Ridiculous Cross Country Rules That Don’t Actually Exist

Lila and Vinnie cross counry schooling in Southern Pines 2015. Photo by Ashley Neuhof/AMN Photography. Lila and Vinnie cross counry schooling in Southern Pines 2015. Photo by Ashley Neuhof/AMN Photography.

I live for cross country. I would argue that most die-hard and thrill seeking event riders would share similar feelings towards this sport. Cross country seems particularly amazing when you’re sitting on a horse who not only knows his or her job, but a horse that loves his or her job. Not all horses are created equal, meaning that not every single Thoroughbred, or Irish Sport Horse, or (insert any breed here) is going to turn into a competitive event horse, or has what it takes to become an event horse.

And yet, when you’re out galloping in the fields, or woods, or jumping into water, or just crossing the finish line knowing and relishing in the fact that you and your equine partner just accomplished something great together, even the most stoic or expressionless type of rider will undoubtedly let out an unrestrained smile.

While there exists an official USEA and USEF rule book with chapters, sub-chapters, and sub-sub-chapters on requirements, guidelines, levels, errors, unauthorized assistance — you name it, it’s probably in one of those thick books — there are certain things that riders ARE allowed to do while on cross country, even if other competitors, or trainers gawk, point fingers and sneer at you as you walk by. Here’s my short list of perfectly acceptable, and totally legal things to do while on cross country.

1. Smiling: It’s my favorite. I couldn’t make this up if I wanted to. I was actually told last summer on my way out to walk my VERY FIRST Prelim cross country course, that it was acceptable to smile and be happy while galloping on cross country at Training level and below, but when you go Prelim, it’s extremely serious and you are not allowed to show emotion through expression.

I almost choked on my ice cream, or whatever I was eating in total shock. How could someone tell me I couldn’t smile on cross country because it looks stupid, or childish? Seriously? Why else to partake in this sport if we don’t thoroughly enjoy it at the end of the day?

Don’t get me wrong, I am not smiling, daydreaming and laughing hysterically around my entire course, in fact I usually look very serious and intense, but there are moments, or jumps that might bring a smile to my face. If you, or we, or I want to smile on cross country, go for it! Who cares? Why not!

2. Talking to your horse. If I could take all of my eventing buddies and line them up in a room, half would stand on the “we talk to our horses non-stop on cross country” and the other half would stand on the “we would NEVER say a a word to our horses on cross country.” I have met both types of riders.

Again, you are permitted to talk to your horse. Heck, you could sing your nervous horse a lullaby if you felt so inclined. There are rules enforces that others are not allowed to talk to the rider on cross country, which would result in unauthorized assistance. However, I am pretty sure that the USEF or USEA has nothing to say about the rider who says “GOOD BOY” after every single fence on a 21 jump course. So, if you are one of these riders, have no fear. Chat away!

33. THREE-TWO-ONE-JUMP!Some riders, including myself, have learned how to see a distance to a fence through this counting system. Denny was the first to introduce this counting concept to me. I have spent the last nine years thinking and counting in my head, one-two, one-two, one-two, in accordance with the canter I want, and then when I know I see three or four strides out, I will start counting in my head, three, two, one.

Some people actually say it out loud. Some people don’t count or say anything. Everyone has their routine and their own system engrained. Though to be polite and respectful of your fellow competitors, do not laugh when you see someone coming to a fence and saying THREE-TWO-ONE. If that’s what they need to do, that’s fine. Again, no rule saying otherwise.

 … So, have I left out any rules that aren’t actually rules that YOU would like to add?!