By Jenny Richardson BHSAI
As a trainer, I am pleased to help lots of horse riders hone their cross-country riding prowess! One of the main things that people struggle with is retaining their ‘safety position’ – a secure, confident and balanced position in the saddle that is taken when the horse is jumping, and also moving in a forward going canter.
The body position of the rider taking a horse Cross Country varies considerably from other disciplines. Because you are riding in open country, the horse has ample space to cover the ground, and most courses are designed to be ridden in a forward manner, encouraging boldness of horse and rider, who must take obstacles in their stride in undulating terrain.
The time set in competition is usually aimed at producing a strong rhythmical canter around the whole course, and will become faster as you progress up the levels. The ideal cross country riding position, in this ‘established canter’, is up and out of the saddle, heels down, bend in the knee, perfectly balanced, with your weight carried on the ball of your foot in your stirrups. Depending on your normal riding style, you may have to adjust your stirrups up a hole or two. Hands may rest lightly on the neck of the horse in between fences, and you should be looking through your horse’s ears in the direction you are going, never dropping your head down, as this will alter your whole body position!
The weight distribution of the rider in the correct position can help the horse in his task of completing the course neatly, quickly and without error; as you will be in perfect balance with his forward movement, he will be unhindered. Your upper body will help determine pace – the lower and more forward you are positioned generally encourages more speed; conversely, the more upright you are, the steadier your pace should become. It is important to keep most of your weight down into your heels, which will be the lowest point of your body, causing an anchor like effect, and keeping your lower leg firmly in place.
Your riding position will alter as you approach the various obstacles around the course, steadying a little before each fence, becoming more upright, and setting your horse up correctly for his jump. On completion, regain your original cross country position and ride on!
Total control in open country is paramount, and preparation and practice are essential to produce a happy and comfortable combination. If you have never ridden in the cross country position before, practice at home in canter, either in an arena or out on a hack, ideally having someone experienced with you to help and give advice. (This is where a targeted training break with XC specialists will really help you, especially if you’re undertaking a, intensive course, e.g. a three day training break where you can focus on your goals at the end.)
Castle Leslie Estate offers luxurious equestrian riding holidays and training breaks, deep in the heart of Ireland. The venue welcomes riders of all abilities and age groups and offer expert tuition, gentle hacks and exhilarating cross-country rides over an extensive cross country course. www.castleleslie.com