Cross Country Here We Go!
Cross country riding has to be an organic thing!
In training, you can practice all the different types of fences, distances and terrain but you can never really quite replicate the feeling you get in competition when you set out of that start box. The nerves, tannoy, judges cars (and probably umbrellas!) whistles, other horses and ground; they are all new and unique to the day. You have to ride on instinct, trust in your horses’ ability and your training so far and have a system to apply which will give you and your horse confidence during your round. This is particularly important if something untoward happens, a stop or a very uncomfortable jump for example. Have a sound understanding between you and that system will enable you to shake off the issue and forge ahead.
I like to use three words to explain my system. Security, Preparation and Confidence
Security – Keep your lower leg in the right spot to enable you to use it, to be independent of the horse and not adversely affect him by being out of balance and insecure. When it comes to jumping a fence, you should double check your Security, your heels down and your leg on, wrapped around him, and in plenty of time…..
Preparation – come from your galloping position to a more upright and closer to the saddle position and adjust your canter for the fence you are coming into.
Generally, the more technical the combination, the punchier and more condensed your canter needs to be. Rolltops, hedges and the like can be ridden into with a more open canter. Corners, angled combinations and water need a collected or hand canter. For the other ‘questions’ you will meet the “gear” you adopt depends on the ground, topography, skill and understanding of the horse. You are always, ideally looking to provide the horse with a powerful, connected and balanced canter, so he has options should he slip or falter. You set the length of stride and the tempo depending on the question you are faced with.
Confidence – Your horse feels your confidence just as much as your leg, so on the way into your fence after you have checked your Security and Prepared your canter you must let your leg be the last thing your horse hears – Confidence.
By riding like this, riding forward and confident to your fences you engage the horse’s hind legs which connects him to the rein, so he then TAKES YOU all the way to the fence. The Confidence provides him with the balance to jump as well as he can. The last 4 strides should be: leg on and the hand maintaining a consistent contact, so the horse can do his job. Now simply look for the next fence. Just by doing this your posture remains tall because your eyes are up and you are thinking about where you’re going next. So you let the fence you are coming to happen in a lovely rhythm and balance then land on the correct canter lead and depart smoothly, yet smartly with the leg on, towards your next ‘question’.
This is just the way I think about cross-country, For me, it is simple and clear.
I have never come back from a round without knowing I could have done something better. If the elements of my system don’t put me on the perfect shot, I let my instincts come into play by sitting taller and with more determination to make it happen!
Have fun and go for it!
This blog comes courtesy of tweed fashion brand Timothy Foxx www.timothyfoxx.co.uk