Jumping cross country: staying in the saddle, no matter what happens!

Jumping cross country can be dangerous. British eventing champion and German team trainer Chris Bartle holds seminars on the best ways to stay safe in the saddle when facing tricky situations on cross country courses, from slipping the reins to the "Oh shit!" position. We’ve uploaded a great video on wehorse.com featuring Chris Bartle. We’re really excited about it and want to tell you what the British eventing trainer can teach you about jumping cross country!
It’s turned into quite a large project, and you can learn a lot about jumping cross country in the 70-minute-long video. Naturally this video will be of special interest to eventers and others keen on jumping cross country. Chris Bartle’s analysis focuses on the seat and examines riders like William Fox-Pitt, Ingrid Klimke, and Sandra Auffarth. He reveals their reasons for especially safe riding and how these riders approach jumps skilfully. Even normal leisure riders will get something out of Chris Bartle’s seminars! He presents the various varieties of seats and explains how the rider can stay safely in the saddle in difficult situations encountered when jumping cross country, such as when the horse unexpectedly skids or stumbles. This special safety seat has a funny name: he calls it the “Oh shit!” position. Incidentally, this position is also helpful if your horse bucks.

Using the “Oh shit!” position when jumping cross country

For riding and jumping cross country with this safety seat, the stirrups are shortened. It’s important that the rider keeps the lower legs in such a way that your toes are in front of your knees. The lower leg is in position at and in some cases even in front of the girth. The rider should feel that two thirds of the horse is in front of them, meaning that: the rider’s centre of gravity should be behind the horse’s centre of gravity. The rider’s buttocks are in the saddle and his upper body is imagined to be very slightly behind the vertical.

How to prevent falls when jumping cross country

In the “Oh shit!” position, the rider can slip the reins if necessary. If the horse stumbles, it will then be able to use its neck for balance. This lets the horse catch itself, possibly preventing a fall. To demonstrate this, Chris Bartle shows an impressive video clip: William Fox-Pitt (whom Bartle calls the most experienced eventing rider in the world!) approaches a solid obstacle incorrectly. He lets a lot of rein slip while still over the jump, then brings himself back so that he lands in the “Oh shit!” position. The horse stumbles when landing due to the incorrect distance, and in such a way that the viewer immediately feels that this could end in a fall. But the horse catches itself because it is allowed to use its neck to regain its balance. The rider doesn’t get in the way and is seated securely, because he shifted his centre of gravity back. William Fox-Pitt could thus prevent a fall and continues on.

Slipping the rein when jumping cross country

Many examples from videos demonstrate how good riders will naturally and quickly slip the reins, and then just as quickly gather them again. Chris Bartle explicitly notes that it is absolutely vital to practice this in training first.

Jumping cross country requires the heart of a lion

Chris Bartle says that jumping cross country requires “the heart of a lion and the seat of a pessimist!” During the film, he shows how good riders transition between different seat positions – for example from the racing position into the preparation position, from the preparation position into the jumping position. The prominent eventing trainer explains all these different positions and their characteristics in detail.

In the video you’ll also learn:

  • the role of the rider’s core
  • the importance of using the upper leg
  • how the rider should use the body to act as a lever
  • how to use one’s body to guide the horse’s shoulders
  • how to sit in order to allow the horse’s back to work freely
  • how a bridge in the reins fulfils important functions even at the highest levels of the sport
  • the importance of keeping the horse’s head, neck and shoulders as straight as possible in front of you and how to do this
  • the advantages dressage training brings to riding and jumping cross country
  • the importance of looking straight ahead and how to improve with practice
  • how to approach water jumps with young horses
  • the differences good and bad leg positions will make in riding
You can find the video at www.wehorse.com. Chris Bartle not only discusses all these points, he also uses video clips of riders jumping cross country to help illustrate them. Correct leg position, for example, is demonstrated through clips of various riders jumping cross country, helping the observers to train their eyes.