From  Equine  Wellness  -  Jan. 2016



Being able to judge a horse's stride coming into o fence is one of the first things you need to learn when jumping. Developing an eye for distance is easier for some, but it's a skill everyone needs to learn through the correct exercises.

by  April  Reeves


Before you start your jumping career, your horse needs a certain level of training. All jumpers must have:

* Balance (simply put, the horse's body and movements appear effortless)

* Speed (varies with horse and jump course; the horse needs the ability to adjust speed on soft contact)

* Impulsion (energy from the hind legs recycles to gaits, keeps horse in front of your leg)

* Rhythm (absolutely necessary for proper striding)

* Obedience to aids (especially outside aids)

There are several schools of thought when it comes to how much a horse should be "managed". I am not one for micro-managing any horse, especially in jumping. Horses  need  to  take  responsibility for their rhythm, but this only comes with consistent and quiet training. For example, as you move into a trot, it is not your responsibility to manage every stride. Too many riders nag their horses with their heels, claiming it's the only way they will keep going. Aids should be applied, and the horse must be obedient to them and stay in the rhythm and speed you ask until you decide to change.


There are many exercises for distance, but the following work well with new jumping students who are learning to train their eye.

(1) Counting strides: This exercise helps you understand how important it is to feel the horse underneath you (and get to know him better). It also gets you into the habit of paying attention to his strides. Count no fewer than three strides, and up to six, before the fence. Call them out loud as you go - one, two, three, four. Becoming aware of your approach helps you see and feel distance. As the horse approaches the fence, pay close attention to the last stride before he gets there. Does he come in short most of the time (chipping), does he take off too early, or is he reasonably consistent?

Horses need to take responsibility for their rhythm and speed, N and the same applies to strides before a fence. You want to set the horse up to learn how to adjust strides on his own. If you don't, neither you nor your horse will appreciate the stress as jumps get higher, and he will rely on you for his decision-making. If you fail, you both fail. Once you are good at counting strides and have a good understanding of how your horse jumps, you can move on to teaching responsibility. If your horse chips, you need to come in at a better pace. Chipping is usually a sign of backed-up energy; move it forward or he will bury himself. Allow the horse to make mistakes but be aware of the mistakes that come up frequently.

Here's a rule I follow: if a dozen rides to a jump result in the same distance, change your pace and rhythm. Go back to foundation basics, get those down, and go back to fence work. Know when to stop and revisit foundation work.

(2) Grid work: This is one of the key elements to training a jumper. Use grids in every lesson. Each grid has a different function in training. Learn those functions and change your grids as your horse develops. To start, a simple set of ground poles in a trot line gives the horse something to think about and develops his eye for where his feet go (use square poles or Cavaletti, something that won't roll if he lands on them). Average grid poles are four feet apart. As he builds confidence, turn straight lines of poles into arcs (a fan shape) and learn how to ride through them on a curve in both trot and canter. Arc lines teach you to stay in the center, and help with bending and softness. Outside aids and use of the rider's core are key in this exercise.

As you advance (and your horse is calm and relaxed), add several more grids and place small jumps around the arena. Use a pole as a guide for take-off six feet in front of the jump (closer for ponies, i.e. half their full stride).

(3) The circle: Set up one jump on a circle at 12 o'clock and practice it intermittently over a few days until the horse is relaxed and going well. Add another jump at three o'clock and work them both; paying attention to the number of strides. Add another at six o'clock and continue. Do not overwhelm the horse with this exercise. You do not need to jump height to get height: it comes from perfect practice.


1. Vary your work. Jumping requires eagerness and a willing attitude from horse and rider. These attributes come from variety, not from repeating the some exercise every day. Jump for 15 to 20 minutes max, no more than twice a week. You can do grid work daily.

2. The stride of a normal horse (1,000+ lbs, 15.3HH and up) is around 12 feet (the standard in all jumping competitions). If your horse has short strides, or you have a pony, you may want to shorten the striding distance to nine or ten feet.

3. Never walk a horse over a short fence setup; you will teach him to knock rails over, and once you establish this, it is next to impossible to change. I won't even walk over ground poles unless they are Cavaletti.

4. Work up slowly - don't rush jump training. Slow is actually faster, because it builds confidence, muscle and timing.


Don't start introductory training by riding flatwork for a few minutes then beginning to jump individual fences. Jumping has far more to offer than this. Add grids; stop riding the rail and make every stride count as you train.

Do avoid using force when teaching your horse to jump. Keep your contact soft and your aids light. Strong aids are like yelling - eventually; the horse will tune you out. Also; force is abuse; and horses will equate jumping with pain and avoid it.

Do exercise the brains of intelligent, energetic horses - they need their minds exercised as much as or more than their bodies. Quiet, slow horses, need revisits to foundation work to stay hot on the leg and forward. Confident horses need riders with the skills to maintain it, as confidence is rare in a horse and you need to preserve it.

Do revisit foundation work throughout the lifetime of the horse and your riding career. Every horse needs to go back to basics now and then; since riders don't always stay consistent. Remember, everything is training. Everything.

Don't forget that jumping is dressage with obstacles, and a jump is just an elevated canter stride. Simple as that sounds, training a jumper takes time, dedication and the desire to do it well. Learn flatwork well enough to start a horse over fences, and study dressage to ensure you and your horse have a future over larger fences.

Do know when to stop. The lesson you leave with is the lesson you get the next day.

All training is about patience and feel. Solve problems through quiet training. Remember, it is always about the horse. 


April Reeves is a CHA Level 3 English Flat - Jumping and Western Instructor. She lives in Central Alberta, Canada, at Horseman's Park Alberta. She focuses on the addition of softer, natural practices as opposed to just training for the single discipline, to round out a horse's education and create a more balanced, intelligent ride.