A Beginner’s Guide To Eventing & Cross-Country

By Jenny Richardson BHSAI

A secure, confident and balanced position in the saddle is taken when you're moving in a forward going canter.

Jumping an affiliated XC course.

Cross country originated as a training exercise for the mounted cavalry, and has progressed to its present form over the last seventy years. It consists of jumping natural fixed obstacles over a set course designed to test ability and bravery of horse and rider, and usually consists of 16 -22 fences on grass that may include ditches, water, banks, hedges, walls, logs, tyres, barrels, etc.  Flags are placed either side of each obstacle; red (right) and white (left) – which must be passed through.

There is usually an optimum time, after which penalties are added, or else there can be a timed section, or sometimes the whole course – rules can vary, and are posted on the day of the competition at the secretary’s office.  XC is an excellent foundation for a horse’s general education, encouraging a trusting partnership. Most horses thoroughly enjoy the experience and the riders more so! Horse and rider should be comfortable with cantering in open spaces, and need to be fit and ready. Often there is a Clear Round class at the start of the day, which can be used for practise. Sometimes a Pairs Competition is included, which is excellent for a younger or novice combination to follow a more experienced partnership around. Courses are usually open for walking the day before, and pre-entries are often required.

On the approach, your torso becomes more upright as you set your horse up correctly for his jump.

Riding at a forward XC pace.

It is important to be properly dressed for the XC phase of a horse trials or eventing contest – riding hats to current safety standards, level three body protectors, cross country colours of your choice, white or beige breeches, and long boots. (Riders in the dressage phase may choose jackets of any single conservative colour in muted tones, or can opt to ride without a jacket altogether, at intermediate level and below (excluding the intermediate championships).

XC whips may be no longer than 120cm, and spurs are optional; gloves are recommended. Your horse needs his usual tack. Boots or protective leg wear are strongly advised, and studs may be considered. Cross country riding varies considerably from Show Jumping. The biggest difference is that the fences are fixed, and cannot be knocked down; courses are longer and ridden at a more forward pace, and you are likely to be expected to go through water.

The fences are usually designed with a natural feel and usually a lack the bright colours seen in the show jumping ring.

British Eventing (BE) has implemented a brand new safety rule, stating that any competitor falling during their dressage test, or on course of the show jumping or cross country phase, will be eliminated and not allowed to continue on course. (The rider must be checked by the event doctor before continuing or leaving site.) If a rider falls during the showjumping phase, the bell will be rung and the clock stopped while they remount, and the jump is rebuilt — six seconds will be added to the competitor’s time and the 45-second rule (elimination for failing to jump the next obstacle within 45 seconds) will not apply.

(A further new rule sees (at FEI level) the removal of the ‘coefficient’ – this is the figure obtained by taking the percentage score of a dressage test, subtracting from 100, and multiplying by a ‘coefficient of 1.5’, with the resulting figure rounded to one decimal digit. The result is the score in penalty points, for the test. However this was recently removed at elite levels.)

The XC Season runs from March until October. Unaffiliated fixtures are held countrywide by various Pony and Riding Clubs, and can be found locally advertised or on our SCHEDULES page. Other competitions can include events along the lines of Eventer Trials, which have a show jumping phase before setting off across country. Some Show Centres run an entire event on a surface in an enclosed arena and these events can appear all year round. Unaffiliated XC heights can vary from 60cm up to about 1m. Courses can often be hired prior to events where riders can practise, and clinics with instructors are organised through clubs, centres and BE.

Always approach from a positive, forward stride. (Polly Tucker is pictured)

Affiliated heights are from 80-1.20. (Polly Tucker is pictured)

Affiliated competitions are run by British Eventing – these include dressage, show jumping and cross country elements, and are run over one or three days.

(ODE and 3DE). Heights are from Introductory (80cm) through to Advanced (1.20cm). Day tickets can be bought as a taster before deciding to become a BE member.

Further information can be found on The British Eventing website – www.britisheventing.com




Read some of our previous XC articles for Pegasus here-

Planning a hunter trial

Water jumps

Fit to jump

XC riding position

Improving accuracy XC

Riding downhill

Jenny Richardson BHSAI is Equestrian Centre Business Manager at Ireland’s Castle Leslie Estate. The team welcomes riders of all abilities and age groups and offers expert tuition, holidays and exhilarating cross-country rides over an extensive XC course. Visit www.castleleslie.com


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