Cross-coun­try school­ing

How to give ev­ery ses­sion fo­cus to help you suc­ceed on com­pe­ti­tion day

Your Horse (UK) - - Contents -

BE­FORE YOU ZOOM out of the start box, your horse needs to be equipped to do the job in hand. Whether you’re vis­it­ing a cross­coun­try venue to school for the first time this year or as a re­fresher in be­tween com­pe­ti­tions, your ses­sion needs to have pur­pose and an end goal. Karen Ni­cholas, a BHSII who trains rid­ers from Pony Club level up to CCI4*, ad­vises that you do as much prepa­ra­tion at home be­fore­hand as you can. “You can achieve an aw­ful lot with sim­u­lated train­ing, even through the win­ter, to pre­pare for go­ing cross-coun­try,” she ex­plains. “Think of off-sea­son train­ing as be­ing your class­room. Then you trans­fer to the play­ground to put it into prac­tice. “Many venues run arena event­ing com­pe­ti­tions, which is a use­ful way to learn about rid­ing dif­fer­ent types of fences.” Event rider Franky Reid-War­rilow, who con­tested her first CCI4* in Pau, France, last au­tumn, agrees. She says that with all horses, but par­tic­u­larly those who are young or in­ex­pe­ri­enced, it’s im­por­tant they’ve learned to ‘go’ be­fore ven­tur­ing out on to a cross-coun­try course. “I do lots of work at home with a horse be­fore they go school­ing. I make sure they’re for­ward off my leg and un­der­stand the aid to ‘go’,” she says. For some of the trick­ier fence types, such as ditches, wa­ter and skin­nies, all of the prepa­ra­tion is done at home, too. A sub­se­quent cross-coun­try school­ing ses­sion is the tool for so­lid­i­fy­ing what the horse has been work­ing on over the real thing. “I never teach a horse about skin­nies away from home – they have to be in a fa­mil­iar en­vi­ron­ment where they feel con­fi­dent to be­gin with,” she rea­sons. “Start with a nar­row pole on the ground in the arena and walk and trot over it be­fore rais­ing it to a small 50cm fence. Then build up slowly from there. “For a com­bi­na­tion with a ditch I have a tre­ble of showjumps and the mid­dle fence is two poles par­al­lel on the ground. A wa­ter tray is five or six poles pushed to­gether.”

A help­ing hand

Karen feels strongly that you should never go cross-coun­try school­ing alone. In fact, many venues won’t al­low it for health and safety rea­sons. “It doesn’t mat­ter whether you have some­one on foot or on a horse, just hav­ing some­one there will give you con­fi­dence,” ex­plains Karen. “You can ride neg­a­tively if you go alone, even if it is sub­con­sciously.” An­other pair of eyes can also be help­ful in other ways. From iden­ti­fy­ing fences to

link to­gether, through to help­ing pinpoint the cause of a prob­lem should you have one, an­other per­spec­tive can be use­ful. If your com­pan­ion is on a horse, you have some­one to give you a lead, too. This is a par­tic­u­larly good idea if your horse is young or in­ex­pe­ri­enced. “Horses are herd an­i­mals, so if they’re lack­ing con­fi­dence — per­haps through wa­ter or over a ditch — they will fol­low a leader and grow in con­fi­dence that way,” adds Karen. Karen em­pha­sises that a good trainer will help you get the most out of a cross-coun­try train­ing ses­sion. “I like to see peo­ple ride on the flat and over showjumps first. That way I can as­sess both horse and rider be­fore we are in an open space,” she says. Jonty Evans, in­di­vid­ual ninth at the Rio Olympics and the reign­ing Lycetts Gran­tham Cup win­ner, likes to watch horses rid­den away from him in a straight line. “I tell peo­ple to fo­cus on some­thing in the dis­tance, such as a tree, and then ride as straight as they can to­wards that point,” he ex­plains. “Then I can check if their can­ter is rhyth­mi­cal, en­er­getic and re­spon­sive. It needs to be all of those things be­fore they start jump­ing and it will help pre­pare them to ride di­rectly to­wards a fence.”

Get a good start

Be­gin your ses­sion by warm­ing up on the flat and then in­cor­po­rat­ing small fences, work­ing on get­ting your horse think­ing for­ward and es­tab­lish­ing a rhythm. “Con­cen­trate on build­ing both yours and your horse’s con­fi­dence,” ad­vises Karen. “At this point it’s not about height of the fences, it’s about pre­ci­sion. School be­low the height you’re com­pet­ing at and keep your horse in his com­fort zone. “Next, move on to big­ger fences. As long as your horse un­der­stands what you’re ask­ing of him he will try his best for you. That’s why it’s vi­tal to get the foun­da­tions right in the first place. Then you can build from there.” Move on to link­ing a few fences to­gether. “Try not to keep stop­ping and start­ing when you’re school­ing,” ad­vises Karen. “Once you’ve warmed up, work out a plan of fences to jump and keep go­ing.” Franky con­curs. “I trot and can­ter over the small­est fences and then link a few to­gether to es­tab­lish a nice rhythm,” she says. “Once horses are do­ing that hap­pily I’ll move onto some­thing more chal­leng­ing.” Karen also ad­vises ne­go­ti­at­ing sim­ple fences off a turn and at an an­gle, in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the lines you may ride at a com­pe­ti­tion. “I like rid­ers to jump a sim­ple fence, like a small log, on an an­gle off both reins. It helps you pre­pare for com­bi­na­tions and fences on a curv­ing line.” Karen then moves on to a nar­row fence and a sim­ple com­bi­na­tion. “Try to jump dif­fer­ent types of fences, but don’t worry about the height – stay small to be­gin with and work your way up,” she adds. “Keep it sim­ple and don’t run be­fore you can walk. Suc­cess­ful cross-coun­try school­ing is all about con­fi­dence and the right mind­set.”

If it goes wrong…

Karen rec­om­mends ask­ing your­self the fol­low­ing three ques­tions when you’re school­ing: Is your horse phys­i­cally ca­pa­ble of do­ing what you’re ask­ing? He must be fit enough and so should you. A tired, un­bal­anced rider will tire the horse, mak­ing it harder for him to do his job. Is your horse men­tally ca­pa­ble and able to un­der­stand what’s be­ing asked of him? A par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tion for young or green horses. Are you ask­ing him cor­rectly? If you’re un­sure or lack­ing con­fi­dence, your sig­nals may not be clear to your horse. Th­ese three ques­tions be­come par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant to con­sider in the event of a prob­lem aris­ing, such as a re­fusal or run-out. To solve the is­sue, all you need to do is sim­plify the prob­lem. This might mean

clear­ing a smaller ver­sion of the fence sev­eral times be­fore re­turn­ing to the larger one, or get­ting a lead from an­other horse. If you’re run­ning out at a nar­row fence, use some­thing to act as a wing, such as flags. “Bor­row some flags from a venue if you can [or make your own],” rec­om­mends Karen. “Horses read fences bet­ter with flags.” How of­ten you school re­ally de­pends on your horse. Younger, in­ex­pe­ri­enced horses may ben­e­fit from go­ing reg­u­larly, whereas older horses prob­a­bly don’t need to. Al­ter­na­tively, see if you can visit the venue af­ter a com­pe­ti­tion where you’ve had an is­sue, to work on this and help build your horse’s con­fi­dence. “Think about the ground con­di­tions,” warns Karen. “To avoid jar­ring your horse, and mak­ing it un­pleas­ant for him, espe­cially if he’s older, don’t overdo it on hard ground. “Don’t be in a rush: wait for the ground to be good – and not too deep, ei­ther – be­cause you want your horse’s first cross-coun­try ex­pe­ri­ence af­ter a break to be a good one.”

You’ll en­joy your ses­sion more and your horse will learn bet­ter if it has fo­cus and pur­pose

Tackle a va­ri­ety of fences so your horse learns, but don’t aim for those that are too big

String fences to­gether, vary­ing the pace, to prac­tise rid­ing in be­tween them

Don’t over­face you or your horse: the end goal is to have a happy ex­pe­ri­ence

School­ing is more ef­fec­tive with com­pan­ions

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