Finding The Perfect Stride

A client of mine has been having trouble finding her jumping stride recently, and they’ve been getting in too deep and getting in a muddle over courses.

After a problematic weekend competing, we had some work to do this week. I put a grid out, and we began with the middle fence as a cross, building to an upright and then oxer. Over the cross and upright they were fine, but as soon as I put the back rail onto the 1m fence the pair crashed and burned. 

I noticed two problems, which need to be overcome. The first problem is that my rider was micro managing her horse, and trying to place him precisely to the jump, even a stride or two out. Her adjustments, and change in body position (especially when she folded before him) unbalanced the horse, and now that they’re jumping a significant height, he’s unable to get them out of trouble. To explain more; if she saw a long stride, kicked and folded, her body weight went onto his shoulders causing him to put in an extra stride and then stop because he’s unable to lift the shoulders to take off over a 1m+ jump.

We went back to basics for a moment and looked at the quality of the canter. The canter needs to be punchy and energetic, especially as the jumps get bigger. Sometimes their canter wasn’t quite energetic enough, which can also cause her to ride at the last minute. Next I reminded my rider that her job is to set up the canter and create a good approach but the last three strides were up to the horse. After all, it’s his legs and body that need to get over the fence. 

Once my rider stopped panic riding at the last minute, they met the jumps nicely each time.

Next, I built the grid up to an upright, one stride, oxer, one stride, upright. Again, we focused on the canter approach to the first fence and meeting that nicely. Then as long as my rider had her leg on quietly and didn’t chase her horse through the grid, the rest of it flowed nicely. Then my rider could work on the feel of a good shaped bascule and take off.

Once we’d worked through the grid I got out the muscles again to build a simple course. I only used single fences as this exercise was to focus on creating a good approach to each fence individually, and we’d already covered combinations with the gridwork.

We ran through a couple of courses, checking lines and ensuring the canter is balanced but energetic. Which is when we came to the second problem.

My rider has jumped, with the help of placing poles, from a perfect take off. Which is what she’s focusing on achieving. But when the take off is slightly out, she’s getting het up about it not being perfect. This is actually creating the last minute panick-adjustments we’ve just discussed. 

I explained to her that whilst there is a perfect position to take off for a jump, there is also some leeway to be six inches closer or far away. 

There is the perfect take off point – probably with some mathematical formula linking the distance from the base of the fence to the height of the fence and the parabola – but there is also the correct take off point for the approach they’ve had. 

When she approaches a fence there’s a distance her horse has to travel. The canter stride will cover some ground, and depending on the type of canter this distance will vary. Which is why it’s important to have a good quality, regular canter. Then over the last three, maybe four, canter strides (when a horse has locked onto the fence) the horse will adjust his stride, like a long jumper, to get as close to the takeoff point as possible. Just like long jumpers though, sometimes they’re over the line or just back off the line. Therefore my rider needs to focus more on creating a good approach so that her horse is in the best possible position to adjust the canter over the last couple of strides to get a good jump.

So whilst we all strive for that perfect take off point, it’s important to remember that the horse needs to be able to control the last couple of strides (yes, I know some horses have a tendency to run out, but let’s look at the keen jumper who loves to jump) and that there is a good take off point for every approach, which is important to accept, so don’t worry if you took off over that jump a little too far away, or a tiny bit too close because it is better to go with your horse then interfere and cause him to doubt himself.

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