Life Hacks for Maintaining a Proper Pace on Course

Photo © Lauren Mauldin


We all know that the secret to finding 8-10 proper jump distances in a course is to stop looking for the distances. Easier said than done, right? The best way to “find” the jumps is to maintain the correct pace and track and the jumps will come out of stride. 

My struggle has always been that my ammy brain goes full on “clear the mechanism” the moment I enter the show ring. Standing at the ingate I have a plan of action, but the moment I pick up the canter that plan vanishes like ringside mimosas before the adult ammy classes. I needed something incredibly simple, that didn’t require lots of brain power, and would keep me on pace.

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

My pony, unsurprisingly, likes to back off in the turns. My instinct is to settle into that too slow rhythm and then find the jump on the half stride. My brain knows that it is unreasonable to ask him to leave the ground if he has no impulsion, but often I don’t realize how much we have slowed down until it’s too late. However, the flip side of that is that if I do remember to keep him going through the turn, there’s a high possibility that I will continue to build and still find the jump on a half stride because I overshot my rhythm.

Staying on my track is easy, but maintaining my pace has long been my Achilles heel. I tried counting, but it was too easy for my to get off beat without realizing it: 1, 2, 3, 4 could become 1…2…3…4…because I was matching my counting to the canter, not the canter to the counting. Fortunately my trainer at the time recognized my dilemma, and helped me figure out a method to beat my own brain at screwing things up. It’s a game changer, and in case you don’t have a trainer who can identify your ideal canter rhythm on the fly, I am here to bring you the condensed version that has saved my behind on any number of occasions!

The first key is finding your ideal jumping canter’s Beats Per Minute (BPM). I stole some tips from Dressage Land (who knew that musical freestyle would come into play in the hunter ring?!) to help you find your ideal BPM. There are a couple options, but regardless of which one you choose, warm up fully before you start. It is helpful to have a cell phone, 3 same colored polo wraps and one wrap in a different (and bright!) color, and an extra person on the ground to help you out.

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

Most canters will fall in the range of 95-110 BPM. My pony’s personal ideal is 104 BPM. Before you start the process, wrap one of the front legs in the single bright colored polo, and the other 3 legs in the neutral matching wraps. Track so that the bright colored wrap is on the inside front leg. Every time that leg strikes the ground at the canter, will count as one beat. Whichever method you decide, I would recommend counting a couple times just to factor in human error.

Methods to Finding Your BPM:

  • Use the timer app on your phone set for one minute. Have your helper stand in the ring and count the number of times the brightly wrapped foreleg comes down. If you maintain the same speed, that number is your BPM.
  • Have your helper use a metronome app and adjust the tempo up or down until the beep in the app matches the beat of the front leg. Alternatively, you can have your helper use a BPM app and have them tap the screen every time that foreleg touches the ground. Either app concept will give you an average BPM within a few strides.
  • Have your assistant video you at a consistent canter for at least one minute. Play the video back at home and count the footfalls from the comfort of your couch. Personally this is my favorite method, but use whatever feels right for you.

Once you have your ideal canter BPM, then comes the fun part! There are tons and tons of playlists already compiled to particular BPMs for running or working out purposes. Just type in “songs with XXX BPM” into your search engine and voila, you have a cheat sheet to maintaining pace! It is SO MUCH easier to stay on the correct pace when all you have to do is sing in your head and make sure the canter is keeping with the rhythm of the song! I went ahead and created a playlist on my phone of songs with 104 BPM and I try to use it several times a week when hacking outside of lessons, to make sure I am practicing correctly at home (because #musclememory is a very real thing!).

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

If you have an apple watch, and want to take it one step further, you can install a metronome app that uses haptics vibrations. You set the app to your ideal BPM and your watch gives a vibration with every beat. Just like anything else, the more you practice it correctly, the easier it becomes!

Now you know, that if you see me mouthing words, while on course at a show, I’m singing “All Star” to keep my 104 BPM canter stride!

About the Author: Ponymomammy juggles her roles of mother (two human, two ponies, and three doggos), wife, and perpetual amateur in Camden, SC. When not shuttling kids, or riding, she can be found feebly attempting to clean or cook, usually in dirty breeches from an earlier hack. Both she and her daughter enjoy showing on both the local, and A rated, show circuits.
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