One simple trick to kick your cross-country riding up a gear – Racecar turns



One simple trick to kick your cross-country riding up a gear – Racecar turns

Most riders I know are not physicists or mathematicians. In fact, most riders I know wanted to get as far away as possible from those difficult subjects in school. (I’m guilty as charged). But given that we play a sport that involves steering 1200 pounds of horseflesh around arenas and cross-country courses, physics and math matter a lot.

I was listening to some old episodes of the very well-done Eventing Radio Show a few days ago. Back in the summer, they had 2018 Event Rider Masters champion Chris Burton on the show, just after he had sealed his victory in the final leg of the series. Among the questions they asked him was: how are you so consistently quick across the country?

His answer included a combination of reasons: he has fast horses, he rides on a loose rein so that they have to carry themselves rather than pull against him, and he walks his courses very carefully to find the fastest line. But he also brought up the importance of the apex of the turn. The show host that day was Liz Halliday-Sharp, who is a racecar driver, so both knew the theory and practice behind the apex of the turn. Here’s a diagram (courtesy of Google):

The blue line represents the fastest track that a racecar (or horse) can travel. As you can see, the goal is to be tangent to the inner track exactly at the “geometric apex” of the turn. This requires both a wide approach and a wide departure.

I’m no racecar driver, nor was I ever that good at physics or geometry, but this diagram makes a lot of sense. Basically, you can turn faster if you can turn more smoothly. This method turns a sharp 90 degree turn into a softer 60-degree turn just by changing the track slightly.



We are always told as riders to “put your foot on the rope,” referring to the idea that to make the time, we have to take the tightest possible inside track. But Burton’s insight from racecar driving suggests that sometimes the fastest track is not strictly the inside one.

You can imagine how this would make your horse’s job easier as well: you wouldn’t have to upset his rhythm by slowing down too much for a sharper turn. Of course, cross-country riders have to contend with more obstacles than do racecar drivers (like, for example, cross country jumps!), so this kind of method to save time may not always be possible if there are fences right after or before the turn. But it’s something to think about as we all wait feverishly for the season to start up again next year.

Burton emphasized that this skill was the last one he wanted riders to be thinking about and learning. He said that he gets young riders asking him all the time about how they can be faster. They are getting ahead of themselves, he warned. First, riders should be rock-solid in the basics: rhythm, balance, control, seeing a good distance out of stride. Only then should they add in strategies to improve their speed.

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