Strategies for Downhill and Ditches on the Cross Country Course

I am often asked what types of strategies I am thinking about for different types of jumps, that aspiring eventers might also keep in mind.

When I ask riders what they most fear it is normally jumping downhill, apexes (corners) and ditches. I'll focus on downhill and ditches today.

When I walk a course and I’m walking it to ride a young horse, I’m very mindful of the lay of the land. I will plan to slow down in plenty of time when a downhill jump is coming up, as the horse will fall onto it’s forehand and then might try to run out, as it will not be balanced enough to jump. I will then sit tall and keep my horse's head up with his ears at least as high as his withers; sounds easy but if the hill is steep you will need to have practiced this at home.

With his head up and going slower you will feel confident to put your leg on towards to fence. Once you land, you want to get your reins back as soon as you can so you can get to the next fence.

Ditches are much the same. You will want to school them slowly over ditches as part of your horses' training.

Walking over small shallow ditches is a good way to start. You don’t want them leaping over the ditch, as this is not bold, it’s more frightened. You want them to just pop over and understand what it is they are doing. Then trot and canter and make the ditches bigger and add rails to them over the top and behind.

So when I walk a course and there is a ditch, I will always make sure that I can get straight, and if my horse is a little spooky (and I will know this from my training) I will give him a tap with the whip behind my leg about 20meters away and then sit down and keep his head up and a firm contact on the reins.

You don’t want them getting their head low and looking into the ditch. I look over the ditch and keep riding him strong with revs, not fast, but like doing 70km/h in 3rd gear. And I make sure that I keep tall at the fence and not be worried if I’m a little behind the motion over the fence. This way you won’t frighten them (or yourself) by throwing your body over the fence first and praying the horse will follow. As you and your horse progress ditches really should not be a worry and they will just be a good ground line to the jump.

Best of luck everyone, and if you have any questions about eventing or horse training, please post them on my Barnmice comment wall and I'll do my best to answer them in an upcoming blog post.

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Comment by Megan Jones on August 13, 2009 at 6:51am
i'm glad you like it. happy riding. megan
Comment by Barbara F. on August 12, 2009 at 10:58pm
I love this post. It is extremely helpful and the ideas are so clear. Thanks for sharing!

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