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How to Introduce a Young Horse to Cross Country

Cross Country Training with Lissa Green

After her debut at her first Badminton Horse Trials, Lissa Green is on a high and has much planned for this season. Here Lissa teams up with leading performance footwear manufacturer, Grub’s, and gives some advice on how to introduce a young horse to cross country.

Training – Where to Start?

As riders know, a young horse in training comes with challenges and excitement, especially for riders whose discipline is eventing.

Presenting a young horse to a cross country course early on in its career is quite important because it enables the horse to absorb the process and understand what is to be expected of them at this stage.

Every schooling session should build your horse’s confidence and end on a positive note so the foundations are established and the ultimate outcome is likely to be successful.

Starting off, you should spend a lot of time walking round with a relaxed rein so your horse can comfortably adjust to the environment. Even walking over some small fences, or specifically set up obstacles, will allow your horse to process what has just happened and associate what you are asking him to do.

As a rider you must remain relaxed and not put any pressure on the horse, only ask of him what you feel he is capable of. Keep initial schooling work in walk and trot, which allows time to think. It’s also advisable, at first, to keep the jumps small and relatively simple.

It is inevitable that some of the obstacles may cause a young horse to spook, but it’s so important that you don’t turn the horse away immediately, as this teaches ‘it’s ok to stop and go around’. You must be patient and allow your horse to smell it, work it out and then back him up to re-approach.

Once your horse is comfortable walking over the obstacles and is relaxed, attempt the same but in trot, building on tempo. Once he’s happy going over these, move onto a different set of obstacles that look different. This will test your horse’s confidence and if you needs to go back down to walk, this is fine to do so, but keep encouraging your youngster to go forward. Eventually he will trust you enough to go over the jumps in trot again.

Banks

Banks can be a little tricky and can easily worry an inexperienced horse, the key is to allow your horse lots of rein so he can have his head down, allowing him to work it out himself. When you go up the bank come back down the same way, so it’s not so much of a surprise, but once your horse is confident then progress to riding the bank conventionally.

 


Throughout the training it is key to praise your horse after he’s done something right to boost his confidence.


 

Water

Water can be a horse’s worst nightmare and the help of an additional horse, to walk with your young horse into the water as encouragement, can be really useful. Once you’re horse has his feet wet, come back out and re-do the process on your own. Once you are happy, with positive reinforcement you can include a small jump leading into the water.

Ditches

The most precarious obstacles for a young horse to overcome are ditches, therefore a little bit of time invested in this area of training will help your horse understand the question being asked.

Allow your horse to check both sides of the ditch and then use the another horse again to go over the ditch, showing the younger and inexperienced horse how to do it. Allow your horse to follow, at a safe distance, and repeat a couple of times. Again, once you feel happy that your horse is gaining confidence, remove the additional horse.

Ending with confidence

By following through this session, your horse should gain a wealth of confidence and trust in you. This will aid in encouraging him to jump other obstacles in a sequence. It is important that you don’t push a youngster too quickly to the point where it undoes all your hard work in giving confidence.

For more information contact Grub’s on 01204 567700 or visit www.grubsboot.com

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