There is a lot more to successful cross-country riding than galloping. Your horse needs to have a range canters and gallops that you can use during your cross-country round or schooling session. These are key to speed, safety and having a smooth ride so that you can meet each fence at an appropriate pace, which in turn will help you have a confident round.

Top eventing coach Caroline Moore recommends that riders need to have five gears to choose from in order to have a successful cross-country ride. With correct and clever use of these gears, you will be able to complete a cross-country course quickly, clear and within the optimum time. A horse who is listening to you and responsive to your aids — rather than pulling or being so keen that they are reluctant to slow down — will give you a smoother ride. They will be quicker too, even if they don’t have as fast a top speed as other horses, as they don’t waste time changing between their gears and setting up for each fence.

Below I have summarised what Caroline’s five essential gears are, when you need them and how to ride them. Practise them next time you’re cross-country schooling or even out hacking.

First cross-country gear


What it is: “You’ll rarely use this gear; it’s reserved for specific jumping efforts or for when the horse is unsure,” explains Caroline.

When to use it: jumping off a big step, or over a ditch or into water with a young horse.

How to ride it: “Have the horse between your leg and hand, with your leg aids encouraging them to be well connected into the rein.”

Second cross-country gear

Coffin canter

What it is: “This is the shortest canter, which is high-powered with a short base,” says Caroline.

When to use it: any cross-country fences with a surprise on landing (such as a coffin), and anything especially upright, such as a gate.

How to ride it: “Tighten your core and shift your balance back to encourage the horse’s shoulder up,” advises Caroline. “You’ll feel the power coming from their hindlegs, but don’t allow it to escape out the front. Keep their frame short and the neck soft.”

Third cross-country gear

Related distance canter

What it is: “Think of this as being a big showjumping canter combining a high degree of power and control with a more positive stride,” advises Caroline.

When to use it: upright fences, skinnies and related distances

How to ride it: “Maintain power in the horse’s hindquarters and shoulder control, but allow your horse’s frame to lengthen into a more purposeful stride.”

Fourth cross-country gear


What it is: “This is a ground-covering pace for wide, single soft profile fences and sub-optimal ground conditions,” says Caroline.

When to use it: logs, rolltops, hedges and deep or ridgey ground

How to ride it: “The rider should be in a light seat, with secure lower leg and a rein contact you’re happy to jump from. Allow your horse to come in front of the vertical as they lengthen their body and gait.”

Fifth cross-country gear

Top speed

What it is: “Top speed is your fastest pace on course to help you make up time and avoid penalties. You’ll be doing this between fences that are spaced well apart,” states Caroline.

When to use it: in between cross-country fences

How to ride it: “When travelling at your horse’s top speed, you should be in a two-point seat with your leg secure, following the horse’s stretched neck with your hand.”

Caroline Moore coaches some of eventing’s brightest stars; she has produced and competed up to 5* level, and co-owned Allstar B, who carried Ros Canter to gold at the 2018 World Equestrian Games.

Main image: copyright Your Horse Library (stock image)

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