Im­prove your cross-coun­try con­fi­fi­dence

Want to event with nerves of steel? Con­fi­dence coach He­len Ren­nie shows you how

Your Horse (UK) - - Contents -

WITH THE EVENT­ING sea­son in full swing, it’s to feel in­spired and want to chan­nel your in in­ner Fox-Pitt over a cross-coun­try course but we all know that’s eas­ier said than done. Cross-county, while an ex­cit­ing buzz, can be a chal­lenge for some. Not only are there solid jumps, but also open spa­ces, wa­ter com­plexes (if only arm bands were ac­cept­able) and people watch­ing, all while you’re try­ing to fo­cus on where you’re go­ing with­out us­ing a sat nav. “There’s quite a lot go­ing on with cross-coun­try,” says He­len. “It’s a com­pletely dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ment to an arena and it can be easy for rid­ers to start wor­ry­ing about all the new things they might en­counter. “Whether it’s a par­tic­u­lar fence or run­ning out of steam half way round, there’s lots of concerns that rid­ers all share. Even pro rid­ers some­times see some­thing they’re wor­ried about – they’re just good at hid­ing it!” Whether you’re look­ing to event or just want to have the con­fi­dence tot take your horse around a set ofo cross-coun­try jumps, He­len n hash got the tips to help you suc­ceed. Over the page, dis­cover five con­fi­dence co­nun­drums that He­len has tack­led and you’ll soon be flying over those rus­tic fences­fence with­out a sec­ond thought.

1 Los­ingg fo­cusf half way round?

Cross-coun­try cour­ses are in­tense and, while you may think that the big­gest test is to your horse’s stamina, it can also re­ally chal­lenge your brain’s abil­ity to think. “Most people don’t re­alise that event­ing is like run­ning a marathon for your brain,”brain says He­len. “The fi­fi­first thing you need to do is make sure you’re fu­elling it prop­erly.” If you’re feel­ing ner­vous be­fore go­ing cross-coun­try, it can be tempt­ing to skip break­fast but, as He­len ex­plains, this could do you more harm in the long run. “Your brain will burn through en­ergy like a mo­bile phone that doesn’t have enough bat­tery,” she says. “You need enough pro­tein and glu­cose to keep your brain prop­erly fu­elled the en­tire time, oth­er­wise you’ll find that you strug­gle to think clearly.”

What’s your at­ten­tion span?

Once you’ve scoffed down a hearty break­fast, the next thing you need to con­sider is how long you can main­tain your fo­cus. Hu­man brains nat­u­rally switch off af­ter a pe­riod of in­tense con­cen­tra­tion (this can be af­ter about 20 min­utes), so re­mem­ber to take breaks – even when you’re rid­ing. Once your horse has warmed up, take a few min­utes to walk him round on a long rein and then give your­self the op­por­tu­nity to switch off and take in your sur­round­ings be­fore you start fo­cus­ing on your rid­ing again. It can also be a re­ally good idea to time your­self at home and see how long you can con­cen­trate on a par­tic­u­lar task or piece of work be­fore hav­ing to take a break. You should stop the timer when you no­tice your­self be­ing dis­tracted and your at­ten­tion wan­der­ing. Once you know how long your at­ten­tion span ac­tu­ally is, you can then prac­tise try­ing to im­prove this and you can also sched­ule when you know you need a men­tal break.

Hu­man brains nat­u­rally switch off af­ter a pe­riod of in­tense con­cen­tra­tion, so re­mem­ber to take breaks – even when you’re rid­ing

2 Do you worry about stops?

No one wants to go flying through their horse’s ears af­ter he makes an emer­gency stop, but fo­cus­ing on him stop­ping isn’t go­ing to help your nerves. As He­len ex­plains, if you find that you reg­u­larly worry about this, it could be you’re too fo­cused on the com­pe­ti­tion re­sults (i.e. some­thing you can’t con­trol) and not on what your horse is do­ing. “People who worry about stops at a com­pe­ti­tion are of­ten fear­ful of los­ing the lead,” she says. “But you don’t re­ally have any con­trol over this. It’s also im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that there are oc­ca­sions when your horse just won’t understand the ques­tion. There’s not a lot you can do at the time but it’s some­thing you can in­cor­po­rate into your train­ing back home.” The best thing to do is to con­cen­trate on what you can con­trol, which is your ap­proach to a fence. Make sure you get a good enough line and can­ter to give your horse the best chance of clear­ing the jump.


Does your horse gawp at some cross-coun­try jumps like they’re an alien be­ing even though you’ve prac­tised the same thing count­less times at home? Be­fore you put a call into the vet about your horse’s short-term mem­ory loss, take a step back. “When I met a rider who had this prob­lem, we man­aged to iden­tify a pat­tern,” says He­len. “We dis­cov­ered that there was al­ways a jump that the rider didn’t like di­rectly af­ter the one her horse was go­ing green at. “In­stead of think­ing about the jump in front of her, the rider was think­ing about what was com­ing up af­ter­wards. This made her horse think that she was wor­ried about the fence com­ing up and, as a re­sult, he backed off from it, even though it was some­thing rel­a­tively straight­for­ward.” The key to over­com­ing this prob­lem is to fo­cus on the task in hand. If you’re think­ing too far ahead and wor­ry­ing about it, your horse will sense your ten­sion and think there’s some­thing he needs to be scared of com­ing up.

4 Fear­ful of a fence?

Walk­ing the course can be both a help and a hin­drance. On the one hand, it gives you an op­por­tu­nity to plan your route and how you’ll ap­proach each fence/ques­tion. On the other, it also lets you see what fences are go­ing to be thrown at you come com­pe­ti­tion day – and they might not all be straight­for­ward. It’s on these course walks that rid­ers can become too fo­cused on the scary fences and not about the others. “In this sit­u­a­tion, you need to change your think­ing,” says He­len. “If there’s only one jump you don’t like, it means that you’ve still got 20 or so other jumps that you find straight­for­ward. “An­other good tip is to change the way you think about these fences. Rather than la­belling them as ‘scary’ or ‘de­mon fences’, think in­stead of them as a chal­lenge or a test. It’ll make them seem less daunt­ing and en­cour­age you to tackle them head on.”


As much prepa­ra­tion as you do at home, you’re of­ten likely to come across some­thing when you’re out and about that might test you. The great thing about cross-coun­try (es­pe­cially com­pe­ti­tions) is that there’s al­ways some­one you can chat to for ad­vice and you can al­ways watch how other rid­ers tackle the same ques­tion. If you’re out train­ing, go with a con­fi­dent friend who can guide you through with their horse. An­other tip is to try and vi­su­alise how you’d ride it. He­len ex­plains: “Once you’ve seen a com­bi­na­tion you’re un­sure of, take a mo­ment to sit qui­etly and imag­ine you’re on your horse. Vi­su­alise how it’d be if you took the jump on a set num­ber of strides and then play around un­til you find the per­fect ap­proach. “You can prac­tise this at home – just be sure not to do it while driv­ing or rid­ing as you need to con­cen­trate on what you’re do­ing!” He­len also ad­vises vi­su­al­is­ing one jump at a time rather than the whole course, oth­er­wise it might over­load your brain.

He­len Ren­nie, of Re­zone Coach­ing, of­fers one-to-ones all over the coun­try to help rid­ers tackle their con­fi­dence is­sues. Visit­zonecoach­ for de­tails.

When you’re rid­ing a cross-coun­try course, con­cen­trate on what you can con­trol, which is your ap­proach to the fence

Cer­tain types of fences can be a worry but you can change the way you think about them Vi­su­al­is­ing your ap­proach can help when it comes to rid­ing a chal­leng­ing com­bi­na­tion

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