How to practise for cross-country at home

How to practise for cross-country at home

With the eventing season round the corner, now is the time to start sharpening your cross-country skills. Cross-country expert Lucinda Green shows you how to build replica fences at home, and how to practise for cross-country at home before a competition.

Many of today’s cross-country fences are pretty technical, so it’s a good idea to practise as much as possible at home. The good news is that you don’t need to spend a fortune on expensive mock cross-country fences or travelling to schooling facilities to practise – some simple items found at home can be used to simulate some of the more technical fences.

‘Being able to practise setting your horse up for certain types of cross-country fence at home is a really useful tool in your preparation,’ says Lucinda. ‘It’s also a great way to introduce new or inexperienced horses to particular questions they’ll find on the cross-country course before they venture off to an event.’


Corners are fences that are wider at one end and narrower at the other. The idea is to jump the narrower part, but this can encourage horses to run out. Keeping them straight and preventing them from running out is key.


To build a corner, you’ll need two jump wings, a block or similar item and two poles. Set the two jump wings out into a ‘V’ shape with the block at the point of the ‘V’, and place the two poles between them with both poles resting on the block.


‘Practising corners is always worth doing because you have nothing to stop the horse running out at the side,’ explains Lucinda. ‘I don’t like putting a ground line or a wing at the side when practising at home because I want the horse to learn what they are doing with their feet, and that running out isn’t an option.’

To start, build the fence small and narrow so that it can easily be knocked down if the horse makes a mistake.

‘I also want the rider to be aware that the door is open at all times, and to keep control of the outside of the horse using their hands, legs and seat,’ adds Lucinda. ‘The aim is to practise keeping the horse straight and jumping over the fence instead of running out.

‘When coming into a corner, slightly loosen your rein to encourage the horse to look up at the fence, so they have plenty of time to assess the situation and “lock on” before they have to jump it.’

Watch the video below to find out more:


A ditch jump is just that – a hole in the ground, often with wooden planks either side so you can see how wide it is. Many horses dislike ditches because they find it hard to measure the depth of the ditch and think it is a bottomless hole.


It’s quite hard to simulate a ditch without actually digging one out, but you can use rectangular plastic sheets such as tarpaulin, feed sacks or a water tray to simulate the hole in the ground. Just make sure it’s safe and won’t harm your horse if they accidentally step on it. Then, start narrow and easy, and work on building it wider and then with a fence over the top using two wings or blocks and a pole.


Don’t be in a rush with ditches. Allow your horse time to look at a ditch because they will find it scary to start with.

‘The key is to be patient and quiet, and not let your horse turn away from it – they must stay looking ahead and eventually move forwards over the fence, even if it’s just in walk,’ advises Lucinda. ‘Be firm with your legs and allow with your hands, so they can stretch their head and necks down and forwards to look.’

Once they are happy walking over, you can trot and canter, and then build the fence up over the top.

Watch the video below to find out more:


You’ll find at least one skinny fence on every cross-country course, and similar to corners, they are designed to encourage the horse to run out. While usually more inviting at lower levels, skinnies can be as narrow as 1.2m (4ft) at 5* and championship level, so it's important to practise as much as you can.


To build a skinny fence, find a short (4ft) pole and place it between two blocks or short wings. If you don’t have a short pole, you could use any safe skinny objects you can find, such as blocks, barrels or a narrow filler. Keep it small to start with. You’re teaching the horse to lock onto a narrow fence and not run out, so build their confidence first.


Start by riding over the skinny pole on the floor, or the object you’re using at its lowest height to build the horse’s confidence and show them what you want them to do. You are teaching them to lock on to a narrow fence, so keep it slow in trot at first.

You can then build up the height of the fence as they become more confident.

‘As with corners, the key is keeping the horse straight and aiming for the middle of the fence,’ says Lucinda. ‘Sit straight in the saddle and keep your legs gently squeezing around the horse’s sides. Encourage their heads up as you approach to give them time to look and lock on.’

Watch the video below to find out more:


An angle is simply a fence that is jumped at an angle, so not straight on like most other fences. It is a good idea to practise jumping fences at an angle, as there are sure to be angled fences on the cross-country course. Again, they are designed to encourage the horse to glance off and run out.


To practise an angle, set up two simple verticals that are offset to one another, on a one- or two-stride distance.


Start by practising over one angled fence on its own, and then build up to adding in the second element as a double.

‘Keep it small to start with – it’s about building their confidence before expecting them to jump any height,’ says Lucinda. ‘The key is to make sure that you keep your horse straight, especially when there is a second or third element to the combination. Choose your spot in the middle of the fence and stick to it, keeping the horse on the line with your hands, legs and seat.’

Watch the video below to find out more:

For more top tips on cross-country riding, click here.

Thank you to six-time Badminton winner Lucinda Green, and riders Juliette and Claire for their help creating the cross-country videos.

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