How To: See your distance when jumping

Nail your jumping take-off spot every time with this tutorial by Horse Nation’s newest blogger Lila Gendal.

From Lila:

On behalf of Horse Nation, welcome to my first How To blog! Today I want to focus on how to see your distance when jumping because anyone who jumps, regardless of their discipline, would immediately understand the inevitable challenges that correspond with the ability to recognize a distance to a jump.

Let’s break it down here to the smallest and most common denominator. What are we actually talking about here when we say seeing a distance to a jump? Quite literally we are referring to a situation where a rider is cantering their horse towards an obstacle and at some point, actually at every point, there is a specific amount of distance between you and your horse and that obstacle. Your job is to get your horse to that ideal take off place before jumping the fence–neither too close, nor too far from the jump.

You come cantering along and a number of things are going to happen: 1) you are going to vastly miss your distance and your horse jumps from a long spot–meaning your horse jumped about a stride too early, 2) you are going to miss your distance and your horse is going to chip in, meaning your horse is going to add a very short stride before the fence creating an awkward distance to the fence and most likely an awkward jump over the fence, 3) you are going to miss your distance and the horse quits, slams on the brakes, or runs out–none of which are desirable outcomes, or 4) you come cantering along in the right speed, balance and impulsion, and you come to the perfect take off spot, meaning you got your horse to the perfect distance and created a situation from which your horse can easily jump.

How do we get to number 4, mentioned above? Is there any rhyme or reason to this madness, or are there steps we can take and certain techniques we can practice to achieve this greatness? Well, truth be told, this is NOT random. There are tips, tricks, advice and knowledge… so let’s break it down again–I have three great suggestions for you!

  • 1)     The Canter, the canter, the canter!  

You probably are wondering why the emphasis on the canter? Well, the canter is the gait that you are going to be jumping out of 90% of the time. Of course, we can trot a fence, but cantering is really the focus here. Thus, the quality of the canter is of tremendous importance.

In other words, a GREAT canter is one that has a quick, or active hind end while lifting the front end… or, simply put, a quick uphill canter! How to create this perfect canter? FLATWORK! You can practice this canter in your dressage work-like shown above. Some horses have slow hind ends, and some horses have quick hind ends. Some horses are light in the front end and some are heavy and want to bear down. A quick, uphill canter takes time to create and strength. This type of canter will ultimately help you see your distance to a jump because this canter has more options–meaning you can manipulate this canter to work in your benefit. It will come… just be patient and don’t give up!


  • 2)     Cantering poles on the ground.

This might be one of the best kept secret when learning to, or improving your ability to see a distance to a jump. How often do you struggle seeing your distance when jumping? How often or you getting upset or discouraged because you make some of your distances, but can’t see all of them? If you only have one horse, obviously you can’t pound on your horse by jumping him or her every day. This isn’t good for the horse. Of course you might need to jump every day, but your horse does not. The best situation is if you have multiple horses to practice on that all have very different canters. This will allow you to get on a random horse and create the canter you know you need in order to get to the perfect take off spot. If you only have one horse, try cantering poles on the ground in your flat work. This is not as taxing on your horse and will still allow you to work on your eye. You actually don’t even need poles… you can canter your horse around and pick a very specific spot on the ground–like a leaf or a dirt patch, and canter to it and try and see your distance to it as if it were a jump. This will absolutely help you see your distances.


  • 3)     Practice, practice, practice!

My last bit of advice is to practice. The best way to get better at something is to practice. Some people just have an amazing ability to see a distance to a fence–but for the majority of riders, seeing a distance is something that can take years and years to become good at. Take lessons, canter poles on the ground and watch other people who ARE good at seeing their distances, or watch YouTube videos of grand prix jumper riders. Watch how they ride and what they are doing while they are riding. The most important advice here is not getting discouraged, just keep at it, and experience does come with time spent in the saddle. Good luck!


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