Weekly Training Tip from Kate Chadderton: Walking Cross Country

Kate Chadderton and Buckharo. Photo by Jenni Autry. Kate Chadderton and Buckharo. Photo by Jenni Autry.

You’ve done your lessons, you’ve cross country schooled, your horse is fit and now you’re at your show and have gotten that pesky dressage test out of the way — it’s time to inspect your course!

I see cross country as a series of puzzles set by the course designer for the horse and rider to figure out. For me personally I take two separate perspectives: A) my gut instinct walking up to a fence and B) logically assessing the lines to figure out distances and angles.

As the horse only gets seconds to assess each question, I use my instincts help with getting an idea of the horses initial reaction (e.g.: this log on this mound looks HUGE! Then you have to turn sharply and jump a corner? I’m going to have to be bold and quick to regain control here).

Then I use logic to come up with a plan (e.g.: Well actually the log on the mound isn’t so huge when you get up to it. If I line up the tree with the green leaves in the distance and turn after two strides I’ll be right on line for the corner).

Then when I’m then galloping up to the question on cross country day, I can communicate that information to my horse.

Bucky: “Wow, that log on the mound is huge!”
Me: “It’s not that big, but there is a corner to the left afterwards so don’t carried away with yourself here by jumping it like its a two storey house!”
Bucky: “Gotcha. Just let me know when I have to turn.”

I also consider my horses strengths and weaknesses. If he’s really quick thinking, I can turn up to fences a bit tight thereby saving some time and distance. If he’s a bit careful about getting his feet wet, I give him a little extra time to understand the question before jumping in. I’ll walk those lines prior to riding them. Civil Liberty is really good at dodging trees so sometimes I’ll take shorter routes thru the woods.

Each person is different depending on their personality. I walk my horse trials courses only once or twice, Advanced and CIC courses two or three times and 3-days I’ll walk four times. I want to know where I’m going and fully understand the questions, but I also don’t want to be out there for so long that I start to second guess myself and see a lot of different scenarios. It’s important to know where your options are too.