We’ve all been in this scenario: You come around the corner to the jump, hoping to see a good distance, but it just isn’t there. Maybe you accidentally cut your turn, or your canter has gotten a bit flat, or you simply cannot recognize how many strides are left between you and the fence. This moment can feel stressful, but rest assured that all riders have felt it many times.
The “perfect distance” might seem elusive, and it’s not going to appear every time no matter how seasoned you are, but you can improve your eye to see a distance more consistently. Additionally, when the distance doesn’t appear, it’s important to have the tools to get to the jump safely without derailing your course, confidence, and concentration. This is all possible with consistency and practice - and a good bit of self-forgiveness, too.
In her latest Masterclass, esteemed equitation and jumper trainer Missy Clark breaks down a step-by-step progression to help you develop these skills and feel more confident in your ability to manage distance. Diligent work at home is key, so we’re breaking down two of Missy’s favorite exercises to help you develop your eye and confidence in managing distance.
1) An Old Faithful Exercise: Two Poles, Lots of Different Distances
Putting two poles on the ground may seem simple, but this is one of the best exercises to help riders develop their eye. Pole work is an excellent training exercise because it is accessible to riders of all levels, from pony kids to Grand Prix riders. As Missy says, “[Poles] are basics that you can never go back to review enough, in my opinion.”
Let’s put this exercise into action. Put two poles on the ground, leaving 60-62 feet between them (this wiggle room allows for different horses' lengths of stride). Then, after a thorough warm up on your horse, play around with the striding between the poles - try five strides first, then an easy six, then an extended four strides which will require more pace. If you're feeling ambitious and your horse is well-schooled, you may even try to condense the canter for seven strides.
If you want to make it more challenging, you can put the poles on a bending line to introduce some new skills into the equation. While you’re focused on the numbers and the lines between the poles, don’t forget to keep your horse straight through the turn into the exercise. Missy’s three big things to keep in mind when you are working over poles? “Rhythm of your horse, stride length, and pace.”
Missy has one big tip for improving your ability to find distances to the poles: “Remember, they are just poles on the ground. They are not jumps, so basically your upper body shouldn’t even be moving as your horse steps over the pole… Don’t feel like you have to be perfect every time.”
2) Crossrail Gymnastics for Fine-Tuning Position
As Missy explains, position is a major way that you can impact your horse’s balance, which will in turn impact the distance you see. “If you are really able to focus on correct position, you will be able to manage your distance a lot better,” she says.
A classic exercise Missy uses for helping riders to focus on their position is a gymnastic of crossrails. Here’s how to do it:
Set up four crossrails with about 21 feet between the jumps at a height that is appropriate for your level. As you get better at this exercise, you can start to shorten the distance to 19.5, which will require you to come in with a shorter, more condensed canter. As you canter through, Missy advises to really focus on maintaining a quiet upper body and letting your horse’s jump close your hip angle.
Feel like you’re getting left behind in the air over the cross rails? That’s a normal sensation as you emphasize a still upper body. The best way to get used to having more control over your upper body is to move out of your comfort zone. It may feel like you are getting left behind, but you are most likely exactly where you need to be!