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“A horse which stops dead just before a jump and thus propels its rider into a graceful arc provides a splendid excuse for general merriment”
                                 Duke of Edinburgh

High-risk, arduous and demanding, cross country is probably one of the most popular equestrian sports amongst spectators due to the thrills and spill that accompany it.  Cross country is most commonly recognised as being the most exciting phase of eventing although it is actually a horse sport in its own right, known also as hunter trials and usually run at a lower level by local riding and pony clubs.
Designed by professional course builders, cross country courses are intended to mimic the natural obstacles found when literally riding ‘across the country’, thus fences such as fallen logs, ditches, hedges, gates and water are commonplace. However, as horse and rider move up through the levels of competition the cross country courses they will face become much more technical, and unusual props and decorations (such as cars, model life-sized animals and hay carts) will be used to test the horse’s bravery. Typical cross country fences also include the ‘coffin’, which consist of a jump followed by a ditch and then a fence ‘out’ – the striding between which depends on the level of difficulty at which the combination is performing. A ‘corner’ is a cross country fence that is a ‘v’shape in design and demands accurate riding as the horse has to clear the narrow corner at its base. Steps are also common on most cross country courses, as is the ‘trakehner’ (a log, either angled or straight, over a ditch), drops (where the ground on landing is much lower than that on takeoff), tables and brush fences. Cross country competitors are also required to jump in and out of woodland, as the use of shadow and changes in light are excellent for testing a horse’s training and bravery.

The length of the cross county course depends on the level at which one is competing, but normally runs over 2.75 to 4 miles and includes between 24 and 36 obstacles. Having been counted down from within a starting box at the beginning of the course, each competitor is timed from start to finish, and penalties are incurred by those that do not complete the cross county course within the set time, as well as for refusals at any of the set obstacles. Elimination occurs for those unfortunate enough to fall from their horse at any point in the course, as well as for those who incur four refusals or jump fences in the wrong order or direction. A fall of the horse now constitutes immediate mandatory withdrawal in cross country competitions.
Cross country riding demands the correct equipment, all of which can be found at the tack shops listed on this site. A skull cap, body protector, coloured cross country shirt and hat silk, beige breeches, riding boots and a stop-watch are essential for the human competitor, whilst his equine counterpart will require leg grease (to help him slide of fences he may hit), protective boots, and an overgirth and breastplate. A saddle and bridle should go without saying!