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
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
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
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 jumpers think).
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