Very tall, sleek, and muscular, Nemesis can be wild, bossy, and a real bully in the field. He tries to
keep other horses away from the hay bale if he's eating and the water trough if he's drinking.
In his stall, he doesn't much like people disturbing him, especially at dinner time. If anyone walks
by, he makes ugly faces. He sticks his head over the stall door, lays back his ears, shows his
teeth, and waves his head. He consistently acts up when being shown for sale, which is why he's
never been sold and why you're about to ride him.
Once he's tacked up, though, Nemesis's behavior generally improves, although he's been known to
issue a nip if his girth is cranked up too tight, too fast. Under saddle, he's considered frisky. He'll
also act up if the rider doesn't let him know who's boss or gets too confident too soon and doesn't
stay on guard.
I'll bet he doesn't seem so intimidating anymore, does he? Once you're up on Nemesis, he's
probably going to feel a lot like Tiki did in lesson 3. He moves ahead easily. This horse definitely
has places to go and things to do.
Jumping cross-country usually is done with speed, but it's a controlled speed. You can go as fast
or as slow as you want within reason, traveling from jump to jump. But you must be in control when
you face cross-country jumping obstacles.
One of the major challenges of cross-country jumping is the terrain. In the stadium, the ground is
flat. In cross-country jumping, you might be jumping uphill or downhill. This adds a new dimension
to your jumping experience.
A cross-country course features natural (or man-made to look natural) jumps. They generally
follow the same configurations as stadium jumps, but with a crucial difference: If your horse hits
stadium obstacles, they fall down; if your horse cross-country obstacles, you fall. Cross-country
obstacles are often fixed in place, like a big log.
Newer riders learning to jump cross-country often find that, when travelling with speed, they have
trouble making a crescendo into the jump; they tend to jump flat. As a result, the horse bangs his
legs -- or worse, hangs up his legs -- on the obstacles.
On the plus side, many horses actually seem to prefer cross-country obstacles to stadium jumps; I
suppose because the obstacles are natural, horses tend to get along better with them. They also
enjoy the freedom that cross-country offers.
Cross-country obstacles usually aren't high, with the degree of difficulty often being determined by
the terrain before and after the jump. At this stage of riding, you won't be tackling water yet, but
when you do, you'll find that jumps surrounded by water can be the most difficult.
Controlled speed is key to cross-country jumping. You should not still be riding with your thumb
and forefinger in the mane. If you are, you're not ready for cross-country.
The jumping procedures are almost the same as for stadium jumping. However, in stadium jumping
you can sit in the saddle to establish the control you need. In cross-country, it's a little more
difficult because your horse is keener, moving along at a heady canter. Anything faster than that
means you've lost control.
Try the following to maintain control while riding cross-country.
- Ride in half seat, a little more upright than for stadium jumping.
- Keep your horse straight.
All the principles for stadium jumping still apply, but the most important rule is to have your horse
coming into hand. When a horse is in hand, it means you have him in complete control. In fact, he
comes so much into hand that the action almost seems like a pause executed six to seven strides
before a cross-country jump. By executing an extreme half-halt, you can prepare to crescendo into
the jump. Then you negotiate the obstacle much as you would a stadium obstacle, with the follow-
through being extremely important.
An uphill jump may be one of the easiest jumps you'll ever do, even though it looks intimidating
during the approach. Horses prefer an uphill jump; it's easier for them.
You lose forward momentum on an uphill jump. Consequently, having your heels down and your
upper calves locked into place is critical, and your upper body must be fully upright for the landing.
Look up! Do not look down at the jump. To regather the horse, follow through and use a driving
impulse on the recovery stride. If you don't, the horse might stumble.
A downhill jump can scare cheese out of a milk cow, so prepare yourself. Keep your heels down
and your upper calves locked in place. With your horse in hand, set your path during the jump and
on the landing. The ground falls away from you and landing can feel like it takes an eternity. In
the end, though, the landing probably will be smoother than you might think.
You naturally expect the horse to land on his front legs first, but on a downhill jump, all four legs hit
the ground at about the same time. You may also find the downhill recovery stride disconcerting.
Here, you need a lower posture and more collapsing of the joints to follow the horse's motion.
When you take a jump on the side of a hill, you need to know what comes next; you must decide if
you'e going uphill, downhill, or forward after the jump. The horse invariably will choose downhill.
But on every cross-country course I've ridden, the next jump is uphill.
Regardless of your path to the next jump, the best way to negotiate this obstacle is to jump so that
the horse's front feet land as level as possible, not with one foot on higher ground than the other.
This means jumping with the plane of the ground, probably at an angle. In effect, you're really
turning this into an uphill or downhill jump.
Don't go into the water. If it's a little puddle, jump it. If it's a larger water obstacle, don't do it.
Water jumps require far more advanced riding skills than beginning riders have.
What to do if...your horse becomes crooked.
The horse wants to go faster, and you try to hold him back. To evade you, he bends. His
hindquarters are no longer behind his front legs. He rotates his body weight onto his hind legs,
much as he would when rearing, but without the rear. If he pushes off with both hind legs, as he
would in a jump, his back and neck invert, your reins become ineffective, his mouth gets above the
corridor of aids, and you risk traveling at terminal velocity.
Mind you, this happens over several strides. Your only protection is to recognize when it starts
happening and correct the situation immediately, before it escalates. To do this, get the horse's
hindquarters and his front end directly in line however you can. Even if you have to kick the horse
to get him straight, do it. If that fails, use a modified pulley rein or a pulley rein.
Even though leaning and careening around corners might sound like fun, it's not a good idea,
especially in the woods.
What to do if...your horse becomes a runaway on a cross-country course.
Head up the hill, and use a pulley rein. But you should correct the problem before it happens.
What to do if...your horse stumbles.
Push with your arms into an upright posture or even get behind the vertical a bit, let your reins
slide, and allow the horse to recover. Drive your heels down even to the point where your legs
come in front of the girth.
What to do if...your horse suddenly goes lame.
Dismount. Check each foot for nails, sticks, glass, or anything else that might have punctured his
foot. Remove it if possible before walking him back to the barn. If you can't remove such an
object, seek help and do not attempt to walk the horse back.
You're on track if you can:
- Successfully count strides before a jump.
- Calculate takeoff points for different types of jumps.
- Do simple lead change while on course.
- Maintain a constant pace up and down hills.
- Recognize when the horse is crooked and fix the problem.
- Know when to start coming into hand for a jump (it's a lot farther back than most beginning
|Woodland Horse Center
16301 New Hampshire Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20905
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