This second post in the Saturday Switch series is written by Ella from EVEventing (Stressage, Showjumping & Stamina.)
After several years of Pony Club rallies, bombing around on several (slightly speedy) ponies, and around one hundred days of Mum standing in the cold, watching me fly (or fall!) over XC fences, I thought it would be a good idea to recall some of my top tips for successful cross country riding.
I have picked out some bogey fences and I will outline some simple tricks so hopefully next time you course walk, you’ll have some more techniques.
Here is a relatively simple trakehner – a raised log with a ditch underneath
The most important thing to do here is look up. Do not be tempted to look down at all – this way the horse will not fully see the ditch until he is half way over. To tackle this issue, pick a point in the distance (i.e: a particularly eye-catching tree on the horizon) and keep your eye on it. This way, you can feel if your horse is looking down. As your head is the heaviest part of your body, the positioning of your head makes a significant difference, so ensure that you have good posture too.
The most important thing here is straightness. I use the same method as outlined above – pick a point above the fence and look at it. This is the easiest way to feel whether your horse is drifting. Contrary to popular belief, I would argue that it is most effective to hold your hands close together (close to the horse’s neck). I was often told to imagine the horse was a “tube of toothpaste” – and you are squeezing it in front of you. This really helps me to push my hips forwards so I can close my legs in the case of a horse veering off my planned line.
Corner fences are my least favourite. They seem to pull you to the narrowest part – but there are techniques to combat this. With a horse that is unsure of them, as long as the fence is relatively small (below 90cm), in training I will often walk on my line until I am around two or three canter strides out, before trotting over it. This ensures that I am on the correct line, and that I am straight to the fence. As with skinnies, use feeling to ensure you are on the correct line, by looking up.
I made the mistake here of thinking my (green!) pony would look at it – and that’s exactly what she did, resulting in this impressive photo! The key is to not look at it – try your hardest not to be scared or pre-empt what they will do, just treat them as if they’re a palisade or log. I have learnt to not make this mistake as much as I used to by riding either young or inexperienced animals – it does teach you the hard way! Try to be confident, feel what they are doing, but most importantly, practice. In our schooling field, my horses learn to jump everything from Christmas trees to beach towels – their confidence comes on massively just from learning to trust you.
Cross country riding is something I am learning all over again this year, by teaching my (potential) eventer to jump this season. I will update you all on how I get on via my blog and twitter (links are below). Thanks to EquiPepper for letting me write for Saturday Switch – I thoroughly enjoyed creating it for my first proper “article” for somebody else. Feedback on my article is most welcome; let me know if you enjoyed it or if you have other tips to contribute.
Want more updates and tips?
Follow me on twitter: @eveventing
Youtube: Ella Vincent