You’ve had a wave of braveness wash over you and now you quite fancy giving a cross-country course a good go with your horse. But how are you going to make sure it goes to plan from the very first time you are counted down in the starting box?
Before you start make sure you’ve got the correct equipment to help keep you safe and prepared on the cross-country course. On top of your usual equipment you will need:
- A body protector
- Up to standard hat
- Boots for your horse
Here’s four helpful steps which should contribute to both you and your horse having an absolute ball on the cross-country course, making you hungry for more!
Poor riding styles can lead to problems later on when upgrading, so it is best to get some training now in the correct type of seat and position to adopt for various situations you are likely to face while on course.
Lower leg security is essential both over a jump and while galloping between fences. A secure lower leg, which means that the leg remains at the girth at all times, will help you to remain in balance and react to what is happening underneath you more quickly.
As riders, it is good to remind yourself to sit up on the approach to a fence. This is essential to prevent the horse running onto his forehand into a fence and to provide the rider with the best possible chance of staying on the horse in balance and preventing a mistake from occurring.
Most competitors will find they have to work towards an optimum time on a cross-country course. The best way to practice the speed you will need to go at is to measure the distance in metres per minute (BE90 competitors are required to travel at 450m per minute) in a field at home and then canter this distance while timing yourself to find out how this speed feels on your horse.
Remember to kick on after each fence on the course to get back into the rhythm and back up to the correct speed and always look for the best line to travel on between fences. Choose the lines you are going to ride whilst walking the cross-country course — it often helps to look behind you while walking the course to check you are on the fastest and correct line between fences.
You will also need to make sure that your horse can travel up and down through the gears easily while maintaining a rhythm.
Balance and rhythm
A horse galloping in balance on a line in good rhythm is going to take less out of itself, run less risk of injury, be able to jump better and more economically and therefore save time.
To practice maintaining rhythm and balance set some poles up on the ground at home and ride over them, using different lines for a couple of minutes. The aim of this exercise is to help you keep a rhythm without worrying about the size of any fence, while still trying to put your horse in a good spot to each pole. You can then take this exercise to a cross-country schooling course and practice it over a variety of fences.
Remember you should always be in a forward rhythm without going flat out or rushing your horse, and different fences will require different types of canter, but a rhythm can still be maintained. Cracking this part of cross-country riding is a real key to success.
Practice, practice, practice
Whether you are practicing in an arena with narrow fences or out in the open cross-country schooling, it is essential that both you and your horse are very familiar and comfortable with all of the questions you are likely to face on a cross-country course.
You don’t have to jump Badminton-sized fences in practice before you go to a competition, you just need to be comfortable and confident with the level you are due to tackle.
Fences you are likely to encounter on a BE90 course include:
- Water splash/water with a small step in or out
- Small ditches
- Narrow fences
- Steps up/down
- Combination fences