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A Guide to Stride Adjustment

30 Nov

Lots of riders have problems with adjusting their horse’s stride properly before a fence. Most of the problems I see are due to the lack of distance judgement on behalf of the rider, which makes for a lack of confidence and tension in the horse. Sometimes, however, the rider sees the striding correctly and cannot get their horse to adjust correctly before the jump. This can cause major problems in combinations and with large fences.

First off, you will need to determine how well your horse does with lengthening and shortening his stride on the flat. After a good warmup, begin asking your horse to shorten and lengthen the stride. To shorten the stride, use a slowing seat (sit deeply and rock the seat bones back to slow your horse), and a slight hand to encourage your horse to slow the stride. Try to keep as much impulsion as you can however, as energy is important when approaching a fence. To help with this, simply hug your horse’s ribcage gently with your lower leg. To lengthen the stride, use a driving seat (push your horse forward with your seat and stay light in the saddle), a strong leg, and a following hand. Keep the contact even through both reins but be sure to release the hands forward with your horse’s neck. Practice this at both trot and canter. If your horse is just learning and happens to break his stride, calmly ask him to go back into whatever gait you are working in and repeat the process more gently.  If your horse is resistant, repeat the excercise several times until he becomes fluent and will lengthen and shorten his stride whenever you ask him to do so.

The next step is to take some ground poles and begin to practice seeing your horse’s natural stride. This is important because you will get a feel for how much ground your horse’s natural stride covers and help you to decide whether you will need to adjust the stride when you’re jumping. Place 2 ground poles 4 strides apart (a normal stride length is 12 feet, so 48 feet should give plenty of room for the 4 strides) and at canter, approach and ride over the ground poles. Count the strides between the poles, and also from 3 strides out, count down to the first pole. For example, “3,2,1,pole, 1,2,3, etc” See how well you do with estimating the amount of strides before getting to the pole.

After mastering the ability to count down strides before a pole, you will then be ready to start modifying the amount of strides between the pole. Try shortening the stride between the poles. After landing from your first pole, using the tips listed above to help shorten the stride, aim for 5 strides between the 2 poles. Remember that your approach also needs to be slow with a close “spot” as the farther the spot for takeoff is, the farther the landing spot is. Ideally, a horse jumps in an arch with equal takeoff and landing points relative to the obstacle. Next, try lengthening the stride between the 2 poles. Try 3 strides between them. Remember to approach at a faster speed and ride forward as soon as your horse lands. Also, never get driving your horse forward so much that you end up jumping before your horse (getting into a 2-point prematurely). Continue to play with your strides between the poles to see how many strides you can fit between them. Most of the time, you can shorten strides more than you can lengthen them.

Finally, you will be ready to set up some fences. Practice the same series of exercises described above with the ground poles over fences. Remember with a higher fence, you will need to take into consideration that your horse will be less adjustable with the hight of the fences because of the inevitable distance your horse will take up when he lands. Good luck and Happy Riding!