Tips from my notes from Yogi Breisner’s Lecture on XC Riding Techniques and XC Safety Concerns, from the BE training in Newmarket in 2010.
9 out of 10 falls xc have something to do with rider error.
The key tenets of good XC riding:
1. Rider Position – balance.
Yogi asked us:
How many times do you go xc schooling per year?
Most said, a few times before start of the season.
Francis Whittington (the most experienced rider in the room) said: “5 times before start of the season, then twice a month, with 4 or 5 horses each time.”
2. Judgement of Speed – Gear changes.
XC is the dominant phase, but is usually practised the least compared to Dr and SJ.
We need to practise working uphill, downhill, on all terrains and types of footing.
He made the comparison to Formula 1 Motor Racing – drivers know every inch of the track, will know beforehand exactly what speed, gear, revs etc to have at every turn etc.
The same for riders – different gears for different types of fences.
3. Control – keeping to a line.
4. Types of approach. (The different ‘gears’)
A. Jumping out of stride in a rhythm, a fence with a nice slope to the front – e.g. steeplechase fence, hedge, sloping rails.
Allow the horse to use its own eye and judgement, and to think for itself.
This would be equivalent to 5th Gear in a car.
B. Short bouncy level stride – for difficult combinations, problem fences – e.g. coffins, sunken roads, drops, water jumps, (some) skinnies.
BUT not riding backwards.
Equivalent to 2nd or 3rd gear, but with plenty of revs.
C. Setting the horse up to find the stride – e.g. upright gate, square parallel, hayrack, box. Fences with unforgiving front profiles, which require you to “showjump” the fence.
Equates to 4th, 3rd or even 2nd gear, depending on the fence.
D. Gathering the horse up to approach off a short accelerating stride – e.g. steps up, sloping feeders, triple bars (sloping wide fences you don’t want to stand off).
Turning the horse into a bit of a cat.
A low and sloping fence won’t set the horse up, so rebalance and then move forward to it, the “oomph” you are approaching with will mean that the take-off point is not so important.
If the horse is clever, you could use approach A. to type C., it is not set in stone.
We were shown photographs of different types of fence, and asked which of the above approaches, A., B., C., or D., we would use for each individual fence, and why. Also, a photograph of two different types of skinny (one brush-topped and sloping-fronted, the other with a convex front arching towards you, and no brush on top) and asked which would we prefer to tackle. To me, one was very obviously far easier, but interestingly, opinion was divided, so perhaps sometimes the difficulty is in the eye of the beholder, not just the Course Designer’s mind.
The Terrain – Going.
Things to practise when hacking out and when on the gallops.
Downhill – Gradual – makes horse go with an open stride, on the forehand. It is more difficult to jump from this.
Downhill – Steep – horses prop, and bring their hindquarters underneath them.
Uphill – easier, lightens forehand, but the stride length shortens, which changes distances.
When the going is the ‘Top of the Ground’ – horse makes up more ground in distances. This has to be taken into account.
Deep Going – more leg required.
Different cambers – need practising.
Slippery – horse braces, skids. Revs required to keep the horse’s feet moving. More attacking riding is required.
The legendary trainer Lady Hugh Russell at Wylye used to get riders to practise whole XC ‘course’ without any jumps, just practising gear changes.
Dangerous Riding encompasses:
Out of control.
Out of balance.
Pushing a tired horse.
Taking strides out.
Jumping from a standstill.
Rider ahead of the movement.
Not sticking to a line.
A horse worked on all types of terrain will have better balance and a fresher mind. And, it goes without saying, be more adept at coping with whatever it meets xc.
Lots of ideas to work on there, I hope!