Planning your cross country round

The more your horse competes across the country the more he will understand what is expected of him

For some, riding across the country is the real essence of eventing. All those hours spent getting the horses balanced, on the aids and working in harmony with the rider come together on the cross country course. “It’s not just about going flat-out to beat the clock, although speed is one of the requirements – it’s also about jumping ability, confidence and trust, skill and stamina,” says Mary.

More important than the cross country phase itself is the preparation leading up to the big event. This month, we look at how best to plan your ride.

Plan your route

Aim to land and ride away with pace

Your course walk is crucial to your success when you ride. Walk your lines carefully and look back to see if you have walked the most direct route. Make a mental note of whether you need to ride closer to a tree or another fixed object.

Make note of any places where the ground should be avoided, as the footing will likely not be perfect all the way around. Try to go around bad patches if possible but then remember to steady your horse and hold him together with a supportive rein when you do.

If you’re riding on a particularly wet day, you won’t know what the footing will be like by the time it’s your turn to ride. Look for opportunities to ride to the side, although this might not always be possible.

Be organised

If you live close to the showgrounds, why not consider walking the course the day before the competition and then again on the day itself? That way you can make a better note of which coloured markers apply to your class and to really imprint the course on your mind. It’s all too easy to take the wrong part of an alternative route if there’s more than one class running that day.

Forward means focused

A steady and clear round might seem like a better bet, but actually horses are more likely to jump well if they have some speed because then they are committed, focused and positive towards the job. Speed is obviously important but it should be developed according to the horse’s experience. It must above all be controlled, otherwise it can work against you and be dangerous.

Always set off positively even if you are not aiming to ride on time. Attack the first fence and establish a good forward rhythm from the start, possibly with some wider lines. Remember that if your horse is young or inexperienced in the country, taking the easiest route and traveling at a steady, sensible speed will reap benefits. Always complete your youngster’s first round in a positive but calm fashion, as this approach will help your horse gain trust and confidence in you as rider.

Measure your speed

Speed is important but more so is control around the course

The more cross country you do, the better you will become at judging your horse’s speed for the level at which you’re competing. The more your horse competes across country, the more he will gradually become accustomed to what’s being asked of him. It’s natural for a young or inexperienced horse to be excited for the first few times, but he must learn to settle, listen to you and respond to your aids.

The time is usually quick so you have to be efficient with your lines and not waste any seconds. When you land, be quick to pick up speed and don’t amble away. For a course of 25 jumps, you can save one second at every fence and you will be traveling at nearly half a minute quicker without having to ride much faster.

There’s a simple way to measure your horse’s speed:

  • Measure out and mark a distance at home.
  • Time how long it takes for your horse to travel from one marker to the next in a good, forward canter.
  • Note the time and then experiment with upping and slowing the speed.

This gives you an approximate idea, but remember, it will take longer to gallop that distance when there are jumps to get over.

The full article appears in the February (119) issue of HQ > Shop now