Cross Country Equestrian Offers Horse and Rider New Opportunities

In the 1990s, the sport of Eventing was changing. There were talks regarding how to make these changes, and while many agreed that changes needed to be made, not all riders and Eventing supporters agreed on how that should look. Nick Larkin was one such person.

After a remarkable competitive career, which included winning the inaugural Adelaide International Horse Trials 3-star, the inaugural Rolex Kentucky 3DE 4-star, being short listed for the New Zealand Olympic Team, and representing New Zealand at the World Equestrian Games in 1998, Nick decided it was time to step away from the sport when he saw it moving in a direction in which he could no longer see a future for himself.

“The best part [of Eventing] is always the second day,” Nick stated. “Sports are meant to be entertaining, and should be easy to understand and accessible for those participating and observing.” With a continued passion for horsemanship, entertaining sport, and accessibility for all, Nick dove deep to expand an idea originally considered in the 90s, and one that he further imagined in the mid-2000s when observing the need for post-track careers for thoroughbreds: Cross Country Equestrian.

Cross Country Equestrian is a new sport centered around cross country that offers opportunities for horses and riders. While CCE is perfect for the speed, stamina, jumping ability, mental sharpness and courage of the thoroughbred, it’s a sport that is open and designed to be accessible to everyone.

A cross country oriented sport, CCE offers all horse and rider partnerships to access equestrian competitions. Photo provided by Nick Larkin.

“Fundamentally, a CCE competition involves competitors completing a course of obstacles, scoring points for successfully jumping or negotiating obstacles and incurring penalties for errors and exceeding the time allowed… Obstacles on a CCE course are numbered sequentially and the competitor follows the course from the start to the finish accordingly. Each course has an allowed time based on the required pace and penalties are incurred for exceeding this,” Nick explained.

While it doesn’t sound dissimilar from the cross country portion of Eventing as we know it, there are some key differences, one of the biggest being: “Every obstacle on a CCE course is optional. The competitor chooses to attempt an obstacle or to “pass”. No penalties are incurred for passing an obstacle correctly,” Nick highlighted.

“Optionality of CCE has major implications beyond simply being able to skip a jump – for example: it removes often unnecessary or pointless pressure and prompts better decision-making… those choices incentivize a better understanding of ability and risk, not to mention improving those acquired (or trained) skillsets… and optionality means greater personal responsibility for all of those choices – especially safety related choices. I believe optionality will shift the current collective mindset toward one more advantageous for the horse’s welfare,” Nick emphasized.

There are three Stages (components) of CCE and a competition may include any or all of these. In multi-Stage competitions, competitors can select the stages in which they would like to compete.

The Endurance Cross Ride (EXR) – In the simplest form the EXR resembles a trail or endurance ride where competitors complete a course which involves no jumping at prescribed speeds in order to avoid time penalties. Other versions of EXR can include simpler jumped obstacles, non-jumped obstacles (such as bridges or water-crossings) and/or athletic sections which require faster speeds.

The Cross Country Ride (CCR) is the centerpiece of the sport – a course of moderate length in an open setting, with numerous obstacles. Most obstacles on the CCR course are of the fixed type similar to an Eventing XC course. A portion of obstacles are of the Knock Down (KD) type with a dislodgeable upper element that is “captive” to ensure there is no risk of entrapment or further interference.

The Jump Off Ride (JOR) begins in a demarcated area called the “arena setting” where show-jumping type obstacles with “free” dislodgeable elements. The course leaves the arena setting and continues into the “open setting” similar to the CCR course and includes the same types of CCR obstacles. A Gallop section may be included which involves no jumping.

Points are added to a competitor’s score for each successful obstacle navigated. In addition to regular obstacles, challenge obstacles are found at each level, and typically have dimensions or technicality of the next higher level and score more points.

Penalties are incurred for error such as refusals and run-outs, and for exceeding the course time. Points minus Penalties determines the final score. The simple competitive objective is to finish with the highest score. An example of the scoring is as follows:

Cross Country Ride Points

Regular Obstacle (RG) 20
Challenge Obstacle (CH) 25

Cross Country Ride Penalties

Refusal / Run-out -30
Knock Down (KD) -5
Activating Safety Device -20
Flag -5

Jump Off Ride Points

Regular (RG) 10 (Show Jumping-type) 20 (Cross Country -type)
Challenge (CH) 12 (Show Jumping -type) 25 (Cross Country -type)

Jump Off Ride Penalties

Refusal / Run-out -15 (SJ-type) -30 (CC-type)
Knock Down (KD) -5
Activating Safety Device -20
Flag -5

Time – Cross Country Ride and Jump Off Ride

1 penalty per second started

While ten levels will be offered (L1-L10), workshops have not yet gone beyond L5. L6 and 7 are expected to be added this year.

Level 1 (<60cm) is roughly equivalent to introductory level.
Level 2 (70cm) is equivalent to starter.
Level 3 (80cm) is equivalent to beginner novice.
Level 4 (90cm) is equivalent to novice.
Level 5 (100cm) is equivalent to training.

Qualifying scores need to be attained to move up to the next level. “The threshold is a score that is basically equal to the value of successfully jumping all of the RG obstacles. There’s a ‘time-penalty waiver or limit’ that allows competitors to go a bit slower, incur time penalties and yet still attain a Q-Score,” Nick outlines.

There’s also another eligibility structure called “RANKING”, that’s a quantitative measure of Eligibility based on the number of Q-Scores a horse or rider has at each Level.

“CCE is designed with substantial flexibility primarily to maximize accessibility and opportunities. For competitors, the sport allows them to mold each competition to whatever best suits their individual situation – beginner rider, green horse, developing confidence, focusing of particular skills, and ultimately, when ready, competing with others… You have the choice to do what’s right for you and your horse – you have the flexibility of passing the fence, of receiving coaching during the competition,” Nick explained.

In addition to competition, CCE workshops helps riders develop in their approach and ride in CCE competitions. Photo by JJ Sillman.

“We want this sport to be accessible for people – not everyone has the time or resources to have all of the “right” things needed for traditional equestrian sports – the horses, the equipment, the access to special training facilities or infrastructure, or the ability to leave home for days or weeks at a time. We want people to come and have fun. Most people that ride do it for enjoyment, and most of those derive that from enjoying their horse – being connected, being a team, and having fun together. We also want CCE professionals – competitors, trainers, those developing horses – to have the ability to make a good and ethical living with horses.”

CCE’s flexibility extends to venues and organizers as well, allowing for a competition that is optimized for their situation – facilities, equipment, manpower, budget, etc. in which stages are offered, how the course is set, and more. “CCE can be held in North Dakota or Mississippi or New Mexico, or Maine or anywhere in between, and it will take on a flavor of the location – CCE in south Texas will be different to CCE in Massachusetts,” Nick acknowledges.

With CCE launching in September of last year, some equestrians have expressed concerns regarding safety. “Many people who are concerned with the safety aspect haven’t seen the ways in which this sport is set up to be safe first and foremost,” Nick responded. “The courses are set up to be safer… there are things a designer can do that promote safer riding, including incorporating appropriate technical difficulty, obstacle positioning, and asking questions that require more control etc. There are rules regarding the type and positioning of obstacles in certain circumstances such as after the Gallop in JOR, and alternative obstacles and the use of innovative features such as chicanes and “Pass gates” that take more time and encourage better training and riding. Providing flexibility and choice reduces pressure and builds horsemanship. You have to choose what to do and what not to do, so you have to know your horse and the capabilities of the partnership.”

As CCE develops and evolves as a sport, facilities have already been reaching out to set up workshops and competitions. Upcoming workshops will provide a more in depth look into the sport, and competitions are expanding around the country, and inching their way towards an international debut as well. For upcoming events, take a look at CCE’s calendar. If you’re interested in learning more, or having CCE come to your area, Nick suggests that you talk to your equestrian friends and potential organizers in your area. The CCEA team will come and help get things started, but generating the interest is the first step. Hosting and attending a workshop (with or without a horse!) is a great way to understand the fundamentals of CCE and Nick welcomes everyone to come and see how CCE is safe, fun and centered on the horse. Additionally, you can take a look at CCE’s website for more information on the sport, and contact information for additional questions.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments