Here at Selwood Equine, as we get over our excitement from another fabulous Badminton Horse Trials and we all feel ready to tackle some cross country ourselves, we have taken some time to compile ten great tips for all you budding event riders out there. Helpful hints to keep in mind when you walk your cross country course. Walking the course is especially important, not just because you need to know where you are going(!) but because you have the opportunity to take everything in through your horses eyes as well your own. This gives you the knowledge to prepare and therefore ride as positively as you can around your course.
1. Time Out
Know the optimum time (if applicable) and bear this in mind when walking the course, checking out lines and turns where you can save time, also what are the direct routes or the alternative long routes (again if applicable).
2. Box clever
Take the time to check out the start box. Its position and the entrance to it need to be noted. How spacious is it; can you walk your horse in a small circle in the box or will you need to walk into it and then start? All this can affect the start of your run and you need to plan accordingly for the most responsive and positive start.
3. Line up
Make sure you walk the exact line you want to take to each fence and in between. The ground can be undulating on a cross country course so you need to take this into consideration and plan your lines around any lumps, bumps or dips if necessary. Also be aware of the line away from the fence and how you are riding off and landing.
4. Visualise and Optimise
Take the time to look at each fence so you can then visualise in your minds eyes as part of your preparation. Knowing in your mind what you are riding to next allows you to prepare your horse correctly. If you know a drop fence is coming, a skinny, or a spread for example you can ride effectively for that particular type of obstacle – collecting or extending, opening the horse up or keeping the canter short and bouncy. Know your speed and balance for each fence.
5. Take in your surroundings
Have a good look around each fence and along the course. Keep in mind how things can appear different due to changes in light and shade, this can affect both yours and your horses perception of the fences? Try to walk your course around the same time you will be riding it (where possible) so you can get a true idea of where the sun and shade will be. Also, is there anything spooky nearby – banners, tents etc that may cause your horse to take a look as you pass.
6. Watch yourself
If you are wearing a watch then you will walk the course with a measuring wheel and plan your minute markers for your timing. Use fixed objects like trees as your minute markers – these will not move and will still be there on the day!!
7. Horses for courses
Know your horses strengths and weaknesses and bear these in mind when walking your course. Use this to plan how you will be riding the fences and obstacles. Does your horse have a weaker side where he may fall out around turns – can you set yourself with more space and wider turn if this is the case? Or if bold at water for example utilise this and take a direct line through to save time.
8. Do look back
As you are walking your course take the time to look behind you to, this allows you to check your lines and see if you really are as straight or tight as you can be.
9. Step up
Walk your distances and then double check them. As much as you need to be able to ride with your minds eye and deal with what you horse gives you on the day, having knowledge of striding in a combination for example will help you to prepare to ride it the best you can. Know if it is a ‘leg on’ for a long one or a ‘hold together’ for a short stride.
10. Cross the line
Know exactly where your finish flags are and how far from the last fence they are positioned. Will you have the space to be pushing on for time if required and be galloping over the line? Don’t forget as well, you must pass through those flags to finish!!
Don’t forget to enjoy yourself out there on course and be safe as well; body protector and hat to be to current safety standards and correctly fitted. Also have your medical armband on and filled in up to date. Make sure your horse is fit and well and properly prepared for the competition, with correct boots and tack fitted. Take the time before you start to quietly remember the course in your head, how you want to ride it and the lines you want to take. Take a deep breath, wait for the countdown and whistle and kick on!!