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Teaching cross-country riding

From: Steve

Dear Jessica, I'm hoping to get some advice from you about teaching cross-country riding. Since I see that you are a certified instructor of Dressage AND Eventing, I'm hoping that you will have suggestions for me. I'm reasonably familiar with the subject, but only as a rider. What would you say are the keys to teaching this successfully? I've done Eventing myself in years past, but that was some time ago. I have been teaching riding for about eight years, but most of my riding students have stayed in the hunter ring until now. Suddenly I have five kids here who are determined to start Eventing, and I would like to be able to help them, but it's been a long time and I need advice on where to begin. They all have hunter show experience and are about intermediate riders, I guess. I wouldn't worry about them over a 3' course in the ring. Only two of them have had any experience over an outside course, and they were both a little uncomfortable when their horses put on some speed as horses tend to do outdoors. Can you help me or suggest someone else to help me? I want to keep these kids safe, of course, but I want them to be brave and have fun and if they want to do Eventing, I'm willing to work with them. My heart is more in dressage, but I've had a lot of fun teaching hunt seat and from what I remember of my eventing days, it'll be fun to teach that too, at least to these kids. They're all jumping 3' hunter courses pretty smoothly, and three of them are boys, if it makes any difference.


Hi Steve! Yes, I teach eventing, but I have to admit that as much as I enjoy riding cross-country and going over interesting jumps, my heart really belongs to dressage.

I think that the single most important changes for your riders are these: First, they MUST become comfortable with galloping' then with going up and down hills, and then with jumping outside at speed.

How much you do with your students and how fast you push them will depend on your assessment of their current skill levels and learning curve. It will also depend on their horses' fitness, AND ON THEIR OWN. Fitness is key, because unfit riders tend to lack the balance and strength that will let a rider ride actively and make good decisions all the way around a course. An unfit rider won't feel as if he's in complete control of his own body, let alone his horse - and quite right too, because he WON'T be in control, especially when he is coming down to those last few jumps on a long course.

According to my friend Denny Emerson (an excellent resource for all things to do with eventing, by the way!), galloping is one-third technique and two-thirds fitness. He has observed that a lot of riders lack core strength, and make the bad mistake of trying to hold their horses back by lying on their necks, which simply makes the horse-and-rider combination top-heavy and front-heavy to a dangerous degree.

You might do best to begin by teaching your riders technique. If they've had good instruction in hunt seat, they won't have to change much about their riding style, and you can concentrate on helping them learn how to cope with uneven terrain, variable footing. If, on the other hand, they've learned the sort of "perch and pose" equitation that is far too common in the hunter ring nowadays, they will need a great deal more preparation to help them become effective and safe over a cross-country course. You will need to focus on position and technique, first whilst they are still in an arena, and then over increasingly challenging terrain, so that they and their horses won't be subjected to unnecessary risks. In both cases - and this goes back to Denny Emerson's advice - you'll need to evaluate, monitor, and work to build your riders' fitness.

I would strongly encourage you to contact Denny Emerson directly - you can reach him at 802-765-4049. It would be wonderful for you to have the chance to bring him in to teach a clinic for your riders, or perhaps you could spend a weekend with him getting some coaching for yourself and a chance to discuss teaching methods. He's a wonderful teacher. As an instructor, if I were going to take on a group of eventing students, he's the first person I would ask to provide me wih ideas, advice, and a top-quality "refresher course".


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