Training sessions, whether US or Canadian are a great opportunity to learn by watching top riders learn. I spent some time today watching David work with his Canadian squad on cross-country technique at the beautiful Meredyth South. Not surprisingly, one thing that I have noticed is that the quality of horses and riders for the Canadians has improved dramatically over the past few years under David, and it is only a matter of time before they start winning Olympic and WEG team medals. The only other thing I will mention before writing about the training is that turnout was a bit questionable for a couple of the riders. I will never claim to be a turnout master, but I would hope that I wouldn’t show up to a cross country training session for the right to represent my country in old Woof boots.
The training sessions ran in hour long lessons with 4-5 riders in each. At the beginning of the session, David spoke about the importance of good fundamental cross-country technique and repeatedly stressed the importance of drills to build those fundamentals. David identified the five rider responsibilities: direction, speed, rhythm, balance, and timing. Each of these responsibilities needs to be established 5-6 strides before the jumping obstacle so that those final strides can be about maintaining and riding to the fence. David also stressed that a rider needs to teach the horse to balance from the body rather than the hands. Using a good position, a rider should teach the horse by asking first with the body and then correcting if necessary with the hands. Gradually the horse learns to rebalance from the body. This training should be an integral part of conditioning work.
The exercise: David placed a vertical showjump with a small log underneath it (to provide some structure and a good ground-line), and used markers to denote 5, 7, 9, 11, and 13 strides away from the fence. Riders were asked to treat the jump as a galloping fence, and then as the A element of a coffin. Whatever the type of fence, the riders needed to establish proper direction, speed, rhythm, and balance by the last (5 strides out) marker. Gradually each rider found the distance before the fence that they needed to begin to rebalance to achieve the desired result by that last marker. As the position and technique of the riders improved, they were able to wait longer and longer to begin the rebalancing process. According to David, fast XC horses can rebalance from a 4* gallop to whatever canter is appropriate for the obstacle in around 3 strides. Eventually the riders jumped a galloping fence before coming back to a coffin canter for the vertical. So, if you have an open field (or arena) that isn’t covered in snow, grab some makers, pace off distances, and go eventing.