Distance-finding may be the most mysterious — and anxiety-producing — aspect of horse riding. The best of riders reach almost every jump in stride, almost magically. And the rest of us, well, we have our good days and bad days.
Of course we all know the importance of presenting our horse to the jump properly. And we should have a pretty good sense of what five or six strides looks and feels like. Even so, there are times when you can be four, five, six strides in front of a jump and not quite know what’s going to happen.
To add to the mystery, different coaches have different systems to help riders improve accuracy and consistency. Count up to the jump, count down to the jump, count through the corners, look at the top of the jump, look past your jump, and on and on. Each of these has its merit, but all are means to an end. And that end is the one thing all coaches agree on: pace and track (plus a bit of patience) create distances for you.
Here are 10 expert quotes that prove it — distance-finding isn’t about your “eye” or your ability to create something out of the corner. It’s about rhythm, canter quality and track.
How to Find a Distance According to the Experts
1. Focus on Pace
What’s the key ingredient of most winning hunter rounds? Seeing every jumping distance? Wrong! It’s rhythm—an even rhythm, consistent pace.
2. Be Patient
Distances are like men. Never take the first one you see; there will always be another one.
If you worry about whether or not you’re going to “find” the right distance to a fence, you’re already setting yourself up for failure. This anxiety causes you to change your pace or line (or both), to pump your body, throw yourself ahead of the motion or clutch at your horse’s mouth. All of these things disrupt your timing. So your fear ends up being a self-fulfilling prophecy.
4. Pick Your Track
Often, a missed distance is due to a rider coming round a turn too wide or narrow, or jumping across the fence rather than straight over it thus causing the horse to drift a bit on the approach.
5. Find your Rhythm
The first thing I tell my students is that it’s not about finding a distance, it’s about finding the rhythm. I really believe that distances don’t totally exist. If you have the right rhythm, I believe you’re going to get to where you want to be.
The key thing when jumping is to establish a good canter rhythm – then the stride will follow.
~Horse and Country
6. Stay Straight & Balanced
Come through the turn with your horse bent uniformly around your leg from poll to tail, then stay straight once you point to the jump. This is essential for finding the correct distance.
Any loss of balance, direction or pace will make it difficult to recover between the jumps and cause you to “miss” the distance,” leave out a stride or have an awkward too-close or too-long takeoff.
7. Canter Quality is Everything
The quality of the canter is of tremendous importance.
A horse is much more likely to be able to take off from the wrong place with a good canter than the perfect place in a weak canter.
~Horse and Hound
The answer is to improve the quality of your canter so the horse is more secure between hand and leg.
Unless your canter is active, uphill, balanced and your horse is in front of your leg (where they are taking you every step of the way and you’re not kicking them every stride), the chances of you being able to see a good stride are significantly reduced. The only way to achieve this canter day in day out is by doing flat work to build up strength in your horse to be able to sit and push from behind.