Let’s Discuss: Seeing Strides

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Not Woodburn

Like any good horseman knows, in order to become a better rider, it is necessary to not only practice riding in itself but also to watch and study the techniques of other good riders. One of the things I find most interesting to watch is the different methods upper level riders use when it comes to jumping, more specifically to seeing a stride. Seeing a good stride or distance to a fence means the rider has put their horse at the most optimal place to jump the fence well. If you have ever attended a Grand Prix show jumping competition, or even an Advanced level horse trial, you will know what I mean when I say that almost all of the horses seem to canter around the course and leave the ground in the seemingly ideal place every time. To the untrained eye these horses and riders seem to have perfected the art of seeing a distance. The more one watches though, it becomes evident that even at the highest levels horses will have to jump both from slightly deep and slightly long distances. In other words, even the greatest riders won’t see the perfect distance 100% of the time. Each rider has his or her own way of keeping their pace and rhythm to the fence. Some count down from a certain number, some count up, and some don’t count at all but rather feel the distance. A coach once told me that ever since she started to see a stride consistently, each time she approaches a fence she hears the melody to a certain song being played in her head! These methods allow the rider to know where they are in the approach to a fence, good riders will know several strides out whether they are long or short, and then can adjust their stride accordingly.

 

The difference between a “miss” for a horse jumping an Advanced level course to one jumping a Novice level course is simply the degree. If you watch lower level show jumping at an event, it won’t be long before you will see a horse leave an entire stride out in a combination and take off long, or do the opposite and put a very short “chip” stride in before the fence. As the jumps are raised, the margin for error narrows and a “miss” becomes a matter of mere inches. It is really then when it becomes crucial that the horse be placed at a good distance to jump the fence from.

 

Many trainers, especially at the lower levels, preach that the only thing needed to produce good jumping is having a quality canter. A quality canter involves having enough impulsion or “engine power” while maintaining a step in an even rhythm without getting “quick”. As it relates to the lower levels, this does seem to be all that is needed to keep both the horse and rider safe and out of trouble. Horses, being the kind creatures that they are, generally seem to help their riders out more often than not. It makes me smile to see an amateur’s horse cantering around a cross country or show jumping course with an “It’s alright Mom, I can fix it attitude” happily readjusting their stride to jump each fence and continue on their way.

I’d like to hear everyone’s opinions. Do you think it’s important for riders at the lower levels to practice developing their eye? Should they only be concerned with having a good canter? Or do those two things go hand in hand?

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