Updated: Jul 11, 2020
Welcome to the EquiNation blog on Cross Country. Now for every cross country there is an optimum time calculated using the distance of the course multiplied be a set speed depending on the level. Below are 5 top tips from Sarah Elebert a 32 year old Irish Event Rider Trainer based in County Meath, Ireland. Sarah holds qualifications in many areas of equine care including a Horse Sport Ireland Level 2 coach.
Sarah grew up in Dublin in non horsey background but luckily her granddad sent her to the local Summer Pony camp on a few occasions. Then for her 9th birthday, Sarah asked her family to give me money instead of gifts, so that she could buy riding lessons and guess what she never looked back! Sarah first began leased a horse and then purchased her first horse 'Abbey' in 1999. She was a 4 year old Hunter and this is where Sarah's love of Cross Country was born. When Sarah moved to Meath in 2003, she was fortunate enough that her parents were able
to purchase a small cottage on 1 acre of land. It had an old building which is now the stables and even though she has expanded her operation with regards to what she does and the number of horses, the yard is still surprisingly still only set on 1 acre! After secondary school, Sarah got her qualifications in Equine Science through distance learning, as well as qualifications in Equine Breeding & Amp, Reproduction, Nutrition and most recently, gaining qualification as a Horse Sport Ireland level 2 Coach (with plans to progress to Level 3). Although Sarah has tried pure showjumping she explains "I much preferred the camaraderie of the Eventing World, and the buzz of crossing that finish line is a tough one to beat! I also have a passion for Dressage and the benefits of it for our horses". Sarah's first true event horse was a 5 year old mare that Sarah trained herself, progressing through the levels and eventually competing at Tattersalls International Horses Trials CCI2*-L on a couple of occasions. Sarah also found a love of coaching and so as well as being a freelance coach, her yard, Elebert Equine, is home to a few school ponies and livery horses and their coaching is also geared towards competition.
So with Sarah's vast experience in competitions as well as training below are her top tips for getting the elusive cross country time!
How to get the Cross Country time
1) The first thing that you need on the Cross Country course is gears! If you don’t have gears, you won’t be able to take the handbrake off! And often, the most enthusiastic or strongest horse cross country will come home with time faults for this reason. The good thing is that we can practice our gears everyday while we school our horses, transitions, transitions and more transitions! The horse must learn to stay in front of the rider’s leg and stay connected to the rein without pulling through it.
2) Know what the Cross Country speed is and practice it! So let’s do the maths – if one lap of my gallops is 800m and the Cross Country speed for my competition is 520mpm (metres per minute), then I would need to complete to complete 1 lap of my gallops in 1min 36sec, this can be practiced anywhere that you can have 2 markers making up the
Distance between markers : Time to Get There:
It is really important to note that jumping efforts are not taken into account when the distance and speed is calculated. As a result, between the fences, you will actually have to travel faster than the 520mpm (or assigned speed for your class). Again, this can be practiced with the markers. Once you have established the correct speed, keep practicing it. It may seem too fast at first but with practice, it will start to feel normal. (I often find that after a winter of training in the school, my feeling of what is fast has changed and I will need to practice my speeds again before the season starts).
3) Walking the Course. For a National one day event, you may only have the time to walk the course once so you want to make the most of it. Visualise and walk the lines that you will ride. Learn the most direct route from one fence to the next as it may not be obvious (especially over undulating ground) and make note of any markers that help you to do this. As you walk your course, between fences, look back regularly to be sure that you have taken the most direct route as it’s very easy to drift. For International events, walk the course several times and definitely once alone. The course will eventually flow in your mind without too much thought. Knowing the distance & mpm (meters per minute) of your course, you will be able to work out the minute markers. Don’t be afraid to ask fellow competitors to confirm these minute markers, the majority are happy to help!
4) Look at the Course as a whole. After walking the course, you should take an overview look and identify which areas have a high jumping intensity (costly on seconds) and which areas you can gallop and gain those seconds back. For example, after an intense part of the course, you may predict that at the next minute marker, you will be down a few seconds. However, you know that there is a galloping stretch later where you can gain those seconds back. Thinking about this in advance will ensure that panic does not ensue if you find yourself a few seconds down on a minute marker.
5) Be an economical rider. This may seem like an obvious one but it is so important. A rider that is fit and has good core strength will be much easier for the horse to carry and will directly affect speed and efficiency. The rider should strive to be able to move the horse up and down the gears using their body position as smoothly & effectively as possible, while maintaining balance. Again, this is one that can be easily be improved at home by practicing altering your riding position from sitting to light seat to jumping position smoothly and without losing balance.
Hope this has helped!
Sarah Elebert x
Photo credit Brian @ Saggitarian Photography