By Jenny Richardson BHSAI
Once you are able to produce consistent clear rounds in your cross country competitions, and are hopefully collecting a few placings, it is time to consider the clock and how you can move up the leader board. Organisers will use the time taken by each rider as the deciding factor for placings among the clear rounds in each class.
Generally there are three types of timing rules: (1) an ‘optimum’ set by the judges, (2) the fastest in a timed section or (3) the fastest on the whole course and a set time limit – exceeding this limit will add time penalties. (An optimum time will be worked out by the officials and is usually set as a steady flowing canter around the whole course and is published at the Secretary’s Office in advance. The winner will be the clear round closest to the optimum time, which may be slightly faster, or slower.) It is wise to read your schedule carefully to ensure full knowledge of the rules for the class you are entering.
Unless the rules state otherwise, you are free to wear an eventer’s watch which you can glance at along the route. This is an essential piece of equipment at all levels of eventing.
Improving your optimum time
When you have acquired your watch, take it hacking with you and practise looking quickly down at it, firstly in trot and then in canter, without losing balance or rhythm so that by competition day you can be confident and at ease with the new item. When walking the course, work out approximate points at two or three sections, where it would be easy for you to check your watch. Knowing the optimum time, you will then be able to adjust your pace accordingly.
Improving your time at speed
In this case, your watch is irrelevant as you need to focus on smooth fast riding with no distractions. Again, course walking is so important. Decide where you can extend your canter and where corners can be cut. If you are given a choice of route, you must select the best one for you and your horse. You may be able to jump some fences at an angle if you have the confidence, and this will save some seconds for you. If it is a timed section, take it easy before and/or after, having a breather when possible.
Staying under the time limit
A time limit is usually set at a forward-going, ground-covering canter. The higher the level of competition, the more difficult it is to keep within the limit. Your watch is now very important, as it can be set at the time allowed, ticking backwards towards zero. When walking the course, mentally divide it into sections, so that you know exactly where you should be and at what time. This will improve with practise and become second nature.
If you find that the time is causing you to make mistakes on the course, take a step back and concentrate on your clear rounds again, before picking up the pace.
If you need XC practice, consider a training break at a leading venue. Jenny Richardson BHSAI is Equestrian Centre Business Manager at Ireland’s Castle Leslie Estate, a venue that offers luxurious equestrian riding holidays and training breaks in the heart of Ireland. The team welcomes riders of all abilities and age groups and offers expert tuition, gentle hacks and exhilarating cross-country rides over an extensive XC course. Visit www.castleleslie.com