We’ve all been there, turn to a fence and wait to see a good stride… we wait and wait and without realising it, we are choking the life out of the canter. We are now meeting said fence, not only without having seen a stride, but also lacking the necessary energy to deal with it. This is when we usually kick and hope for the best.
I am writing this article as it is an issue that seems to get into rider’s heads (speaking from experience!) and when I asked my followers and readers of The Grassroots Gazette what they would like me to address, this subject was hands down the most requested, so here goes!
A rider’s ability to “see a stride” does not come from being born with a “good eye”.
While having “A good eye” can be as a result of raw talent alone, it is skill that can absolutely be learned.
This much sought after ability comes down to the rider being able to feel a good quality canter (balanced with impulsion), which they can then maintain, in an even rhythm, with desired tempo.
Rhythm is the regularity of your horse’s stride and is not to be confused with tempo, which is the speed at which your horse’s hooves hit the ground.
A consistent rhythm forms a stride pattern and it is this pattern that gives riders the ability to see a good stride to a jump. You can’t predict what is not consistent.
So, how do we develop these skills?
Here’s a few questions I would be asking my riders…
- Do you know what a standard 12ft canter stride FEELS like on YOUR horse?
- Can you adjust (shorten / lengthen) your horse’s stride pattern?
- Can you maintain that stride pattern to form a rhythm?
- If not, why not? Rider interference? Change in tempo? Horse falls off the rider’s aids?
Course designers build distances based on a standard 12ft canter stride. Yet we know horses come in all shapes and sizes with their own natural stride pattern. As a result, we need to familiarize ourselves with what a 12ft canter stride feels like on each horse and then we work on how to maintain it.
It may sound like an oxymoron but to achieve consistency, we need adjustability.
So, once we know what a 12ft canter stride feels like, we can then practice changing it…shortening (10/11ft canter stride) and lengthening (13/14ft canter stride). You should aim for these gear changes to be executed smoothly and effectively, all without a change in the tempo.
I like to use the visualisation of “compressing and expanding”.
How to achieve this, The Practical Bit…
Two Raised Canter Poles – Straight line, 5 Stride Distance (20.70m)
How to ride it
- Approach your poles in a good working canter. As you land over the pole, count the number of strides between each pole.
- Repeat this until you are consistently getting 5 even canter strides between the poles (ie a 12 ft canter). Tune in to what this 12ft canter stride feels like on your horse so that you will be able recreate it outside of the poles.
- Now, ask your horse to move forwards and open the canter up, so you get 4 strides between the poles.
- Then, shorten your horse’s canter stride so you get 6 strides between the poles.
- Use this exercise to “check-in” with your stride pattern regularly as perceptions can change without us realising it.
- Keep it playful.
Remember you want regular, even canter strides between the poles regardless of the chosen stride pattern and this pattern should be established early, before approaching the first pole. You want to avoid having to make big adjustments over the poles.
It is important to note that while some horses can lengthen and shorten their stride easily without a loss of balance, others, once pushed outside of their natural stride pattern, may need time to develop their balance and strength.
You don’t have to meet every fence perfectly… “OFF – EVEN – DEEP” are all good options, provided that the quality of the canter is there to cope with it!
Riders should acknowledge the positioning of fences – eg. a turn automatically has the potential to negatively affect the rhythm so you may need to keep more leg on as you come through it. Alternatively, a fence on a straight line has the potential for an increase in tempo and may require the rider to balance the canter to maintain the rhythm
Count your canter strides out loud. It helps with breathing, relaxation and can highlight if there is a change in tempo.
Never forgo straightness. A loss of straightness is a loss of hind engagement.
Achieving and maintaining a rhythm doesn’t happen overnight and requires a lot of mindfulness from the rider. Did the rhythm change? Why did it change? And how do I counteract it?
Practice, tweak, practice, tweak, practice until the rhythm looks smooth and adjustments seamless.
Don’t overthink “seeing” a stride. Focus on the quality of the rhythm and a jumpable stride WILL come.
I hope this article has been useful and feel free to get in contact if you wish to avail of some online coaching.
Best of Luck,