When learning to jump it can be difficult to meet jumps on the correct stride and to learn the feel of a good jump, so instructors use placing poles to assist the horse in finding the correct take-off point, thus enabling the rider to focus on their position and the feel. However, sometimes the riders and horses can over focus on the pole and it doesn`t help improve the jumping technique.
I`m a big believer in the rider getting the correct canter on the approach and then allowing the horse to adjust themselves to find the right stride. Additionally, I find that novice jumpers have enough to worry about without trying to “see a stride” and position the horse themselves. One of the exercises we used to do as children was counting down to a jump. I could never get my head around it. I could always see the stride but I struggled to count “3,2,1,jump” on the last four strides before a fence. Perhaps my instincts worked quicker than my brain?
Moving on. Counting canter strides is important, but instead of counting down the strides, counting in threes or fours, will help stabilise the canter rhythm and the rider is thinking positively because they are counting upwards.
Even on the flat counting canter strides can help improve the canter rhythm. I`ve done it so many times that it has become autonomic. I often find myself mid-canter saying “twenty one, twenty two, twenty three … What am I doing?” because I`ve subconsciously been counting canter strides and reached a ridiculous figure.
A couple of weeks ago I introduced a client to the idea of counting her strides towards a jump. Her horse has quite a big, scopey stride so can do a mini-leap over poles which tends to complicate jumping as she gets left behind or he gets too close to the fence. To try to prevent my rider having too many dodgy jumps, and to instil the correct feeling and hopefully teach my rider to see where her horse will take off over fences so she can go stay in sync with him over jumps. This will make courses flow more smoothly.
Before she started counting her strides a few yards before the jump the horse either backed off slightly or lengthened his stride too much. Then my rider tried to correct the canter, but it was too late. When she was counting her canter strides, “1,2,3,1,2,3” she noticed instantly when the canter changed and could apply her leg, a half halt, or adjust her upper body position to regain the canter. I felt that she was then attacking the fence a bit more – I don`t mean chasing her horse towards the jump, but closing the leg and riding positively towards the fence instead of having the hand brake on. From then on, every jump was met on a good stride.
Now that the canter is becoming autonomic and consistent, I want to build up to riding lines between fences, around corners, and through combinations so that courses become flowing and smooth.