I had a cross country lesson with BE trainer Robin Dumas at his amazing venue – Rosamund Green Farm. This is a cross country schooling paradise with every conceivable type of jump that you will see at all levels. I thought I would write up my session as it was a useful reminder about cross country and schooling in general. I was in a shared lesson with two friends Tom and Sarah who are at a similar level (BE100 looking to move to Novice).
Firstly we had a tack check – Robin highlighted that schooling is the ideal time to check everything fits and works because you do not want things to go wrong when on cross country. My over reach boots were highlighted as a weak choice because though they fit they spin and that traditional bell boots would perhaps be a better choice as no areas of weakness. Robin said that they always trim their bell boots as he has seen falls before where the horse has tripped from catching themselves on the over reach boot. Sarah was told her over reach boots were too big and that if she was at a three day she would be very annoyed if the horse had sustained an injury which could have been prevented. Tom had no boots at all because he had forgotten them so got away with the scrutiny!
Tom’s flash was next to be highlighted with the bottom strap being too loose – if it’s that loose you do not need it. My cavesson was also highlighted as being slightly too high and was dropped a hole. It should be two fingers below the cheek bone. My bit was too low and needed to be higher in case the horse gets its tongue over the bit and Robin felt my Hippus bit did nothing for the horse. My martingale was also too short as it should not interfere with the horse’s way of going and that a short martingale was fine for SJing but not for XC. Nothing should interfere with the rein. It should just be there if the horse lifts its head too high.
I was told that my dressage scores could be guessed from the way the horse went and that the flatwork never stops whether you are jumping or training for dressage. We started in the arena where it had been set up with several questions of corners, brush top logs, skinny log piles and a coffin. We were asked to warm up over the two log fences which were 4 strides apart. We all successfully warmed up and asked what vice all 3 of us had been committing. The answer was cutting our corners. Robin said the most important thing is line and that the horse should be on its line 4 strides away. From that point it should be at the speed it needs to be and know exactly where it is going. Once we actually rode our corners and set the horse up more the jump was better and easier and everything felt smoother.
In ensuring we rode proper corners Robin advocated putting a jump block (either real or imaginary) in the right place so it is immediately apparent whether the corners have been cut or not (and forcing you to ride in a properly disciplined way). Sarah managed to take her horse by surprise by not riding the corners properly, giving him a shock, and thereby encouraging a misunderstanding / disobedience.
Tom was told to put his stirrups up a hole. XC and Sjing length should not be the same and riders should practice riding at XC length while out riding. I was told to put more weight in my heels and keep my leg by the horse’s girth as the lower leg should be strong as that is where the rider’s balance should come from.
From this point we strung fences together with difficult lines. We had to keep the rhythm of the round, get our turns and make sure our lines were good. Any mistakes were picked up on and corrected.
After this we moved out onto the XC. We started stringing together a few small fences. I was told to soften my arms as my horse fights any adjustment and that my horse needed to be softer and more rideable between fences. I did not ride my best and felt I was lacking a bit of attack being so rusty. I tend to come out XC schooling very tentative and actually I needed to stop thinking about Sjing and ride forwards.
We jumped a double of skinny wedges and I selected the wrong gear of canter. I was far too backwards and was told I needed to be more forwards in the canter. Once this was done the fences came up easily.
Out on the XC Robin focussed a lot on appropriate use of the gears and since the going was a bit deep in areas, making absolutely sure that we used the right gear which was both positive and appropriate to the fences but never confused ‘gearage’ with simple speed. High gear does not necessarily mean higher speed, rather, it means more controlled impulsion and engagement.
Robin said that horses need to be able to canter around in balance with an uphill frame as anything being on the forehand will just keep adding wear and tear. You do this by having the horse in front of the leg and up into the bridle. Robin said all their horses practice dressage on the side of a hill in order to get them balanced and make sure they can cope.
We jumped a fence with a roof and my horse ducked jumping which is not unusual. I was told to come back in a very slow trot and keep the leg on so he could work out the question. Speed is not the answer or they rush to get through the hole. When my horse was slowed down he worked out the question.
After each riding a self-selected course of around 12 fences we then all focussed in on water and rode a variety of combinations through both of the water complexes. Robin was insistent on not taking a flyer up a step out of water and making sure you compress and keep a coffin style canter in over the first element / fence before water, through the water itself and then out over the step (as if you go on a flyer you can end up splat and don’t give your horse the best chance to land, respond and react as is required to get over the next element, often a fence on a turn or perhaps a skinny etc etc –both of which we practised).
One of the final questions we had was a jump a couple of strides drop into water followed by sharp right hand turn over a skinny house. We all had lousy lines to begin with but the more we did it the sharper we became at balancing the horse, keeping the leg on round the tight turn and keeping straight.
A point Sarah got from the session was the need for her to show speedier reactions and corrections when moving up from BE100 to Novice. What works at BE100 will be insufficient at Novice and the whole picture needs to be sharper and more responsive. As riders we need to anticipate more, prepare better and react more swiftly as standard because at Novice things come up so much more quickly and are more technical than at BE100, so a sharp response needs to be ingrained if we are to flourish!
At the end of the session we began to see the sort of level of technicality that we needed to be au fait with.
Robin is a demanding trainer who looks for perfection but it is never sacrificed for confidence. I came away feeling like I had a lot of work to do with my horse and in particular his rideability, I guess I had hoped to be further on from where we actually were but can understand that Robin was dealing with what he saw on the day. I feel that sometimes Robin did not understand my predicament of being an amateur rider who has literally no facilities (not even electricity, I muck out by head torch!) so to get change is very hard (unless it’s done in walk and trot on the roads) and at this time of year it is very tough with only being able to ride two or three times a week but I also understand that I should also set the highest standards for myself as I want to do well.
I will definitely go back but I want to put some work into the horse first and make some changes. I feel like a lesson with Robin will prepare you and open your eyes to what is needed for the next level so that every box is ticked. Robin’s message is a simple one – you simply cannot be over prepared for eventing and that the smallest detail counts.