Training for a cross country course can be challenging, but its rewards far outweigh its difficulty. Cross country jumping exercises will directly improve hunter and jumper horses by exposing them to new obstacles and approaches to obstacles that will help them when on course. These lessons can be beneficial cross training exercises to horses of other disciplines as well.
Ground Poles on a Curve
Teaching your horse to jump on a turn makes him more versatile on course. Not all approaches will be straight and practicing this at home will make you more accurate while jumping straight approaches and prepare you for more difficult ones.
Begin by laying a ground pole perpendicular to the side of the arena about three feet away so that you can use the rail as a guide as you travel over the pole while still leaving enough room that you can pass around the pole to the outside. Next, add another ground pole directly across from it 66ft away to make a 20 meter circle.
Start by trotting your horse in a big circle around both of the poles. Wait until your horse is relaxed and listening to you with a steady rhythmic trot before you start going over them. When you feel ready, look ahead to the first pole you want to go over. Keep posting as you trot over, looking over the pole and ahead to where you want to go on the circle. Continue on over the next pole going around the circle until your horse is comfortable and takes the trotting poles in stride. Change directions and work on the circle the other way. Once you are comfortable with the lesson add two more poles on the circle between the poles you already have creating four poles at equal distances apart on the circle. You can also try both versions at the canter as well.
Jumps on a Circle
The Jumps on a Circle Lesson is very similar to the previous lesson, the only difference is there are small jumps instead of poles on a circle. Start by building one jump in the place of your ground poles. Canter around the circle aiming for the center of the jump. When you are over the jump, look up and ahead to the path you will take. Once you land continue to bend on the circle to the next canter pole.
When you are ready, make the ground pole directly across from your first fence into a small cross rail or vertical. Practice the two jumps in both directions until you feel confident to add a third and eventually a fourth jump. Keep the jumps low and if you are having difficulty on a twenty meter circle move the jumps out to make the circle bigger until you feel more confident.
To be successful at jumping skinny fences you must have very good steering on your horse. By this I mean you can guide your horse to a very specific place and he has no objections. When you first start schooling skinny fences keep it as simple as possible. Start with a short ground rail; no longer than 3ft long. Walk, trot, and canter over the rail in both directions until you both are comfortable.
Lay a barrel on its side with guide poles on either side of it. Again, trot and canter over it in both directions until you feel confident. If at any time you get nervous or your horse refuses or runs out, go back to cantering over the skinny ground pole then try the barrel exercise again. It may also help to place two barrels on their side next to each other to make the jump look more inviting while still keeping the guide poles and slowly moving them closer together until you can jump just one barrel.
Next, build a skinny fence with guide rails slightly higher than the barrels. Practice jumping the skinny fence in both directions until you feel like you can take the guide poles away and jump only the fence. After you can easily jump the skinny, place a chevron under the top pole of the skinny fence. If at any point you or your horse gets worried, put guide poles on the fence or even go back to the previous lesson.
After you feel completely comfortable progress to jumping different kinds of skinny fences, ones with brush, different colors, etc and then you can move on to jumping them out on a course.