"Cross Country" is a style of riding generally associated with the second day of a Three Day Event. Three Day Eventing is a particular kind of horse show that includes Dressage, Cross Country, and Show or Stadium Jumping. Competitors must train specifically for each day of the Three Day Event, and it is a testament to the skill, endurance, and flexibility of both rider and horse to be able to compete and win in each of the three styles of riding.
When you're talking about the second day in particular, one author writes, "Cross Country tests the speed, conditioning, stamina, training and heart of its equine participants." The Cross Country competition takes horse and rider at a swift pace over "natural" terrain, including hills, dips, and water, and over jumps built out of fallen trees or piles of debris. Unlike show jumping, where the jumps are made from light rails, cross-country jumps have very little "give" and in most cases, will not collapse if a horse doesn't completely clear them. This makes the Cross Country day the most dangerous and difficult part of a Three Day Event. Spectators enjoy watching the Cross Country riders and horses, as it is the most fast-paced and heart-pounding part of the overall competition.
Historically, the Cross Country course had four parts, each of which was timed. Parts one and three (or A and C) were called Roads and Tracks. Part two (or B) was the Steeplechase. Part four (or D) was the most grueling and challenging part, and the part that was actually "Cross Country." Parts A and C were considered warm-up and recovery phases. At some shows, there was even a compulsory vet check after Part C to be sure the horse could continue. Even though these parts were timed, competitors were expected to take them at a slower pace. Parts B and D were ridden at a hard gallop. Today, most Cross Country courses have dropped A, B, and C and use only Part D, although there are still some shows that use the long format (A, B, C and D).
There are many types of jumps on a Cross Country course, some nearly four feet high and twelve feet wide. A few examples of the kinds of jumps you might encounter are: log fences (rail fences made of logs), table fences (that have a flat surface on top), triangle fences (aka the "tiger trap"), and the trakehner (a rail over a wide ditch). The jumps are designed to look natural, like part of the landscape. However, some course designers will throw in a splash of bright color or an unusual, unnatural shape to test the horse's bravery.
There are flags, usually red and white, posted along the course to show the mandatory direction and path competitors must take. It's important that the rider walk the course one or more times prior to riding it in order to evaluate the jumps and the footing (the condition of the ground). Never ride at a gallop a course you haven't walked first on your own two feet!
In summary, one author offers this advice: "Cross country riding...is a fun and exciting sport, but is certainly not for the faint-hearted or unfit. Horses and riders should be used to each other, and riders in particular must be used to riding for long periods of time before they even start to attempt cross country circuits. But, for those who are brave enough to try it, and talented enough to master it, cross country riding is an exhilarating and rewarding sport. It will certainly keep both rider and horse fit, and improve their work as a team, which in turn, will help them excel in all areas of riding and equestrianism."
Posted by Sally Fern.