Why do we not talk more about fear when fear is a common emotion in cross-country riders? There is probably no sane person who is totally fearless and everyone has his or her limits. Even a Grand Prix race car driver, who is brave enough to average 150 miles per hour around a circuit, may well frighten himself trying to improve his time by just half a second. Fear is a basic human mechanism to place limits on what we do.
Modern cross-country courses have an emphasis on related combinations, often including one or two ‘skinny’ fences. It is therefore vital to understand how the stride length is affected by different factors so that you can make the distances work for you and reduce the room for error and risk. It is also vital to develop a ‘second nature’ safety position.
Any riding exercise is about the art of the possible. This is especially true with jumping exercises, when a step too far will compromise safety. Exercises and a method should be developed progressively that build confidence and competence for both horse and rider, and in particular also allows room for error.
Cross-country riding is often associated with steeplechasing but there are fundamental differences between the two sports. Firstly, you do it by yourself, not in the company of other horses, which encourages more level headed, less excited responses from your horse. Secondly, you should not go at your maximum speed in horse trials. Therefore the horses will be working well within themselves and this reduces the risks substantially.
I remember the occasion well. It was the Fourburrow Pony Club camp in Cornwall, in the south west of England. I was 12 and a typical thin gangly kid. As you can see in the photograph above I was six foot tall on stick legs and all curled up on a 14.2 pony....my brilliant mare Charlie's Aunt.