Getting used to the great outdoors
The basic training of the young horse should be varied and develop all his skills. Riding cross-country over varied ground and over small natural obstacles plays a very important part in this and teaches many horses to be worldly wise and sure-footed. Basically, the more the horse grows up in a natural environment and learns to work on varied terrain, the more confidently he will move. In our experience training a horse for cross-country can highlight his individual attributes, which can indicate in which direction his future lies, such as specializing in dressage or showjumping.

We will now examine the first steps of cross-county training, and continue by discussing how best one can introduce young horses to typical cross-country fences.

The horse should always remain securely on the aids whether in the indoor school, the outdoor arena or the open country. He must be controllable in all situations so that riding crosscountry is stress-free and safe for horse and rider. However, it is not advisable to use a more severe bit to control the horse. It can easily happen that the rider gets left behind and unwittingly hangs onto the bit at the first cross-country obstacle, in which case the horse experiences pain in his mouth and can easily lose his desire to jump.

The one artificial aid that is allowed, and that can be useful with strong horses, is a running martingale. This must be adjusted long enough to give the horse the freedom to jump without being inhibited.

Before the first cross-country obstacles are attempted, the horse must have developed a good sense of balance. Also, there must be harmony between horse and rider. A naturally anxious horse needs a great deal of trust in his rider so that he does not panic and run away in unfamiliar situations. This trust requires that the rider is confident and competent. Trust requires respect and heightens obedience. The horse must respect, but not fear, the rider’s aids and obey all the leg and whip aids in order for the rider to cope with all situations.

For safety reasons, both horse and rider should be properly equipped. The most important item for the rider is a correctly fitting safety helmet (with a three-point harness) and a body protector. Short, blunt spurs and a whip (a maximum of 75 cm in length in total) are useful aids. Should the horse leap suddenly to one side, or make a bigger jump than expected, causing the rider to lose balance and leg position, there is less danger of injury with short, blunt spurs. Encouragement can be given by using the short jumping whip either on the shoulder or just behind the leg. For the latter both reins must be taken in one hand to avoid jerking the horse in the mouth. Protective boots that enclose the leg fully are important for the horse, as opposed to jumping boots that do not. Boots that protect the tendons are important on the forelegs, and those that protect the cannon bones on the hind legs. These are useful should the horse hit a fence. Overreach boots on the forelegs prevent damage to the heels with the hind shoes.

The demands of cross-country training, riding up and down hills and over different surfaces, make it harder work for the horse than being in the school or the jumping arena. This is why the horse must first be made fit enough, this fitness being developed by lungeing, gentle hacking and loosening exercises under saddle. This is the way to avoid over-exertion and injuries such as strains.

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