A Cross-Country Clinic with Christopher Bartle: Part 1 Horse and Rider Responsibilities

The major phase of eventing lies with the cross-country course. The thrill of the speed, the excitement of tackling different fences and obstacles, along with that ever-lurking element of danger is what draws many people to the sport. But it's a mistake to think that riding cross-country is a free-for-all, a mad dash to gallop over fences in the proper time allowed. Cross-country riding is all about skill, endurance, strength and nerves of steel. Christopher Bartle knows all about that. He is considered one of the finest eventing coaches teaching ...The major phase of eventing lies with the cross-country course. The thrill of the speed, the excitement of tackling different fences and obstacles, along with that ever-lurking element of danger is what draws many people to the sport. But it's a mistake to think that riding cross-country is a free-for-all, a mad dash to gallop over fences in the proper time allowed. Cross-country riding is all about skill, endurance, strength and nerves of steel. Christopher Bartle knows all about that. He is considered one of the finest eventing coaches teaching ...

Story originally posted by: Sharon Biggs

The major phase of eventing lies with the cross-country course. The thrill of the speed, the excitement of tackling different fences and obstacles, along with that ever-lurking element of danger is what draws many people to the sport. But it’s a mistake to think that riding cross-country is a free-for-all, a mad dash to gallop over fences in the proper time allowed. Cross-country riding is all about skill, endurance, strength and nerves of steel. Christopher Bartle knows all about that. He is considered one of the finest eventing coaches teaching today with people traveling from all over the world to train with him at the famed Yorkshire Riding Centre in England. As a rider, he has represented his country a number of times including a spot on the gold medal winning team in the European Championships in 1997. He won the prestigious Badminton CCI ****– the first British winner in five years, in 1998 aboard Word Perfect II. In the first of this four-part series, Christopher talks about horse and rider responsibilities.

A Successful Team

In a good cross-country ride both horse and riders share the same goal – to jump the fence successfully – but each has their own responsibilities. The rider must have a good posture and balance in the saddle, and must have the right mental reactions and the right attitude. And the horse must be forward thinking and maintain his own balance. And it’s the horse’s job to jump the fence and not the rider’s. The horse must always maintain that forward enthusiasm and his own balance without always relying on the rider. The horse must learn to stay online and not to drift.

I always say that the goal is to have a clear round inside the time and a clear round is no run-outs, no stops, and no falls. The rider’s responsibility is therefore to make sure that they have the best possible control of the horse and also are in the most secure position so that when something goes wrong, which it invariably does, the horse stumbles or hits the fences or decelerates because he spooks, the rider has to be in a position where they can react quickly enough and remain safe.

In a good cross-country position, you’ll sit a fraction behind the point of balance with the center of gravity above the stirrup, which is slightly more forward. This places you in a "safety first" sort of position. It looks more like a hunt cup rider than an equitation rider. The stability of your leg is also very important. Your weight should go down into the stirrup and never with the knee clinging, which causes your heel to swing back. The length of stirrup in cross-country riding wants to be such that you can be totally clear of the saddle thereby helping your horse to gallop more freely. Yet when approaching the fence, and over the fence itself, your seat should be as close to the saddle as possible.

The seat and lower leg stays the same, but your upper body will change for each type of cross-country jump. It can fluctuate between being very forward over a steeplechase fence to leaning back extremely when you jump into water with a drop on the landing side-such as with the lake in Badminton.

The rider’s hand has to be able to maintain a contact with the horse’s mouth without interfering with his jump. That contact is the challenge for a cross-country rider. Keep the connection between the hand and the horse’s mouth but without interfering with the jump. The rider’s responsibility is to keep the horse in line and on line and to approach the fence at the right speed that is relevant to that fence and in a good rhythm. What I mean by rhythm is that the stride length remains the same; whatever you set for that fence. It may be on a short stride for something like a coffin or a longer stride if it’s a steeplechase fence. Whatever rhythm you set, try to maintain it as even as possible and not vary it. That’s where nerves come into it!

In part two, Christopher talks about jumping different types of cross-country fences.