EVENTING CROSS COUNTRY ADVICE FROM PRO RIDER ALTHEA BLEEKMAN
We have asked selected pro riders to pass on their top tips to answer some of the most common areas riders struggle with when training and competing their own horses. This week we hear from international event rider Althea Bleekman. Althea has seen success in eventing from an early age; having competed in and being placed in her first intermediate at the age of just 15!
Pony European team selection followed plus a team silver medal too! Progressing up the grades through 2* and 3* meant the selectors remained very interested in Althea and in 2013 the Senior European Championships beckoned and Althea made the team there too! With her first 4* just a step away, she is certainly one rider to watch out for!
1. How can i make my horse more confident through water?
It is really important to take your time with water. Horses can be naturally wary of water because they cannot easily judge the depth or the footing underneath. Make sure you can school through water, prior to competition outings, to build confidence for both horse and rider. Let the horse look, see and think.
Enter the water in a steady balanced manner and maintain your speed throughout, never try to rush through water. Give plenty of praise and reward when you have successfully been in and out of the water. Focus on making water a positive experience and this will build your horses confidence.
2. I need to improve my accuracy over skinnies, are there any exercises that may help?
Yes I have a great exercise that you can use at home in the arena. Build a small skinny fence with a short showjumping pole. This doesn’t have to be a big height to start with, keep it simple to begin with and you can build it up.
Start your approach in walk and then trot and just keep repeating. Eventually you can progress to trot and canter and then just canter. If you need more direction with your approach you can use two poles on the ground to make a tunnel which can help keep you straight and central on approach.
3. My horse tends to run on through combinations, how can i work on keeping him together more?
You can use grid work at home in the arena to help keep you and your horse focused and rhythmical over multiple fences. Keep and maintain a good line and keep a steady supporting leg aid against the horses side. Keep your rhythm slower and remain balanced throughout. If the horse rushes a little you can keep your weight back a little more to steady him up. You can then build other combinations in the arena to school your horse: for example on related distances, dog legs, turns and bounces.
4. How can i improve my horses fitness when my hacking is limited?
If you have a small field or an arena this does not mean you cannot have a fit horse. You can ride some hacking type work around the arena or in the field you use daily. Here are some great examples:
–canter work; ride working canter along the short sides and medium canter down the long sides. Ride equal circuits on each rein – you can increase the amount as the horse gets fitter. if you just have a field use some cones to mark out an arena shape.
–lunge work; including over poles
–timed trot work; using the letters in the arena or the cones in your field, ride a large square, trot for a set amount of time e.g 2 mins, then ride in walk for 2 mins and then repeat. Make a change of rein and repeat in the other direction. You can build up the times for trot as your horse gets fitter and then reduce the walk times in between. This is like interval training.
Ultimately, the basis of all fittening work is walk. Its great to get out on the roads and get the horses walking forward – this helps to strengthen tendons and ligaments and well start to get them fit.
5. How can i improve my confidence riding cross country, i get so nervous warming up and in the start box!?
This is something that many riders feel, so please do not worry. I always advise my pupils to try to treat a competition like a daily exercise and believe you can do it!
For the cross country course, spend a few minutes before you mount up just sitting and picturing the course in your head; remembering the fences from when you walked the course and think about how you are going to ride them successfully.
Picture yourself riding a consistent clear round and your horse responding well to your aids. In your warm up keep your horses attention with transitions and maybe even some lateral work, so he is totally switched on to you and ready for action! When in the start box, keep breathing and focusing on listening to the starter. Count down in your head with the starter and believe in yourself and your horse and ride away positively with that finish line in sight!!