-site. So convenient to be right there at the facility! 

RV view overlooking dressage courts

The event was very crowded – over 400 horses! In addition to the fundraiser clinic, it was a USEA Instructors Certification Program (ICP) Symposium. In fact my trainer went down a few days early to audit some of the master classes.

ICP Symposium

Both days we did XC and we rode with Debbie Rosen of Wild Ride Eventers. On Day 1 Hemie was very chargey. Multiple times he refused to have a calm, collected canter and wanted to run at the jump. Well, the solution to that was walking to the jumps, then trotting. After a few gos of this he settled down okay and we did a fine schooling. I really needed to keep my upper body back, hands down (even if he tried yanking the bit) and stay secure in my legs. Overall I felt like I was able to physically respond well to his antics.

A few more times in the session he got a little strong, so I would circle and calmly enforce a quality-canter-in-order-to-jump rule, which he begrudgingly accepted.

Towards the end of the schooling, the yank-the-bit-and-run-at-the-jump came up again, much stronger actually, as we headed towards a jump we had done last year. He added a twisting maneuver of his neck and body which almost unseated me once or twice. It was actually a little frightening – I felt like I was getting run away with, right at the jump. I had no doubt we’d get over the jump, but it was a fast and ugly approach.

Sorry, no more action shots.
This is Daisy who stayed with us in the RV.

Debbie had me re-approach the jump a few times and counter the pulling by pulling back myself – to resist his disobedience and make it uncomfortable for him to jump. Unfortunately, I failed at making that work. We repeatedly had fast, ugly, twisting-neck-and-body jumps. On one of the landings, I got off balance and toppled off. I hit the ground fairly easy and the handy air-vest did its job and I felt no impact. (So, yes, I fell of TWICE at this clinic. Sheesh!)

Surprisingly, Debbie offered to get on Hemie. A 4* rider and trainer on my horse? Yes please!!

I admit to being a little heartened that she had the same issue with Hemie for the first 2 or 3 jumping efforts. Then she got him to relax and canter like a normal pony and jump like a sane horse. She came over to me and said “Sarah, you may not have the strength to do this.”


She went on to clarify that I have the physical strength, but that the solution is very challenging for most riders. What Hemie needed at that moment was loopy rein and strong leg aids. Release your reins when a horse starts charging off with you? Yep – difficult!

I also did a bunch of auditing.

I got back on Hemie and cantered around, figuring out how to loosen my rein and strengthen my leg when he started to pull. What a leap of faith! But I did it, and it worked. We got through the rest of the clinic without issue, but taking all the cahones and prayers I had.

After the clinic, my trainer gave me a mini-lesson in a warm-up arena. She felt that Hemie needed a reminder that he must submit to rein contact and move forward accepting the bit. We did just a few minutes of trot and canter and happily Hemie did not start a fight about it.

I put him away and then I admit I had a beer or 2 to help me relax. My perfect cross-country horse wasn’t perfect for XC that day. It was a blow.  It was very hard for me to accept that he was being naughty. And it bothers me that it escalated to dangerous behavior.

Can you tell he likes his shavings?

But I did my best to keep it in perspective. You have the horse that you have on any given day, and you just have to ride through it.

The morning of Day 2 Hemie got an early longe, then later got a bit-up and warm-up ride by Laurie before I got on. Hemie was quite good. A few small moments here and there of him wanting to go fast, but I calmly would loosen my rein, add leg, circle and insist upon quality canter, before heading to the jump. Most of the time he was accepting of the rein contact.

Then we had our incident, and my barn-mates graciously took care of everything for me. Horse, packing, hauling, everything.

I think that our accident was caused by simple mistakes on both mine and Hemie’s parts. I didn’t do a good enough job at powering us up the hill and keeping us straight. Hemie not only stalled out and dodged a bit, but mistakenly tried to save us by attempting the jump and getting a leg caught. Generally I don’t think these mistakes are huge, but it just so happened to go badly for us. It happens.

Handsome face is handsome


6 comments on “Galway Downs XC Clinic Recap

  1. Wow! Sounds like quite a learning experience, both for you and Hemie. I'm sorry you ended up in the ER, but I'm VERY glad that your injuries weren't more serious! Like you said, you have the horse you have on any given day, and I think sometimes we all need to be reminded of that. Here's to a super speedy recovery! :)


  2. i'm so glad you are ok! it definitely sounds like a challenging clinic – but also like you faced the challenge with full attention and learned a lot from it. what a bummer about the confluence of typically-minor mistakes adding up to a wreck – but again, glad you're ok!!

    it's interesting about Debbie's points re: adding leg with a loose rein… it reminds me of a lesson where the trainer said 'you should always feel like you can add leg.' his recipe was to let a circle to do the work of controlling pace, rather than reins, and keep on adding leg. definitely a tricky balance!


  3. Those types of rides aren't easy and are certainly not confidence building. My old eventer was the same but he never seemed to learn to relax while jumping. Hope you have better luck.


  4. Glad to hear you're on the mend! Sounds like a tough couple days all around :/


  5. I'm so glad you're on the mend, and it sounds like the clinic was a great success even with the fall!

    I have to employ the same strategy with Murray on XC actually, though he doesn't rush fences, he just gets confused and runs backwards and sideways when he's not directly pointed at a fence. I have to say, it is really hard to get used to at first, but it is SUCH a useful strategy. When I was conditioning hills recently Murray was kicking and bucking whenever I would half-halt with the reins, but if I left my reins floppy and just half-halted with my seat and legs, he was an angel. Good luck with your XC beast! :D


  6. Again … I am so sorry you and Hemie had to go through that. Heal quickly, girl friend. :0)


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