Everything Else

Cross Country Theory Part 1

I recently organised an un-mounted cross country clinic with BE trainer Hayley Newman for grassroots riders. Hayley very kindly pulled together some notes which I have transcribed below.


A successful cross country round requires:

a)      A good canter with the ability to change gears.

b)      A clear understanding of the scales of training

c)       A well balanced rider

d)      Plenty of preparation

e)      Fit horse and rider for the job

f)       Correctly fitting tack and studs

g)      Confidence/Enjoyment



The rider’s position is VITAL – we watched a BE produced video of good/ bad riding and the ones who were most successful when something went wrong were those who were balanced and able to react quickly.


The Rider’s Position

1)      The straight line from ear, shoulder, hip to heel is a vital for flatwork.

2)      Shoulder, knee, toe line is for the light seat (or 2-point/poise position)

3)      The lower leg is the life line in cross country riding. It needs to be secure through a perpendicular stirrup. This is not an easy thing to achieve and the only way you will get it is through demonstration and practice, practice, practice!

4)      Do you have any physical weaknesses (knees, ankles etc) that will make 2-point position hard? Can these weaknesses be worked on through additional gym work or stretches?

5)      Rider fitness – this is vital. An unfit rider is an unfair rider to the horse.


The Horse

1)      It’s all in the canter – rhythm, rhythm, rhythm.

2)      How the scales of training apply to cross country.

3)      Confidence and courage – rhythm is the key.

4)      Horse Fitness

5)      Letting the horse take ownership of the fences.


The Scales of Training



Rhythm is the regularity of the beat within the gait. Until a horse or pony can trot or canter in a regular rhythm it is almost impossible for it to improve any other part of its way of going.


Both from side to side, left and right and longitudinally so the horse can begin to work in a rounded shape, and does not resist when the rider gives an aid.


Does the weight of the reins feel the same in both hands? Does it feel elastic? Is there more weight into one hand or the other, or is the horse bearing down on your hands? The hind legs should be connected by a band of muscles along the back, neck and poll allowing the rider to feel the forward energy equally into both hands.


The energy the horse steps forwards with whilst maintaining his balance. The first scale just has rhythm. This scale has rhythm, balance and energy because the hind legs are further under the body enabling the horse to spring forwards easily.


As the horse becomes suppler, balanced and energetic it will find it easier to work straight, so within every movement the hind legs will follow in the tracks that the front legs have created.


Once the horse has all the previous scales in place he is able to balance himself better and better. They should now be able to take more of their own weight and the riders weight over their hind legs and perform with greater power.

These scales also apply to jumping. It is handy to have a horse that can collect when approaching a big fence off a tight corner.


Introducing an inexperienced horse or rider to cross country

The best way to introduce an inexperienced horse or rider to cross country is through simulated cross country.

a)      It’s safer – the fences knockdown and the teaching area is contained.

b)      Progressive – heights, spreads and angles can be built up.

c)       Confidence building for the horse and rider.

d)      Convenient – Can be easily done in any arena.

e)      Easier communication – riders are nearer to their trainer.

f)       Educative – more potential for theoretical learning.

g)      Relevant – Modern cross country is much more technical.

h)      Less stressful for inexperienced riders

i)        Less concussion and strain on the horse

j)        Not weather dependent.

The types of fences which can be simulated are: corners, angled rails, offset rails, arrowheads, skinny, bounces, ditches, solid fences like roll tops and bullfinch.

Fences that cannot be simulated are: water, steps, drops, banks, sunken roads, into/out of dark, ski jump and steeplechase for the speed.


Jumping Corners

1)      Bisect the angle with the imaginary line (A)

2)      Aim to jump the imaginary B line at a right angle to the A line.

3)      Find your horses ‘optimum spread’ – too close to the point of the corner and your horse will glance off. Too far in and the spread is too wide.

4)      Pick 4 points

a)      The turning Point

b)      The front rail

c)       The back rail

d)      The getaway

5)      When the 4 points are aligned, commit the horse to the line.

6)      Be aware which direction your horse tends to drift )the majority fall through their right shoulder).

7)      However at BE90 and BE100 with angles of less than 30 degrees in the corner you should on the whole ride the corner straight and jump the front rail straight on.

8)      The canter must be fairly short, with power. Ride as for a spread fence. ‘Speed is the enemy’.


Angled Rails

The principle of angled rails is much the same as the corner so we tend to school the same together to clarify the learning.

1)      Either build up a treble as a progressive grid then increase the angles (be careful to keep the centres at the same distance as the angles change).

2)      You can also jump the individual elements straight on then as a straight line.

3)      Plan the following:

a)      Your turning point

b)      The exact spot you are aiming to jump in the centres

c)       The getaway.



Offset Rails

If angled rails have been mastered then the principle of offset rails is the same.

1)      Be clear about the quality of the canter.

2)      Make sure you have a clear line to follow.


straightMore to follow.

About the author


An amateur rider who produces all her own horses. I have competed at novice level and sadly never got further due to bad luck with horses but I am still ambitious to achieve a lot more. I have a riding qualification in UKCC2 and a diploma in NLP. Sports science and particularly the mental game fascinates me. For a day job I work for a large multinational brand.


  • Very good article 🙂 However, I think we have to be careful not to over-complicate XC, especially at the lower levels. In that context, I would take slight issue with the following:

    1) Scales of training – while these are useful, I don’t accept a rider needs a really thorough understanding of them to ride effectively XC. If you can ride in a rhythm, change gear, and ride a line, you have a pretty good starting point! These things can be taught to kids, for instance, whereas their eyes start to glaze over if you try to talk to them about the scales of training.

    2) line to a corner – to start finding four points to line up is wayy too complicated and quite unnecessary! Once you have decided thr correct line and placeon thr fence you want to jump, just puck somewhere on the frint of the jump that you can see easily on the approach, and a point in the distance beyond which corresponds to your line (and is not mobile!), and line these two up, that’s your line. If you have a straight approach to the corner, you can often pick your line up 500m away, if you have a turn to it, go back and walk again, and decide where you need to make your turn to give you enough time to get on your line in plenty of time. Simples 🙂

  • I agree with you and think there are probably different levels of theory. My eyes would probably have glazed as a teenager! But as an adult I like more detail and I think theory needs to go in hand with really good coaching. The theory tells you what you are actually doing and why as sometimes we do not think about it enough.