Cross-country schooling

Some good rules and advices for training a novice horse, and rider, in cross-country

  • #theory
  • #practice
  • #training
  • #technique
  • #rider

Few people have cross-country fences to practise on at home, but you can usually find a few natural obstacles when you go hacking. Little logs, ditches and maybe a stream to walk through will all help to educate the horse for cross-country jumping. If he is jumping confidently in the school, you would then arrange to take him to a cross-country training place that had a good variety of fences at the lowest level. You should not consider jumping corners or angles on cross-country fences until the horse is jumping straightforward obstacles with plenty of confidence. All the obstacles or at least a selection of them must be small enough for the horse to jump easily out of trot, especially if he is very green.
He will not have seen anything like this before, so you have to assume that he is going to be a bit spooky.
​If he does take fright at an obstacle, it will still be possible to make him go forward and jump it from trot or walk. or even from a standstill. He has to learn that he must go forward and jump the fence once he has been presented to it.

If you and the horse are both novices, it would be a good idea to have someone on a more experienced horses to accompany you for your first cross-country school. If you did run into difficulties, you would then have someone to give you a lead over whichever fence was proving troublesome.
​Alternatively, you could have a helper on the ground who check your position, your aids, the good gallop… He also can encourage or accompany the horse to go forward may be over a jump, down a step or into water if he is reluctant to do so. You need to avoid getting into a situation in which the horse adamantly refuses to go forward and you eventually have to give up and go home. It will mean that the horse has gained the upper hand and that he will almost certainly be more difficult next time.

Rider’s position is very important for good balance and feeling with horse. Stirrups leathers should be normally at least two holes shorter than show-jumping lenght for riding across country. They need to be shortened because the faster speed of the cross-country means that your centre of balance has to be slightly more forward, with your weight off the horse’s back. However, when introducing a young horse to cross-country obstacles, you would not want to be riding so short that you are likely to lose your balance if he spooks or dives sideways. You need to be very secure with your lower legs so that you can use them effectively and keep you balance. Riding with your seat out of the saddle requires you to use different muscles, so you need to strengthen them before to compete in a one day event. Otherwise you will find it difficult to sustain a steady cross-country speed for about a mile without flagging.
It would be a good idea to practice the croos country position a couple of times a week, possibly while out on a hack or while working the horse in the school or field. You will need to pull your stirrups up to the correct lenght and then do a few minutes in a forward, cross-country type canter with your seat out of the saddle. You can also practice sitting up in a more balanced position, which you would need to adopt when coming into a fence. All this will help to get you fit as well as strengthening the muscles used for cross-country riding.
​(By Mark Todd ‘One-Day Eventing’)