Going across country is hard work for both horse and rider so you need to think about your own fitness level as well as his.

There is nothing worse than an unfit rider lolling around on top – apart from making you no more than a passenger, it’s a recipe for disaster.

Problems can be caused by poor or incorrect presentation at fences resulting in refusals, run-outs, falls, loss of confidence and injury.

It’s much more difficult to present a horse correctly if the rider is tired as it takes longer to explain what you want the horse to do and therefore longer for the horse to respond.

Work on your cross-country position at home and ride your horse at hunter trial speed. This doesn’t mean careering around the countryside out of control – it means being able to keep a consistent rhythm and balance while maintaining control on level ground and over differing terrain.

Fitness tips

  • To improve your fitness and your rapport with your horse, get out into the manŠge or a field, put your stirrups up two more holes than you usually do and learn how to stop, start, turn left and right in wide open spaces. If you can canter for about five minutes in control, your horse stops blowing within 10 minutes and you are not exhausted, then it’s going well
  • Riding with your stirrups shorter than your usual jumping length will improve your lower leg position and encourage a deeper, more secure position
  • Adopt your cross-country position as often as possible – this will improve your balance and co-ordination as well as strengthening leg and lower back muscles
  • Always wear a body protector, whether you’re schooling, hacking or competing. By wearing it when you’re riding at home in the summer months, you’ll get used to the excess heat it creates
  • If you don’t work with horses every day and only ride a few times each week, you should take part in some other form of aerobic activity which raises the heart rate to ensure you are fit enough for competition riding
  • Try to exercise at least three times a week, for 20 minutes at a time. You could join a gym, take up cycling or swimming or go for regular walks (remember, hill work is good for people too!)