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Harry Meade Pearls of Wisdom from European Eventing Champs

One of the stand out things from the European Eventing Championships was Harry Meade’s commentary. Here are some of the gems that Harry came out with. Useful points anyone doing cross country should remember. 

Cross Country

·         About fences with a drop on landing – Sit back, release the reins so the horse can take its head and neck down without pulling the riders body down otherwise you can end up in front of the movement and unseated. 

·         Good horsemanship is about a smooth and efficient round

·         On a Swiss rider who had a big jump over the mounds fence and got pitched forwards: She slightly overcooked the pace coming in and did not release with the hand, the horse lowered the head and neck and pulled the rider forward and out of balance. The rider needs to be independent from the horse’s head and neck.  

·         You do not want to be in water in a long flat canter. It should be a short snappy canter to help them with what they need to do leaving the water i.e. up a step

·         She had a run out then because of her line. She was still turning rather than going wider and allowing the horse a clear view of the skinny out.  

·         With xc if the horse has not seen where he is going you cannot expect him to understand it. As a rider, your most essential first thing is to come at the right speed and then execute it.

·         The horse’s ears are your guide to whether they have understood what is coming up. 

·         The biggest mistake you can make xc is getting in front of the movement. You can make all kinds of mistakes behind the movement.

·         If you start to lose time in that first minute you will not make it back. You need to set out in the spirit with which you intend to go around. 

·         If you can save half a second on each fence by a quick getaway it soon adds up

·         On Ollies position being a low galloping position – You don’t want to be too low that you put your weight over the horse’s shoulder but the shorter you ride the more you can concertina down without the weight going forwards a bit like a squat. Where Ollie is so good is balancing his shoulders back when needed and then immediately push forwards again.  

·         Cross country horses must use their intellect all the way round going past fences they are not required to jump and trees.

·         On Julia K run out at a narrow triple brush: – it’s always much harder to jump an arrowhead on top of a mound because you want to get right up to the front of it but a horse can see the ground falls away the other side so they are reluctant. So, the key is to get up to the front of the fence like a long jumper would to the white board and not go too early. Focus on the back of the fence.  

·         Always stay in the present, don’t look back to a mistake. Clear your mind and get straight back into the zone.

·         Over a straightforward fence you are looking to keep a good rhythm and not waste any time. 

·         The fastest horses have an almost daisy cutting action, the legs travel forwards, propelling the horse forwards rather than in an upwards direction.

·         When a horse’s ear comes back they will take their eye very slightly off a fence. When they really understand a fence both ears lock onto a fence and as a rider you are very aware of how they have read a question. 

·         It is very hard to change your speed part way round a course. You are better to start strong.

·         He just allowed the horse to pick his way through the mound. The job of the rider is to come at the right speed and on the right line and leave the horse alone. The key to being a top xc rider is to know when to be passive and quiet and when to be aggressive.  

·         Cross country riding is about getting the job done, it is not about style, it is about being effective

·         The horse has to be looking for the target, they instinctively look for gaps and for a young untrained horse this will be looking for go past, you are using that instinct to try and hone them to look where they need to jump. They have to clear the fence and not look to go for the gap. It is about the relationship between the horse and rider and the skill of the rider to come on the right line and give the horse time. Even though you are travelling quickly you want to be able to slow the horses brain down and let them focus. Brains can become addled like the blades of a helicopter which get faster and cannot focus. Travelling too fast into a complex cross-country question can have that effect. 

·         Got a very big jump over that fence and you do not want to use up those lives, you should be adding to confidence at straightforward fences, not taking away

·         It doesn’t matter how tall or short you are its about angles. I would like to put his stirrups up 4 holes. 

·         The benefits of working on a hill – You do your galloping on a hill which works the heart and lungs and you put less concussion on your legs. When working on a flat gallop you have to go faster to get the same effect on heart and lungs. Thus your increase of injury increases over the possible benefits.

·         A horse can lose heat very easily when travelling. When it pulls up after a hard cross country, it heats up so you need to come down to a steady canter, steady trot and then walk to help with the cooldown. When they are still you need to immediately begin to start cooling.  

·         The horses heart rate is very high when galloping and the heart can free fall down when you pull up after cross country so in a controlled way the heart needs to come down again another reason why you need to pull up gradually

·         On the Italian rider giving lots of pats – The most important thing for the horse on cross country is to travel in good balance, you are supporting them gently through the rein and your upper body. You are supporting the horse so you don’t want to drop them on their front end. 

·         With Sjing you are training for perfection, so much of cross country is dealing with things when they go wrong. You are on a committed distance and if something happens you need to get out of jail which comes down to your position and instincts. Instincts and position is about being able to shift your position back, allowing with the hand so the horse can use his neck. Whereas a lot of people climb forwards and grab with the hand which means the rider takes control and takes away the ability of the horse to think for himself.

·         When you come up a hill to a fence you want to be able to allow the head and neck so the horse can use its own judgement because it is difficult to use your eye up a fence to a steep hill. A downhill fence is the opposite, you want to support through the rein. It is very easy to get it wrong.  

·         Every time a horse turns or goes up a hill it puts the hind legs underneath which can help you with balance

·         It is important to walk between the fences when you walk your course so you straighten out your curves to make you as efficient as possible.  

·         You need to be straight at your fences in the last few strides. If a horse hits a fence at an angle, it will hit it with one foot before the other and it will cause the horse to tip forwards and not just forwards but sideways and when a horse rotates in a barrel roll its very unseating.

·         The key thing is whether the distance is forwards or waiting. This is far more important than the number of strides. This will dictate what you do with your upper body and what you ask the horse to do. 

·         On an open ditch you can keep on coming at it because the horse will naturally back themselves off so you can keep coming on a looser rein and let the ditch do the work of setting up for you.

·         You should treat each phase like a different competition. This will help you take the pressure off yourself. Live in the present.  

·         It is very easy after the cross country to be on a high. It is important to give yourself some time and to relive it and then after an hour move on and get into show jumping mode.

·         Confidence is not down to how the horse performs on the day, confidence is accumulated over years.  

·         I always try to think about where my 3rd minute marker is. You cannot change your pace halfway through. You need to travel like it’s a middle-distance race, starting with that quick tempo without the pressure

·         Most of the horses at this level will have a weak phase, it’s just the riders are good enough to cover it up. Most riders will put in 50-60% of their time into dressage and on a tough course like this it starts to look a bit disproportionate.  

·         Another one who is riding long, it means you have a higher centre of gravity so your body is very upright. If something goes wrong you get pivoted forwards and catapulted out the front of the horse. With shorter stirrups, your weight goes down into your stirrups.

·         The easiest way to learn distances – I put a dot of white paint and measure 24 strides to another dot of white paint = 24ft and check that my stride is accurate. 

·         You are looking to turn the horses shoulder on a curved line of fences. There, he pulled on the head. Otherwise you can get a jack knife effect where you pull on the horse’s head and the rest of the horse goes out wider like a lorry jack knifing. When you turn you are looking to do it with the outside rein and the outside leg, to stop that ribcage and shoulder drifting out. There is always a centrifugal drift especially the faster you go and you are looking to counter that drift.  

·         I find it surprising that she had her stick in the left hand when all the horses are running out to the right. If you had your stick in your right hand you would have a better chance. Schoolboy error

·         The more long routes you take, you are turning your horse away from the direction of travel. The most important concept of cross country is travelling from A to B with the horse drawing forwards. As soon as you turn them away they can just back off the bridle and lose the sense of direction.  

·         You can see this horse has a very long stride so the rider had to quieten down the pace to compensate and take away the speed. If you were riding a pony you would keep up the tempo. When we talk about stride length it’s a 3-dimensional thing. You can alter the stride length and add different amounts of power. You have gears within there. It is the rider’s ability to adjust gears particularly coming down a gear. You want to be able to do that without changing pace. Keep the horse up together without taking away the speed. So, you can drop from 5th to 3rd gear without touching the brake.

·          Michael Jung rides this horse in a very fast rhythm and he always looks slightly more frantic on this horse than he does on others because he cannot let the speed drop. This mare has quite a short stride and so she needs to be fast. You can either increase your stride length or have a faster turnover of stride which he does on this mare. He wastes no time on this horse shaving his lines. This mare can shorten very easily. 

He stays very low in his body position and has a low centre of gravity which will help him if he needs it. He does not change his position much because he is naturally in that low position, its just a slight unfolding of his body. He rides with a good length of rein so the horse can react if anything goes wrong.


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.