Chris Burton - Improving control on cross country

      Chris worked with Sam and Paddy on improving their 'brakes' on cross country


Having warmed up their horses with a stride counting exercise at the Canberra clinic with Chris Burton, the riders were now to test their brakes and control. Chris was focused on ensuring that the horse understood the aids to slow and halt whilst remaining straight.

“Four strides out from a fence if I asked you to stop your horse, you should be able to. If you can’t that’s a worrying thing. If I said ‘Hop in this car and drive to Queensland but it has no brakes and no steering’, there is no way you would get in that car”

“So don’t leave the Start Box until you have brakes. Horses are not born knowing these things, we have to teach them”

In particular the halt must be straight, something that each rider had difficulty with at first but especially Sam Harrison's horse Paddy who really wanted to snatch the bit and rush the fence

First the riders were asked to come up the hill in two-point seat, then sit in the saddle for the actual jump and stop as soon as possible after landing. The halt should also be straight, something that each rider had difficulty with, but especially so for Sam’s horse Paddy

Chris suggested the use of the voice as well as the reins and moving the bit in the horse’s mouth to try and stop him just bracing against the stop aids.

“Eventually we want to be able to just say ‘Whoa’ and use a light rein aid and the horse will immediately react and stop. That’s the goal but you may have to achieve that through stages. Be effective first then refine it”

Having worked on halting after the fence, Chris asked Sam to gallop up the hill as if she meant to jump the fence but then stop a few strides before the fence

“This going to take repetition – he’s a typical racehorse that wants to go, go, go. You need to work on this in your flat work so that he halts on your command, smoothly and staying in a round frame and stays halted until you say go”

Chris also addressed Sam’s position as her tendency to ride with straight aims meant that she didn’t have the strength in her position



The riders then moved onto jumped a curving line to a brush fence and then some skinny fences which require more control of the horse by the rider. For Chris, it’s important that the horses are given every chance during schooling to not run out

“If we make it easy for them to run out at arrowheads or skinnies in schooling then they will run out in competition because we have trained them to do it. Then doing it in competition just confirms it – if I’m not in a team and have a run-out during competition then I’ll walk home. During a competition is not the time to try and fix the problem”

Chris suggests that ideally you should have jump wings on hand when schooling cross country to guide the horse, especially one that has had problems with skinny fences

“Make it a nice kind jump that so that the only way is through it”

If jump wings are not on hand, look around for options and, in the case of this clinic, it was the use of large branches and willing volunteers, but ‘Wings are better’ said Chris jokingly ‘You don’t kill people that way’


By the way, for anyone concerned about the breathing of Kate Mckenzie's horse Astro, don't worry - that's how he always sounds!