I would always support investing in our coaches because the pay off is so great as they influence so many hundreds of riders over their lifetime. I agree with Sebastian Coe, the Olympic 800m and 1,500m medalist and now head of the 2012 London Olympics, that more money should go to
coaching and coaches rather than to individual performers because it is better value for money. Whether or not this is right or wrong what is certain is that cross country riders get huge value for money by using a well trained cross country coach. The use of an experienced coach is also a primary route for overcoming fear.
WALKING THE COURSE
Walking the course with an experienced coach or rider is probably one of the best investments in safety and reducing fear that you can make. However it is important that they have seen you ride and know your strengths and weaknesses, and also know your horse, otherwise, although their advice could be sensible it may be inappropriate in your situation. What the experienced coach will do is make the course walk a positive experience. They will put things in the right way, concentrating on the things you should do rather than the things you shouldn’t do, and only ask you to do things of which you are capable.
ROOM FOR ERROR
The most valuable part of course walking is to understand why certain fences and routes are easy if ridden in a particular wayand what your specific line and speed your be. Doubt and a lack of clarity
leads to a lowering of confidence that leaves you unfocused and less safe. As doubt is reduced and confidence increased, in how you are going to ride the fences, you are much more likely to achieve the desired result and be safer.
Of course the whole philosophy of cross country training and preparation should be to leave 'room for error' so a small inaccuracy should not create a dangerous situation, and with the right choice of daily exercises and horse everything will build towards this 'room for error'. As you increase the room for error you increase your safety and decrease accidents. Your horse being trained to look after you and take responsibility for the fence is the best way to increase room for error. Other ways are to have a horse with more than sufficient scope and gallop, so that they are always performing well within themselves, and for them to be more than fit enough so they will not be tired towards the end of the cross country.
Your coach will also be able to advise you on the safety equipment that should be used to prevent injury in the event of an accident. The skull cap is the same as that worn by steeple chase jockeys, but check with your association that you have an approved model. Many jockeys also wear a hunting tie around the neck, without a tie pin, so this is also recommended. The body protector and shoulder pads have also proved extremely effective in reducing injury and should always be worn, but make sure they fit well enough so that your movement is not restricted. The new air release body protectors which inflate if you have a fall are also great and are the same as those available for motor bike riders. However the greatest pay off for using a good coach, both before and at a competition, is that their expertise will make an accident much less likely to happen.
FEAR OF FALLING
Particularly for the young the fear of falling off can be enormously reduced by learning how to fall and getting fit enough to fall, under the direction of a qualified gymnastics coach. This is a positive
strategy that will benefit the vast majority of riders, because riders of all levels do have falls at times. Of course every effort should be made to avoid falls, but this does not reduce the value of learning how to do this. It is well worth watching steeplechase jockeys who do this on a regular basis. They put their chin on their chest, while rounding the back and tucking up their legs, making themselves ready to roll when they hit the ground.
As preparation for this, as far as possible all young riders should learn how to vault on and vault off their ponies. My father had a wonderful rider called Trevor Power who was able to ride both his
motorcycle or a horse standing up with his feet on the seat or saddle respectively. No wild horse could defeat him because he would just vault back into the saddle at any speed with the greatest of ease. His skills were rare but the vast majority of young riders can be taught in three or four sessions to vault on and off a suitably quiet horse or pony...and it is an important skill.
...AND THERE'S HOPE FOR US AS WELL
For the remainder of us keeping trim and gently active when not riding and working at our suppleness can lead to surprising improvements at any age. See the wonderful chapter in my book, the Complete Horse Riding Manual published by DK, on specific exercises to help your riding. They work! Happy Days. William
PS Your numerous and wonderfully positive response to these blogs on fear have shown that this is a real issue that it is often swept under the carpet. Which of course wastes talent and potential. I
was terrified as a young rider, yet although I am now just past my 58th birthday I really look forward to jumping across country on a young horse I have at the moment - a half brother of Karen O'Connor's Mandiba.....as long as the knees hold out! It's all about making each day meaningful. Really happy days!
NEXT TIME....a new article...BERT, JACK & HERBERT...a story of connection and great lessons for us all.