The Prevention of Horse Falls
By Jenny Richardson BHSAI
Although uncommon, horses can fall on cross country courses and it is important as riders that we prevent this as far as possible, for both animal and human welfare. Most can be avoided by correct and quick reactions, as well as the proper preparation and fitness for the discipline in hand.
Horses must never be over-faced in a competition, or be asked to tackle a type of fence that they have not encountered, so homework and practise at several venues are essential. Different types of terrain, hill work and working over ditches and in water must all be tackled. You must be accustomed to jumping up and down hills, and in and out of shade. Combination fences and angled jumps should be mastered – everything at a lower level and increased when confident. This will prevent mis-understandings between horse and rider and give your horse the skills he requires to adjust himself to maintain balance.
As a cross country course is both testing and tiring with undulating territory, twenty or more obstacles to jump and perhaps up to two or three miles of solid canter work, fitness of both horse and rider is essential. A structured training programme beginning weeks before the first event covering both plenty of slow road work to strengthen the horse’s legs and prolonged canter work to ensure correct breathing, heart rate, etc, is key. A horse is more likely to tire towards the end of the course, causing possible mistakes, so a plan will help. Interval training, with trot and canter work monitored and slowly increased, is a good basic fitness programme and used by professionals.
Assess the going when you walk the course, probably the day before, and decide if you need to use studs, and if so, which variety. Generally the deeper the going, the larger studs you will need, so with good going, select your smaller, pointy ones. It is recommended that you use two studs in each shoe for safety and balance. You will also have to take decisions on how to ride the course according to the going and your routes through the different options. Very wet conditions are the most dangerous and should be ridden more cautiously and collected. Speed helps no one, if you are not clear!
It is important you are able to give the right signals and judge a safe take off point, and that you have a good degree of trust between you and your horse. If you can consistently give him the correct balance and the right take off point for each jump, as required, nothing should go wrong. However, if your signals are unclear or mis-judged, you will then interfere with his natural ability and could cause many problems, possible falls and eventually refusals. A trainer will monitor and correct mistakes, and is money well spent.
This would usually occur when you are in a tricky situation and your horse has had to make an awkward jump. If there were no rider involved, the horse would very rarely fall, so you must be able to allow him as much freedom of movement as possible in this situation and have the ability to slip your reins and either remain upright, or lean slightly behind the momentum. Tipping forward could shift the balance, causing a fall rather than preventing one. Of course, you are unable to ‘practise’ for this situation, but you can ensure you are fit and ready to ride with strong leg muscles from work on the lunge. Instinct for self-preservation should kick in and help with automatic decisions which have to be made on the spot.
Prevention of falls and problems must be foremost in your preparations for a good cross country season. Once you and your horse are fit, prepared and experienced at the level at which you want to compete, clear rounds should come easily and with success comes fun and glory and stepping stones to a bright future for you both.