XC TIPS AND TRICKS – from Heidi Ford Eventing

Our #greatthings ambassador Heidi Ford hasn’t let 2020 hold her back!  Even though this year has been rather a non starter in terms of….well everything(!), Heidi has been hard at work training, videoing and writing for us!  With the safe return to competition in place, she has been out eventing and had some fab results too.  Today’s blog is all about the cross country phase of eventing and Heidi shares some great advice towards riding that all important, confident clear round.


The start box can determine your XC round ‘mood’.  If your horse comes out of the start box with a forward momentum of energy looking for the flags, they will feel a lot more confident than being pushed out cautiously and having to find their own way.  I like to walk my horses around the box to keep them warm and familiarised.  At 10 seconds I start my stopwatch so I don’t have to think about it coming out. Personally, I keep walking for as long as I can before I go into the start box on about 3 seconds and then go!  How you send your horse out of the start box can depend on their personality. The most important thing is that they’re off your leg and taking you. With a cautious horse, make sure you’re riding forward yourself to give them confidence.  The first fence will come up quickly and the better jump you get over that, the better set-up you will have for the rest of the course.

Click to watch Heidi’s video on riding out of the Start Box


The key to riding a good curved line is straightness and rhythm. The smoother you are the better jump and feel you will get from it. Curved lines come up in all levels and get more technical. Around the corner make sure your horse is off your leg and taking you. Then focus on collecting their canter. This gives you more control and better steering.  Make sure your whip is in your outside hand.  Keep your leg on for encouragement and to stop the horse falling out/in. Remember to have your shoulders and head up.  Look early at the second element with your eyes. Slightly turn your head and open your inside rein fractionally with your outside leg on and your outside rein against your horses. For young horses you can open the rein slightly to channel them.

Click to watch Heidi’s video on Curved Lines


Skinnies are such an important part of the horses training and for all levels. It is important to train your horse so that they understand from a young age as they will only get narrower the further up the levels you go. The precision required will only get tougher. This will help your horses accuracy, balance, coordination and confidence.  Plus it will help you stay central in your seat. Almost anything can be used as a skinny so you can make your own where you can. Skinny poles can be made from old wood, by chopping poles in half. Barrels, any narrow jump on a XC course and the Jump 4 Joy skinny brushes are a suitable alternative. Teach your horse to trot into it.  Give the horse lots of time to register the jump in front of them.  Open your hands slightly to guide the horses contact down and keep focusing on your body position, head up and over the fence and your shoulders back for balance with leg. You can use v poles as a guidance. You can then build this up into canter and begin to take away guides. It is important to tell your horse when he has been good and when he hasn’t quite understood the question.

Click to watch Heidi’s video on Skinnies


One of the biggest mistakes riders make is they look down into the ditch and not over it. This means that your weight tips slightly forward. Thus your horse does too, putting you all out of balance. Find yourself a point above the ditch and stare at it. This will encourage you to keep your shoulders and hands up encouraging a better jump. Also remember to keep your leg on. Ditches come in all levels – they get wider and appear in combinations too the further up you go.

Click to watch Heidi’s video on Ditches


Steps up and steps down appear in all levels of competition on a XC course. Steps up; you need to be secure and in an active trot or canter.  Make sure to keep your shoulders and head up and find a focus point with your leg on for guidance. For steps down make sure you are again, in a secure position looking up at a point. It is important to keep your leg on as some horses may be a bit hesitant at a step and need time to look.

Click to watch Heidi’s video on Steps


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