angle-left How to Find a Distance to a Jump, Part 2

How to Find a Distance to a Jump, Part 2

Top professionals share horse-training tips for riding accurately to jumps.
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Note: This is Part 2 of a two-part series. If you missed it, read How to Find a Distance to a Jump, Part 1. In the first part of this series, we learned to define a distance while improving our odds. After figuring out what a distance was, we went into three easy steps: understanding the 12-foot blueprint, knowing your horse’s stride and practicing ground poles. Here are the next steps:


David Connors, trainer and coach of multiple world champions and AQHA Superhorses, teaches visualization as a pre-game warm-up.

“First, I tell my students to visualize the course and the approach they will take to the first jump,” says David, of Colts Neck, New Jersey. “Think about the way the course rides and the distances between the obstacles and the finish. Also, I always, always, always tell my students to look ahead to the next jump.”

AQHA Professional Horsewoman and Judge Sandy Vaughn of Ocala, Florida, agrees.

“Look beyond the jump you are approaching,” she says. “And never look down. There is no golden spot on the ground. I find that when you focus on the ground, you get a chip.”

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Maintain Rhythm

David Warner of Alto, Michigan, stresses rhythm as the key ingredient of a successful ride. “When people start worrying too much about seeing a distance instead of riding a rhythm, it makes things more complicated,” he says. “If you keep your horse on the correct, 12-foot rhythm, you’re not going to get the perfect distance every time, but you ride the distance you’ve got. You might ride a little long this time or a little short, and you can change it up a little, but it’s less complicated. People find their way around courses much better when they just lock in to a rhythm.”

David Warner tends to keep his students thinking about their courses as simply as possible. “Remember that a jump is just a canter stride,” he says. “If you ride it well and consistently, the distances will come to you.”

Keep Coming

Shane George, world champion rider, coach and AQHA judge of Magnolia, Texas, stresses working forward out of the turns.

“The biggest thing I can say is, make sure you have your horse in front of you through the turn,” Shane says. “Do not be taking back and backpedaling. The tighter the turn, the more leg you should hold on your horse. If you allow things to change too much, you will have more trouble seeing a distance.”

The phrase “have your horse in front of you” means, essentially, “keep the rhythm consistently motoring along.” Don’t allow your horse to slow down and change pace. Slowing to balance a bit is OK, Shane says, as long as you get your horse back in front of you again as you round your corner.

“You don’t want to fly around the turn, but you also don’t want to backpedal,” he adds. “A lot of times, people don’t know where they are. By the time they see a distance, it’s too late. Then they make a big move or just get that bad, tight spot. If the horse is in front of your leg, then you’re not pulling back or having to move up much at the jump.”

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Remain the Same

Most riders see a distance about three strides in front of the jump. At that moment, their tendency is to think, “Wow! There it is! I see it!” Unfortunately, at that point, instead of staying on the same rhythm and stride, the rider makes a big move - perhaps asking the horse to go forward a bit - and consequently riding past the perfect distance.

“Instead of sticking with a rhythm, they gun it,” Sandy says. “That disrupts everything. Instead, you should stay on a rhythm and let the jump come to you.”

One of the most complicated jumps to assess is a single oxer parked way out in the middle of the arena. Because of the long approach to the jump, riders tend to make stride adjustments along the way, resulting in a choppy approach and an inconsistent ride.

“People want to gear up way too early for this,” Shane says. “If you canter around the corner, take your time and hold your pace, your eye will find a distance.” Shane notes that some riders gallop directly to the single oxer, which can be impressive. Unfortunately, if they miss, it’s a big miss.

“Just be patient until you are three-quarters of the way there, and then you can see where you need to be,” he says.