Normal post bev.2016 12 19.main.all.23.col page 1 image 0001

Lucinda Green’s cross country coaching

In the winter months the BE Charitable Foundation hosted a series of unmounted masterclasses with top coaches and riders; here we share three exercises from Lucinda Green's British Eventing Charitable Foundation Masterclass to help with your cross country.

“I want my horse to see the fence as early as possible,” says Lucinda.

“Gone are the days we could sail, uninterrupted , down to whopping fences a mile wide. Cross country has changed enormously over the years, and modern courses are littered with skinnies and accuracy questions.” 

As a result, focused training built on the correct foundations is essential throughout a horse’s career.

“The cross country paradox is that a horse needs to listen to us, but he also needs to think for himself,” she adds.

Lucinda has set up various exercises in the arena that she uses to work on these key requirements.

Cross country training: skinnies on a turn 

When it comes to reading fences, young horses are like young children with a book: they need large letters and time to focus and process what they see. A four year old horse will require more time to assess a fence, whereas a more established horse will only need a quick skim read to understand the question.
I like to dot skinny fences around the arena on no particular stride. I will often start in walk with a young horse, but you can begin in trot. The rider mustn’t allow the horse to break into canter in the last stride as this constitutes rushing.
The horse must trot again as soon as possible on landing.

  • Two skinny fences are put on a right-hand dog leg. The first is only about 10 metres away from the side of the arena and the second is two or three strides after.
  • Make a controlled turn and get the horse's eye on the first fence as soon as possible.
  • I don’t care how many strides you put in, what I am interested in is whether, having jumped the first fence, you can get the horse’s eye focused on the second part straight away.
  • Afterwards, pull up and halt in a straight line, and pat him.
Up the difficulty 
  • You can make the exercise more challenging by making the angle between the A and B elements more acute and adding a third part on an S-bend. The same principles apply – get the horse focused on each element in turn.
  • Look early: focus your eyes on your line well before you make your turn.
  • If you have a horse that rushes or tries to canter, rather than going to your hand to slow him down, which can cause him to throw his head and invert, slow your rising.

Cross country training: holding a line 

I often ask riders which parts of their body they most use to focus the horse and I am always fascinated by the answers. Personally, I like to think of the eyes, hands and legs creating the triangle of focus.

Here, we have two different fences that can either be taken on a curve or in a straight line. To keep straight you will need to jump the second part (a parallel) on an angle.

Imagine a tube where your calves are connected to the horse’s eyeballs via an invisible wire. Keep your legs gently there all the time and get ready to squeeze out his eyeballs if necessary to keep him on his line.
  • An arrowhead ‘V’ fence is erected down the centre of the school using some plastic stands in the middle and two arms made with poles. This is followed, on an angle, by a parallel.
  • Jump the two fences separately before you put them together.
  • Next, jump from the inside of the arrowhead over the plastic stands and on over the parallel on an angle, keeping a straight line.
  • There are various obstacles in the way on the approach, but you can pick your way around these.
  • Getting the approach and turn right is the key to being able to keep a straight line over the two fences.
Up the difficulty 
  • To make this exercise more difficult you can bring the two arms of the arrowhead closer together and make both elements bigger. You can also try jumping the line in the opposite direction, so there are no arrowhead arms to hold you in.
  • A horse can jump anything if he has all four feet squarely on the ground, but if you allow him to lose a shoulder or lean in a particular direction, he may choose the easier option of running out.
  • Think about your two hands and two legs controlling each of the horse’s four legs. Your right hand controls the right front leg, your left hand the left front leg. Your right leg steers the right hind and your left leg controls the left hind.

Cross country training: fancy footwork 

A horse must take responsibility for his own footwork – and we must allow him to do so. It is all too easy to get hung up on whether you should be putting three or four strides in a combination, but this is irrelevant if you get the horse’s eye on the fence as early as possible and make sure he’s taking you to it.

This exercise helps the horse with his footwork and it can be adapted according to experience.
  • Set up an upright roughly two strides away (it doesn’t have to be exact) from a narrow double bounce fence. The line can be jumped either way.
  • Approach in either trot or a short canter.
  • Allow the horse’s neck to come up to you and make sure you never get ahead of the movement. The horse will not be able to lift his forehand and get himself out of trouble if the rider has collapsed forward onto his neck.
  • Make sure you are in control on landing. Pull up and halt in a straight line if necessary.
Up the difficulty 
  • Move the double bounce on to a dog-leg line on an undetermined distance from the upright. This tests steering as well as footwork.
  • Look early and don't worry about striding; be prepared for the horse to chip in or take off sooner. Don’t think; feel.
  • Use your voice. If you use it in training then you can use it across country 
  • If an exercise goes well first time, stop. We’re trying to recreate cross country scenarios and by going over and over the same fence you take away the element of surprise.