1 To go cross country, you need a fit pony. Don’t expect an overweight, unfit pony to dash about like an Olympic eventer. It’s very unfair and puts a strain on his heart
2 Give your tack a thorough inspection prior to any cross country riding. You don’t want to be surprised by
3 If your pony is a victim of cross country nerves or excitement then consider changing his usual bit for something stronger. Make sure you try it out at home first.
4 Shorten your stirrups and your reins and adopt your forward position as you canter across country. You’ll need to put in some practice – riding in your forward position can be tiring until you’re familiar with it!
5 Consider fitting a martingale or breastplate even if your pony doesn’t usually wear one. It can give you a bit more control, but more importantly, it’ll give you something to hold onto if you have a hairy moment!
6 Start small. You don’t have to jump a Badminton-sized course to get a thrill. Only tackle courses you and your pony are comfortable with. There are some great small courses out there, and you both want to enjoy yourselves.
7 Some ponies get over-excited at the start and may bounce about a bit. Don’t tell him off, he’s not being naughty, he’s just excited! Don’t try to make him stand still and wait. Instead, stay calm and walk your pony around, just as the top eventers do.
8 Contrary to popular belief, cross country riders and eventers don’t just ride hell-for-leather around the cross country course. Although they keep up a good pace between jumps, they always slow down and steady their horses as they approach each jump, so they can then get balanced and push on for the last three strides. Remember, slow down, get sorted, push on.
9 Not all ponies are fearless when it comes to natural jumps. Ditches and water can be scary, so take time to school your pony over unfamiliar obstacles. See whether there are cross country lessons at a riding school near you.
10 Beware treacherous going. You could be galloping along on firm ground one minute, then floundering in a bog or through water. Keep your eyes peeled and choose the best going for your pony. Soft going is hard work for him.
11 Jumping from open spaces into and out of woodland is a challenge for you and your pony. It can take a moment for your eyes to adjust to the gloom or the glare so take it easy.
12 Take it slowly downhill. Your pony make find it tricky keeping himself balanced with you on him, and if he is excited you could find yourself out of control. Slow things down.
13 Approach drop jumps slowly – in trot if you want. Let your pony see what he is being asked to jump, and give him a chance to sort out his legs. The same goes for ditches.
14 If your pony is suspicious of a jump, go in strongly but not too fast, to let him see what he is going to jump. At the same time you don’t want him to feel pressured, force him to panic and refuse.
15 Arrowheads and skinny jumps need control, not speed. Keep your contact, keep your leg on and aim for the very tip of the arrowhead, looking ahead. If you look down or to the side, that’s where your pony will go!
16 When you have finished the course slow your pony gradually from canter, to trot, to walk. Pulling up too abruptly can jar his legs. Loosen his girth and walk him around – with a rug on his hindquarters if it’s chilly – until he’s cooled down and his breathing has returned to normal. Remember to offer him some water.
Cross country kit checklist…
- Approved riding hat
- Body protector
- Short riding crop
For your pony:
- Boots all round
- Martingale, breastplate or neck strap
- Well-fitting tack and a bit that you know will give you adequate control!