In this excerpt from her book Stride Control: Exercises to Improve Rideability, Adjustability and Performance, renowned coach Jen Marsden Hamilton talks about the importance of adjustability on course. Be sure to enter the raffle for a free copy courtesy of Horse & Rider Books at the bottom of the page!
Training develops options. When riding to a jump, there are always three options:
• Move up (increase the stride), going for the forward distance that is seen.
• Steady (decrease the stride), going against the distance that is seen.
• Keep what you’ve got (maintain the stride), going with the distance seen.
These three options are always there, but that doesn’t mean they are always appropriate!
Most riders have a preference for one of the three rides; some riders like to always move up, but this can teach the horse aggression or rushing. Others like to hold and steady, but this can create a “chicken” (teaching your horse to stop). Learning to use the short side of the arena (the recovery and setup phases) correctly, allows the rider to make decisions regarding stride length based on knowledge and confidence. Commit yourself to the stride you’ve set up with conviction. If the line rode correctly, great. If it wasn’t that great, change the turn before the line the next time by altering the stride length. If you make a mistake, learn from it and fix the ride. Don’t practice mistakes until they are perfect mistakes!
Develop the feel for three canters—the “true” (regular) 12-foot stride, the closed stride, and the open stride. Practice and learn to find the jump from the different canter strides. Why? Because when you finally get to the jump, there’s no such thing as a bad distance. That’s where you are, so learn to love it! Support the ride with your leg, position, and your conviction, using your eyes to keep looking for the track away.
These days, jumping courses are technical and riders can no longer just ride “off their eye” or always jump from their preferred distance. It is the course designers who dictate how related lines should be ridden. They do this through altering the distances between jumps, the types of jumps in the line, and other factors. As a rider you have to train hard, long, and correctly to meet these challenges.
During competition, it is essential to use the mental knowledge gained from the course walk to setup the ride on the short sides, so you can keep what you’ve got to the first jump of the line and then fine-tune the canter in the line based on:
• Your eye.
• The “feel.”
• The count.
Know that the option “keep what you’ve got” reduces the chances of confusion and will always produce a better jump. Horses do not appreciate riders who constantly change their minds in front of jumps, so learn to “keep what you’ve got” and train your horse to jump from that distance. Use the tools learned through stride control exercises, use the setup phase and recovery phase to give yourself more time to get organized, and find an appropriate ride based on training and knowledge—not panic and desperation.
• Stride control exercises over jumps add the elements of needing “more correct pace and impulsion.” The setup and recovery areas take on more importance.
• There is no fine line to a perfect distance. Horses and riders have to learn and love to jump off different stride lengths and takeoff points.
• Through stride control exercises, riders learn to read the situation, act accordingly, and ride with conviction.
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