Trainer Jenny Richardson offers her top tips for XC riding-
- Walk the course if you can – this helps you work out the best lines and the safest routes. A good tip is to look backwards to the previous fence, for a different viewpoint! Walk backwards to the previous fence too, if you have time! It gives a new perspective. Also see point 8.
- Try and find a consistent, positive XC pace from the outset – when cross-country schooling, some people are anxious and ride too fast, while others canter round too slowly.
- Make sure your stirrups are short enough – you must be able to hold your body position with the weight down into your heels – this is your ‘safety position’.
- Don’t leave anything to chance, and never totally trust the horse to jump the fence as you expect him to. Always plan and think ‘what if?’
- Maintain straightness at all times – the horse’s shoulder must stay behind his face – if not, he could run out. (See below – point 12).
- The perfect bascule – eg the curved shape the horse produces when jumping – is irrelevant over more complex cross-country fences. Concentrate on clearing the obstacle!
- Plan ahead and look for your line and your next fence – this is critical.
- Picking a landmark in the distance is a useful course-walking skill to establish your line, but may not be so easy over the fence – don’t get hung up about it.
- Seeing a stride is irrelevant if you have a good canter; if this is the case, wherever you are in relation to a fence, you’ll be in balance and can jump it. Keep channelling the energy between both reins.
- A common mistake is to be too far forward in the saddle in between fences – the upright position is important in cross-country riding, as it gives you more stability.
- On that note… for the ideal position, think of a triangle shape from leg to hand, with the bottom two points being your lower legs, and the top point being your hands.
- Try to prevent run-outs! I’d rather see a horse stop straight at the last minute than run out… It is common to see riders giving up at the point of take off, rather than committing to a jump, accepting that the horse is running out and they’ve missed the fence. If you are still facing forwards and have not completely stopped, always try to make them go over it! Practice over troublesome fences at an XC course.
- When riding downhill, always stay upright in your body position and establish the rhythm and pace you need to jump the fence in question in plenty of time. Establish your chosen rhythm and pace ten strides ahead of the fence – when riding downhill this is even more important, as if the pace speeds up, the horse could tip onto the forehand and rush the jump.
- When riding between fences when your adrenaline is “up” during a competition, you must think more quickly about where you are going on the course – route mistakes are common. On a horse that is always behind the leg, we automatically tip our shoulders forward when we want them to be more forward-going. Instead, sit up and ride forwards! Always rebalance after a fence, plan your line and kick on, but don’t allow the stride to get too flat.
- Have fun! It is all about the experience and if you’re competing, getting a personal best or PB; try not to put pressure on yourselves…
Jenny Richardson is Equestrian Centre Business Manager at Ireland’s Castle Leslie Estate, a venue that offers luxurious equestrian holidays, including flatwork and dressage breaks, in the heart of Ireland.
Visit www.castleleslie.com for info on late winter and early spring breaks!