LUCINDA GREEN - A great reminder of her gems of advice before going cross country riding
The importance of riding through 'feel' and of keeping your weight away from the front of the horse were two of the many gems of advice given at a Lucinda Green 'Cross Country, the Safe Way' clinic.
Riders should sharpen their skills and reactions, before going cross-country.
In the arena session riders started off by tackling a variety of small fences (no more than 18inches high), including skinnies and arrowheads, with Lucinda emphasising that anything went for this exercise except for two 'No's' - No canter and No running out.
'Walk or trot over all the obstacles but don't canter' said Lucinda. 'Event horses must land and listen to their rider. In trot they learn to listen to you.' Lucinda stresses that at no time should horses learn that they could stop and be turned away from a fence. 'If you horse does stop please don't turn him away, instead back him away a little and then ride forwards positively and over/through/under the fence.'
The Three Fs
With this exercise completed Lucinda explained that the clinic was about three Fs ie:
FUN - 'too much money is spent to not enjoy what you are doing. We all go through rough times in this sport but if you don't love horses and enjoy it, don't do it.
FOCUS - Lucinda added that both horse and rider needed to focus on the job in hand. In the clinic riders were faced with lots of little problems so they could practice focusing.
FOOTWORK - 'It's important that the horse is able to dance in front of a fence, is quick and agile like a tennis player who is waiting at the base line for a 180mph serve. A horse who can do this is able to get out of trouble quickly and is not going to fall.'
She explained that in canter the horses would practise the footwork skills needed and all the various exercises in the clinic would help - she would not be using known distances between combinations of fences. As a spectator at the clinic, you could see horses adjusting their striding to deal with the questions.
Body awareness & focus
For the second exercise Lucinda asked the riders to jump all the fences and to be aware of what they were doing with their bodies to keep their horses focused. On completion, she asked each rider to name the two most important parts of their bodies they had used to focus their individual horse.
Everyone's answer was different, varying from hands to legs, eyes to shoulders. Lucinda stressed the importance of the rider's eyes and how everyone's focus via their vision was really powerful, especially as horses are usually very sensitive and pick up the vibes around them - including where their riders are looking. If you are 'beaming in' on a fence, so will your horse, if you are looking elsewhere, so will your horse.
She then explained that if riders think of the horse as being in a tube, between the rider's legs and hands, with a connection each side between the horse's eyeball and the rider's calf, this would help the focus and control of horse and rider.
The riders tested this out, around the course, making much better jobs of difficult lines eg from a skinny fence on a curving line to another skinny fence.
Riding by feel
With each horse and rider combination Lucinda stressed the importance of the rider riding by feel. She explained that her fences, which including combinations such as arrowhead-skinny-skinny-skinny-arrowhead followed by upright-skinny on plastic-offset skinny were not set on known distances. Riders might therefore experience some uncomfortable jumps and they had to be 'ready for anything' - as you do across country.
While these exercises taught the horses to fine-tune their footwork, they helped the riders to improve their reactions. 'It doesn't matter that you do not look perfect every time' Lucinda told the riders. 'You've got to be ready for anything, for your horse to stop, to hit a fence, to land and crumple. These kind of things will happen no matter how well you ride.'
Your 'see-saw' horse
'Think of your horse as a see-saw' said Lucinda. 'If you sit on one end (ie on your saddle, leaning back if needed) the other end of the see-saw (ie the horse's front end) will come up. Your job is not to leave your end of the see-saw so that your horse can continue to use his front end and snap it out of the way of the fence.
'You have to feel what is happening - thinking can block feeling. In front of a fence a horse will do one of two things ie show his intention (to jump or not) or ask a question.
'You need to feel which one it is and react. It's your legs that do the feeling and reacting. By the time everything has reached your brain it's too late.
'You also have to be ready for your horse to tell you a little lie as he may say he's going to jump but then at the last second say No, perhaps because he can't see a landing side eg if you are tackling a log on top of a hill. So you always need to be there, feeling and reacting so you are clearly telling your horse what you want him to do.'
Above: Jumping down into water this rider stays out of her horse's way and lets the horse use herself efficiently, with encouragement from the rider but without interfering adversely with the horse's balance.
Jumping from walk
To help develop this feel and co-ordination Lucinda ended the first day's clinic by getting the riders to walk their horses up to a two-foot fence and jump from walk. 'Just about any horse can build up to jumping three foot out of walk' she said.
The riders had to establish a good walk as they approached the fence, sit back and let the horse spring off the ground.
'This is seriously good practice for getting chucked out of the saddle which will happen going cross country' she said.
Above: The riders put their walk jumping into practice on the cross country course.
For more cross country exercises and tips click here