When it comes to cross-country every horse has to start somewhere, but not everyone has access to a wonderful cross-country course right on their doorstep! I try and introduce my horses to certain elements of cross-country while in the comfort of our school before heading out on a course.
Predominantly these elements are:
Corners are becoming increasingly popular at events at all levels. It’s very easy to recreate them at home with two poles, three wings and four cups (or the combined cups if you have them).
- Start easy and small – start with long poles and a narrow ‘V’ shape and get used to jumping these before moving to short poles. Corners are very easy to have run outs at. You don’t want to over face a young horse and teach him how easy it is to duck out to the side. If necessary don’t be afraid to put a barrel, bale of shavings or pole next to the narrowest part as a guide.
- Find your line – focus on the back rail and train yourself early on to jump the narrowest part of the corner. As you move up the levels, chances are the fences will become too wide to jump anything but the narrowest part; you want you and your horse to be comfortable jumping as close to the flag as possible.
- Balance, rhythm and motion – you want to focus on a good forward and balanced rhythm and the horse really being between your legs to your hands. Think “tube of tooth paste” – your legs are pushing the tube creating the energy but your hands are keeping the lid on and not letting all of this energy spurt out of the front.
Skinnies cause of a lot of problems across country. You can make skinnies at home easily. You can buy shorter poles, use old fence posts, and use old barrels or even tyres to add to the fences.
- Start on the floor – for a nervous horse, going through a narrow set of wings can be quite daunting. Make sure they are walking, trotting and cantering confidently through the wings over a pole on the floor before you incorporate any height.
- Straightness – If your horse wiggles a lot coming into a skinny it can sometimes help to shorten your reins and widen your hands to help guide him through.
- Balance and rhythm – like the corner practice, you want these established when starting to include height to the fences. The beauty of using poles at home means that if your horse spooks and launches, the pole will fall down and you can do it again and again until they are confident. By using a pole you also know that if they knock it they won’t hurt themselves and as a result should not scare themselves.
Yes, you can make a ditch in the school, and no, you don’t have to get your shovel out to do so! To make a ditch at home all you need is two heavy poles and a few black bin bags.
- Start small – place the bin bags on the floor and put heavy poles either side to weigh them down. Once your horse is confident you can start adding more bags or make the ditch wider. You could even add a pole over the top to make trakehner.
- Stay slow – approach in a firm and active walk. You want to be able to pop a ditch in walk before attempting it at a faster pace. Try not to let your horse turn around if they are spooking, after all, there is no height to a ditch so they can jump it from a standstill if need be until they get more confident.
- Stay calm – as with anything potentially spooky, you want your horse to have the best possible experience. It is easy for horses to remember a bad experience so if they are generally unsure stay firm but quiet and be very rewarding when they do it right.
Please note that it is preferable to use a GP or jump saddle for any jumping. Hektikos does not jump often so only has a dressage saddle!
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