Creative cross-country

Posted 6th January 2023

Polish your cross-country skills in the arena this winter with help from Meg Elphick

Arena XC with Meg Elphick

Winter doesn’t mean you have to stop perfecting your cross-country skills, and by practising them in the arena you can have a head start before the season gets under way! Check out how to recreate three types of XC fences in the school – but watch out, they get trickier as you climb the levels. Can you ace them all?

Get ready!

Be sure to tailor your warm-up period to get your pony in the cross-country zone! Practise riding in two-point position in canter along the long side to encourage him to open up his stride, and incorporate lots of transitions between and within paces to get him moving off your leg and listening to your aids.

Level one: nail rail-ditch-rail

What is it?

A rail-ditch-rail combination is exactly what it sounds like – a fence, followed by one or two strides to a ditch, then one or two strides to another rail. On a cross-country course, they often involve a change of terrain, such as downhill to the ditch then uphill to the last rail, so they can be a bit spooky.

Set it up

You’ll need four blocks, six poles and a tarpaulin for your rail-ditch-rail combination. To create the ditch, place the tarpaulin sheet on the ground near E or B and pop two poles on it to secure it. Then set up two uprights, one either side of your ditch, with a one-stride distance (6.1–7.3m) between each element.


Your pony may not spot the ditch until he’s jumping the first rail, so allow with your hands to let him lower his head and look at what’s ahead of him. Aim to approach in a really positive canter and try counting your strides out loud to keep the rhythm. Sitting up between the elements is really important, too, because leaning forward will disrupt your pony’s rhythm and balance.

Check out March PONY for more creative arena cross-country exercises with Meg Elphick! Get your copy today!

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