It’s adrenaline fuelled, edge of your seat stuff. Riding your horse across country is arguably one of the best feelings in the world (when it goes to plan!).
So, with the summer competition season fast-approaching, we thought we would give you five exercises to practice on your horse before tackling a cross-country course. After all, in a sport where everything can go wrong very quickly, every little helps!
Before you start make sure you’ve got the correct equipment to help keep you safe and prepared on the cross-country course.
Exercise one – Position
Riders come in all shapes and sizes. The key to successful cross-country riding is to find your centre of balance. A lot of cross-country faults are caused by the weight from hip to head being in the wrong place.
Shorter riders need to focus on keeping their upper body vertical on the approach to the fence. This is likely to feel very unnatural but it will help prevent you from flopping forward and running the risk of making a mistake.
If you are tall you will be able to ride in a more forward seat but you must ensure that once you reach the fence, your upper body is upright.
Lower leg security is also essential both between and over fences. A secure lower leg will help you to remain in balance and react to what is happening underneath you more quickly.
Exercise two – Speed
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 and always look for the best line to travel on 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.
Exercise three – Jumping in a rhythm
To help you maintain a rhythm on course, set out some poles on the ground at home – some on a straight line, some on a circle, some on dog-legs. Now ride over the poles for a couple of minutes, changing direction, and thinking about putting your horse in the right spot at each pole. As the poles are on the ground, you won’t have to worry about tacking an actual fence with height, which will mean you can focus on doing the basics correctly in order to establish a rhythm.
Exercise four – Jumping ditches and skinnies
You don’t need a cross-country course on your doorstep to practice certain fences.
To try your hand at a ditch simply group some poles together on the floor and gradually add more poles to make the “ditch” wider. Ride the ditch from a walk to make sure your horse has time to read the question and remains straight. You can also put these poles in front of a fence to create an “open ditch” style question.
To practice skinnies, a plastic barrel is a great tool. Start with the barrel on its side with guide poles leaning on either side of it, so that your horse has the best chance of understanding what you are asking him to do. Practice it from a trot to start with so that you both have time to react to what’s happening. As you both grow in confidence, you can put the guide poles on the floor and eventually you can take them completely away once you are both sure you can successfully negotiate the question.
Exercise five – cross-country schooling
It is advised that before you go cross-country competitively, you take your horse to a cross-country schooling ground. This is a good opportunity to practice a huge range of questions you are likely to encounter that you perhaps haven’t managed to try at home such as water fences and galloping in an open space jumping from fence to fence.
If you can, try to take a friend with you who has an experienced horse in case your horse suffers a lack of confidence and requires a lead over some obstacles.
Remember to have a trusted instructor at the ready in case things don’t go to plan.
Finally, enjoy the experience – it’s supposed to be fun!
Ready to show off your skills at a competition? Check out equoevents.co.uk to find shows local to you and all over the UK.