Maintaining cross country fitness


By Jenny Richardson BHSAI

Now that the cross-country season is drawing to a close, some people will choose to let their horses down for a short holiday, while others may wish to continue to maintain full fitness, which can be achieved in several ways.


Road work is essential to maintain muscle strength and strong tendons. Walking and ‘jog trotting’ [a slow trot] two or three times a week is ideal with hill work if possible; if the ground is suitable, use the bridleways and byways for a ‘pipe-opening’ canter whenever you can, to improve circulation and keep your horse fresh.


Hunts are very welcoming and the odd hunt or mock hunt will be most enjoyable for you both. You will encounter many of the usual type of cross-country obstacles and ditches, but without the competition element. Remember to choose suitable meets with good going, and do call the Secretary in advance. Half days may be ideal, and not over-tiring.

Andrea Weightman and skippy enjoying the beach

Andrea Weightman and skippy enjoying the beach


Over the winter, the authorities are far more relaxed about horses at the seaside – the most suitable are those with miles of firm, golden sands and shallow water. It is essential to call the Coast Guards of all beaches in advance, to ensure the best time to ride, as high tides are dangerous and must be avoided at all cost. If the going is excellent and your horse is safe, you will be able to enjoy fast canters, and the sea water is a fantastic therapy for your horse’s legs and muscles. There will be plenty of room for a large group to go together, which may bring travel costs down and ensure an enjoyable day out with friends.


Most centres run showjumping all year round, and will run winter series with classes of all heights, usually indoors, which will keep your horse jumping fit. It is very good for him to see coloured fences as an option to natural fences, and many centres now offer Indoor Eventer Trials, which is another incentive to keep up interest levels out of season.



It is important to keep your horse’s flat work at a good standard, ensuring he is fully responsive and an easier ride and, as well as practising at home; some small dressage competitions will give you an outside opinion on your work. As these run all year, if you are planning future one day events, this would be a very good chance to invest a little time and effort on improving this phase of your goal.


Set aside some time for practise work at home or in a hired arena. Flatwork can always be improved for obedience and suppleness. Use your show jumping poles for creating some of the more unusual obstacles like stiles, fences at angles, mock ditches, fans, bounces, etc.

Look at the winter months as a time to practise and improve your partnership. If you are able to ride your horse on a regular basis with as much variety as possible, fitness will be easily maintained, ensuring you are well-prepared for next year’s cross-country season.

If you need XC practice, consider a training break at a leading venue. Jenny Richardson BHSAI is Equestrian Centre Business Manager at Ireland’s Castle Leslie Estate, a venue that offers luxurious equestrian riding holidays and training breaks in the heart of Ireland. The team welcomes riders of all abilities and age groups and offers expert tuition, gentle hacks and exhilarating cross-country rides over an extensive XC course. Visit

Author: Features Editor

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