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Cross-country equestrian jumping is an endurance test, and is one of the three phases of the sport of eventing; it may also be a stand alone competition known as hunter trials or simply “cross-country”, however these tend to be lower level, local competitions.

The object of the endurance test is to prove the speed, endurance and jumping ability of the true cross-country horse when he is well trained and brought to the peak of condition. At the same time, it demonstrates the rider’s knowledge of pace and the use of this horse across country.

The cross-country test takes place on the second day of an eventing competition.  It is usually the most appealing to spectators and riders. The object of this test is to prove the speed, endurance, and jumping ability of the horse over varied terrain and obstacles.  In order to accomplish this task, the horse and rider must be at peak condition. The horse must be brave and obedient, and the rider must use knowledge of pace in order to expend only as much of the horse’s energy as necessary.

The cross-country course covers approximately 2.75 to 4 miles and consists of approximately 12-20 fences (lower levels), or 30-40 at the higher levels, placed on a long outdoor circuit. These fences consist of very solidly built natural objects (telephone poles, stone walls, etc.) as well as various obstacles such as ponds and streams, ditches, drops and banks, and combinations including several jumping efforts based on objects that would commonly occur in the countryside.   The cross-country phase is ridden at a gallop, with exact speed requirements depending on the level of competition. The aim of each team of horse and rider is to complete the course on time and with as few penalties as possible. Penalties can be accrued through jumping errors (horse refuses or runs out at an obstacle, rider falls off on course, etc.) or by exceeding the optimum time allowed. Cross-country is the only sport where two minds and bodies are working together, pitted against the clock, to cross the finish line.

Cross-country riding, and indeed eventing in general, is a fun and exciting sport but is certainly not for inexperienced or unfit. Horses and riders need to be comfortable with each other, confident and well-trained. Riders in particular must be used to riding for long periods of time before they even start to attempt cross country circuits. But, for those who are brave enough to try it, and talented enough to master it, cross country riding is an exhilarating and rewarding sport. It will certainly keep both rider and horse fit, and improve their work as a team, which in turn, will help them excel in all areas of riding.

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