FLUENCY, FLUENCY, FLUENCY!!!
Watching the very best eventers going around a XC course is like watching a wave of water flowing over rocks. The horse rider combination looks totally in control, simply unflappable in every way. The canter is pacey between the jumps, rhythmical and thinking forwards on approach to jumps, powerful and energetic, yet smooth over the jump.
Riders who get this feel and produce these sort of xc rounds on all their horses are not just brave, taught well and experienced but are truly talented. It’s very similar to dressage in a way in that the you’re looking for your horse to be balanced and regular but also in front of the leg and thinking forwards.
He needs to be able to put a short one on if he get a bad stride or be able to take a long one in his stride.
To me, the masters of this have always been Andrew Nicholson, Mark Todd, Blyth Tait, Bryce Newman, Andrew Hoy and Vaughan Jeffries. The one thing they all have in common is New Zealand. I’m bound to be a little biased towards the Kiwis as I spent part of a season there a while back (when NZ won everything), competing for Bryce and Michelle and it really opened my eyes up. Nothing phases them. They have an unusually natural ability on a horse that is extremely rare.
A few tips that come to mind…...
- Kick on. Don’t over check - Hooking back and firing at jumps is not a good idea as is breaks the rhythm. Look for the line above the jumps, ride the line like a tightrope.
- The shortest route is not necessarily the fastest route. Walk each combination fence with fluency in mind and ask yourself ‘which route can I flow through without breaking the rhythm’. Way up the distance travelled each way, the energy required for each and the ability your horse has of doing the each route too.
- Always have a plan B. In combinations always work out a “what if” route should the first jump not be clean or you lose direction or speed for some reason.
- Time check points. Know where you need to be at a certain time so you can gauge the speed you’re travelling. Choose a time point somewhere between jumps on the straight so you don’t have to negotiate too much while checking your stopwatch.
- Check your brakes after water. Wet reins often slip through your hands in certain types of gloves, so take a half halt after going through the water and literally ‘check your brakes’.
- Try keep your head on a horizontal plane. Keep tight and balanced, not loose and unbalancing. Andrew Nicholson is a master of this, so watch him approaching a fence, jumping it and moving on. His eyes follow a horizonal path with his body becoming a human shock absorber, so helping the balance and rhythm of his horse.
- If possible, watch others jump the course and the consider the distances and strides they put in combinations, the lines they take and the size stride the horse has. See which routes keep the most fluency and check for depth of the water when they come in steady or a bit bolder.
- Think quick and know you horse. So if he’s short striding then choose a different line in combinations to a longer striding horse. Don’t get in front of the movement as a leg left behind will mean out the front door for you. Grip with your knees a little and keep your lower leg stable and on the girth. Be prepared to slip the reins allowing the horse to use his head and neck to balance himself should the situation arise.
There’ll be many more I’m sure but these are the key points. Schooling and training for XC is a whole new post!!