“I had totally forgotten just how amazing cross country feels.”

This month, Sarah and Hugo take training from Canadian Olympic rider Rebecca Howard and complete their first ever cross country course together – find out how it went.

When we picture March we usually think of warmer weather, blazing sunshine and lots of fitness work, right? Well, not this year!
The 'beast from the east' certainly wasn’t kind to us as the season kicked off around the country. Fortunately (or unfortunately?) the Scottish eventing season doesn’t start until mid-April with Forgandenny, so I haven’t had to face the bitter sting of disappointment that comes with a cancelled event. 
The snow came, outstayed its welcome and then returned again briefly, but thankfully as I write this blog we have enjoyed a fantastic two days of glorious sunshine – it seems that spring has finally arrived! I forgot just how much I love ‘horsey’ weekends and my journey with my youngster, Hugo, as we prepare for our first event is proving to be really exciting. 
This month we attended an indoor cross country clinic with Canadian Olympic rider Rebecca Howard, which was a great session. We worked on ensuring that our horses were in front of our leg by lengthening and shortening the trot and canter while riding squares rather than circles. Hugo can sometimes be fast and somewhat ‘creative’ with his transitions, so it’s quite easy to assume that he is always in front of my leg, however as Rebecca pointed out this can sometimes be an evasive tactic, so we worked on getting him really listening to me and moving forward correctly from my leg into my hands. We came quietly into skinnies and then pushed forward over the more solid fences, which was great preparation for the challenge that loomed the following weekend … baby Hugo’s very first big boy cross country! 
Following the cancellation of our cross country schooling at Hendersyde, we were somewhat ill-prepared for the big day as I had yet to jump Hugo on grass and we hadn’t done a whole lot of cantering in fields either, so unfortunately we were just going to have to wing it. I was feeling confident as he had been schooling and hacking beautifully, but just three days before kick-off Hugo sent me a not-so-gentle reminder to not get too complacent as an exuberant canter transition brought with it the mother of all bronks and I was ejected out of the saddle and hit the ground with a thud before I knew what was happening! Luckily, there was no lasting damage and I was secretly pleased to learn that at almost 28 I can still bounce back up like a teenager!
We boxed up ready and raring to tackle our very first Hunter Trail; we were just doing the 80cm but it was a full up course with fantastic ground conditions. He walked calmly to the warm-up but was a bit on the flighty side when the other horses cantered past, producing some very fancy side steps and a few leaps that led a steward to say: “Well, this is a feisty one!” as he launched six feet in the air over a small upright. 
Then I heard the phrase that strikes maximum fear and excitement at the very same time: “Number 112, you have two minutes.” We approached the starter as she counted down from five and as soon as we were across that start line, Hugo completely relaxed and seemed to know exactly what he was there to do, which was amazing considering he has never stepped foot on a cross country course before!
We had the time of our lives. I haven’t been cross country since the Scottish Championships at Hendersyde last August and I had totally forgotten just how amazing it feels – there is genuinely no feeling that compares to the thrill of galloping through open fields and over solid fences. I had so much fun and Hugo felt absolutely amazing – even when we wobbled on a couple of the lines, he just looked for the flags and went, finishing our first ever cross country with a confident clear round. 
After such an amazing round I have been on a high all day as I could not be more excited about the season. I just know that this horse is going to be a superstar!
Stay tuned.