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Lucinda Green’s rules for cross-country riding

Six-time Badminton winner Lucinda Green believes in three golden rules while riding cross-country. Petplan Equine Ambassador Jack Stancombe and horse George join Lucinda for a lesson to discuss these rules and how they can be applied to every horse and rider.

Before the start of the session, Lucinda explains to Jack her three fundamentals of cross-country riding.

‘As an event rider, there are three rules to follow and these make up the word ELBOW,’ she says. ‘It stands for Engine, Line and Balance. The “ow” is for ouch if you forget one of them.’

Lucinda believes that each element of the acronym is essential to ensure the success and safety of both the horse and rider.

‘Engine refers to having the horse in a good canter rhythm on approach to the fence, so they have enough momentum to clear it,’ says Lucinda. ‘Line is about getting the right line to a jump and ensuring the horse has seen the same line as you have. Balance is about ensuring that both the rider and horse are balanced coming into and out of the jump,’ says Lucinda.

1. Developing the Engine

Once Jack has warmed up George, Helen Revington’s coloured eventer For Fun And Glory, Lucinda asks him to ride a simple line of cross-country fences to assess the pair.

It’s immediately evident that George is quite spooky and Jack has to work hard to keep his body upright with a ‘driving’ seat to encourage George to keep thinking forward and jump the fence.

‘The engine part of ELBOW isn’t quite consistent yet because George backs off his fences in the last few strides and loses momentum, often putting in an extra stride,’ says Lucinda. ‘This can throw the rider forwards and out of balance, but Jack does a great job at keeping his weight back so that he remains in balance and not in front of the horse’s movement.’

Lucinda explains that George is a very careful horse who likes to think about where he puts his feet.

‘It’s vital that Jack allows him the time to look at the fence and work out his stride and take off point, as this will help to build his confidence,’ says Lucinda. ‘In order to develop his engine, George needs to practise jumping the fences multiple times and in both directions. Whatever George does in front of the fence, Jack is ready for him with his upright position and good balance to allow the horse to take off from wherever he wants to. If the rider is too in front of the movement, it puts the weight forward over the horse’s shoulders. This makes it difficult for him to get his front end up and over the fence, and that’s when you get in trouble with horse’s leaving legs.’

2. Keeping the Line

Next, Lucinda asks Jack to jump a line of fences including a coffin (jump, ditch, jump), which he manages no problem, followed by a trakehner. George is taken aback by the trakehner, which is a big log over a deep ditch, and stops. So, Lucinda asks Jack to ride him over the plain ditch element of the coffin combination again to get his confidence back.

‘Practise the longer rein – you have to be ready with your fingers to allow the head down so the top part of the eye can see the fence clearer – you’re not throwing them away, you’re just letting them look two strides before, saying you can look but you mustn’t stop,’ says Lucinda. ‘Hold your reins slightly wider than normal to help keep him on the right line but have soft fingers to allow him the freedom in the rein.’

George jumps the ditch happily on a number of different lines with Jack keeping him between leg and hand. They then attempt the trakehner again, and this time George jumps it confidently.

‘George is a classic example of how horses don’t need to jump from the perfect stride – they can quite happily pop in an extra stride if they need to get closer to get a better look as long as the rider stays on the back of the see-saw, and on the right line,’ Lucinda explains. ‘Jack has a super understanding of how George ticks and doesn’t get flustered if he doesn’t take off from the perfect spot – his secure position means he can support George wherever he decides to take off – he is ready for every eventuality and this has given George confidence.’

3. Better Balance

Then, Lucinda asks Jack to move on to a combination of fences including a drop into water which has three options – a straight drop, a small pole in front of the drop and a big log in front of the drop.

George manages the simple drop into the water fine until he’s asked to jump over the log into the water, and then he stops. Lucinda asks Jack to practise the simple drop a few more times to get George’s confidence back and to come into it much slower in trot to give George a chance to look and see what he is doing.

‘Slow down the trot, keep your legs on softly around his sides with your weight in your heels and your body back and in balance, and allow with the reins so he can drop his head and get a proper look,’ says Lucinda. ‘Practise the simple drop off without the log until he is happy.’

Jack continues to practise the drop in, first in trot and then in canter, ensuring he allows with the reins so that George can see efficiently.

Lucinda explains that at fences such as the drop, it’s really important that the rider’s hands are independent of the seat to ensure the rider stays in balance and not in front of the ‘see-saw’.

‘It doesn’t mean you drop the reins entirely, you still have to be there to stop the horse going the wrong way, but it’s a really good skill to allow with the reins when the horse starts getting spooky so they can drop their heads to see,’ she explains. ‘Jack does exactly that and sits in a really secure, upright position with giving hands. He must remain on the right side of the ‘see-saw’ because if he tips his body forwards, he’ll very quickly be on the wrong side which will impede George’s balance.’

Once George is happy with the simple drop, Lucinda asks Jack to attempt the drop with the log. With Jack’s new longer rein, George is happy to drop down over the log into the water.