Downhill riding – are you brave enough?

By Jenny Richardson BHSAI

The professional riders take downhill elements of an XC course literally 'in their stride'.

The professional riders take downhill elements of an XC course literally ‘in their stride‘.

In any cross country course there will be various gradients thoughout, requiring different riding techniques, together with balance and obedience from your horse. Uphill riding should present no problems as the horse will naturally use himself and balance will not be lost and speed more easily controlled. Downhill will present the opposite effect, with the horse having a tendency to go on his forehand and run away with you, and balance could be lost.

Firstly, on flat ground you will need to have established transitions both upwards and downwards in trot and canter and, ideally, be able to lengthen and shorten the pace at will. Move on to terrain containing some gentle slopes where you can practise the same exercises. You will find that when riding uphill, balance is more easily obtained when you lean forward up and out of the saddle allowing the horse freedom of movement, both in his body and his head. Riding downhill will require the opposite movements of your body, depending on the severity of the slope. You will help your horse most by variances of degrees of leaning backwards, maintaining your seat in the saddle using a longer rein but keeping the contact. Initially start at trot; if the horse becomes strong and difficult to control slow the pace to a walk, or even halt, praise him and start again. You may have to repeat the lesson several times before you are able to lengthen and shorten the pace downhill. As progress improves, work on the same exercise in canter, moving on to longer and steeper slopes. Leg position should remain the same up and downhill.

Your horse should absorb his lessons and be ever more attentive to your commands as you work towards a perfect partnership.

Riding downhill at speed takes practice and control!

Riding downhill at speed takes practice and control!

Jumping fences downhill can be included once you can maintain controllable speed. Start with a simple pole on the ground with blocks to keep it in place and aim to cross it from a good even pace. Avoid getting too close to any fence downhill as it will be much harder for the horse to make a good shape and keep his balance especially on landing. Your jumping position should vary from the ‘norm’, as to keep in balance with your horse, you will need to remain more upright. Alter your practise fences as you please, until you are happy to cross any terrain and obstacle.

Approach your training with common sense and logic, and break up each different challenge into bite size chunks.

Severe slopes and/or bad conditions should be approached with caution and performed at a slower pace, even walk. Confidence building for both rider and horse is paramount, it is better to avoid a bad experience where possible and extra time taken will pay dividends in the long run. If you need some practice with an instructor but don’t have the facilities, why not investigate Castle Leslie Estate’s fabulous ‘Get Back Your Confidence’ riding trip? Our dedicated team of experts, which includes myself, coordinates a five day package that includes three hours’ of daily lessons.


Guests can choose the type of lessons they want, based on their individual riding foes and limitations. Visit




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