The Magazine September 2020

Hone your cross-country skills in the arena with Nicola Wilson

Posted 5th January 2021

Stuck at home but want to put your essential cross-country skills to the test? Nicola Wilson helps you hone them in the school

Nicola Wilson, cross-country exercises from your arena

Very few riders are fortunate enough to enjoy a sprawling cross-country course at home, which can mean that logging enough hours’ practice over solid fences can be a logistical and financial challenge. Add in the fluctuating travel restrictions of the ongoing pandemic and it stands to reason that you might be looking for ways to maximise your training without leaving home.

Luckily, training for cross-country is a multifaceted affair. While it’s essential that you and your horse have schooled over varying terrain and a wide array of solid obstacles before you tackle the first event of the year, there are plenty of ways you can make sure you’ve got all the puzzle pieces in place before you leave the arena. This month, we take the skills you’ve honed on the flat and over showjumps and use them to tackle the kinds of questions you’re likely to encounter on course.

What it all comes down to

Throughout this series, whether we’ve been working on the flat or over showjumps, everything has been done with one major end goal in mind – boosting your cross-country riding skills. While jumping solid fences is an essential part of even the casual eventer’s training, the skills your horse needs to do it well can be cultivated in every ride. These are…

  • accuracy Taking control of the geometry of the shapes you ride, rather than just hoping for the best, will sharpen your eye and your horse’s responsiveness to the aids
  • focus Your horse should be quick to respond to whatever you ask – and incorporating plenty of transitions and changes of bend will ensure he pays attention
  • line Keep your eyes on the prize – practising a polished trajectory from point to point in the school or over fences will help you train your horse to follow your eye
  • pace Can you change gears within the gaits? Being able to do so will help you find your way through combinations when you head out on course

Top tip

You don’t need to invest lots of money in purpose-built arena eventing fences. Many questions can be built using easy-to-source items such as barrels and blocks, which are perfect for skinnies or corners.

Creating the coffin canter

While many cross-country fences can be jumped out of stride, combinations often require a more manufactured stride length. For this exercise, you’ll need to develop what’s commonly referred to as a coffin canter – the shortest, bounciest pace you can ride without losing power and energy.

To create this short and energetic canter, your horse should first be powering on in a forward stride, working well into your hand so you have a solid contact. Shorten his body – and, as such, his stride – by drawing your shoulders up and back so you’re tall in the saddle, anchoring through your seat bones, and close your hands without taking your leg aids off. As you turn to the line, you may find you need a bit of extra shortening. In this case, employ a half-halt as you begin the turn, which will allow you to ask for more energy as you complete it.

Pick up a copy of March Horse&Rider, on sale 7 January 2021, for some great exercises for you to try.

 

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