Trainer Tuesday: What Are the Most Important Elements to Finding a Good Distance? 

Welcome to Trainer Tuesday! Each week we ask trainers a question and gather their answers for you. These trainers have a range of experience, backgrounds, and focus points of their programs, so the answers have as much variation as you would expect and also probably much more similarity. 

This week’s question posed is: What are the most important elements to finding a good distance? 

Here are their answers: 

“Pace and track. If you have those two things correct, you will almost always have a good distance to the jump. Your horses stride must be rhythmic, and your horse must be straight to the jumps. The goal is to always keep the speed and rhythm the same and try not to make too many adjustments. When the rider has an accurate speedometer, they can rate the pace much easier so they can make sure the speed always gets reset back to the ‘right’ pace for the horse in between the jumps.” – Stevie McCarron Wigley
Listen to Stevie McCarron Wigley on a recent episode of The Plaidcast here.

“I think the narrative around finding a distance needs to be changed to learning more about a quality canter. As a rider, you are always responsible for your horse’s pace, path and their balance.  These three things will lead you to a quality canter. When a rider has learned to control the canter, the ability to find a distance will become drastically easier.” – Kari Briggs, Otterbein University 

“A horse carrying the rider to the jump (not behind the rider’s leg) continuing to the jump. Straight and balanced canter with one rhythm (I think 110 strides per minute but I could be mistaken) a clear track to the center of the jump. Once you have the right connection with your horse, and the right canter, the horse should show you the distance so you won’t have to work so hard to find it.” – Stefanie Mazer
Read more from Stephanie Mazer in The Plaid Horse here.

“The most important elements to finding a good distance are: having a good canter, having the proper track & approach to the fence, and having your horse in good balance and connection so they are with you!” – Michael Tokaruk. Listen to Michael Tokaruk on The Plaidcast here. 

“Rhythm, track, balance, understanding depth perception, and ride-ability so when you come up short or long, you can adjust to give your horse the best take off without dramatic or unexpected changes.” – Courtney Hayden-Fromm 
Read more about Courtney Hayden-Fromm in The Plaid Horse here.

“The most important elements of finding a good distance are track, pace (quality canter), and the rider maintaining a balanced position with their face and eye lifted.

Get a quality canter, appropriate to the height you are jumping, count 1,2,1,2 or 3,2,1,3,2,1 or (however your trainer recommends). Stay on your straight track and maintain your canter rhythm until your distance appears. If you don’t see anything, trust your canter and your position and continue counting and riding your track.

  • If you’re counting on a 1,2,1,2 rhythm you can leave on one or leave on two.
  • Avoid going too slow or starting under pace. Get a little more canter than you think you need if you tend to start a little slow.
  • Avoid fiddling with the canter. Learn to trust your canter. Ride your canter, ride your track, count, and your eye stays on your target.” – Regan Comeaux
    Read more about Regan Comeaux in The Plaid Horse here.

“To find a good distance, you need to do the following: 

  • Have your horse truly riding from back to front
  • Ride with connection
  • Ride with rhythm
  • Keep your horse straight
  • Stay in rhythm and allow the distance to materialize without pulling”  – Peter Leone
    Purchase Peter Leones Peter Leone’s Show Jumping Clinic Book here.

“I encourage my riders to count 1,2,1,2 etc as the canter to a jump. This helps them be aware of the rhythm and helps to keep them breathing. Then I have all my riders look at the top part of the jumps in the center. I have found this to work best for my riders to know where they are as they approach the jump. Then I tell them to “make the best out of whatever distance presents itself” and then I want them to support it. I want my riders to sit up with their leg on whether the distance is a little long or deep. It works, the horses want us to be there for them.” – Troy Hendricks. Listen to Troy Hendricks on The Plaidcast here. 

“Become brilliant in your flat work to understand each horse’s unique way of traveling to develop adjustability. This will give you the confidence to allow each fence to approach with minimal change and a patient eye.” – Megan Fix

“Here’s the recipe we utilize, which starts with never thinking about ‘finding’ a distance to any obstacle. This puts unnecessary pressure on the rider and encourages a wrong understanding of how we should ride to jumps, and tends to make the rider try to manufacture the takeoff distance, rather than allowing a comfortable and appropriate distance to any obstacle developed out of good habits of dressage, practice with poles, and cavaletti.

Riders who begin to think of ‘allowing’ a good distance to appear can have replicable and repeatable success at the jumps when they regularly practice the following:

1. Striving for 100% nasal breathing while on course—mouth breathing creates an imbalance in blood gases and is a major contributor to anxiety-driven poor performance, especially in inexperienced or nervous jumping riders

2. Maintaining an appropriate and regular rhythm in every turn & approach line on course while also maintaining light inside flexion in every turn on course by ensuring the outside rein is not held too tightly

3. Returning to the ideal rhythm for the next approach as soon as possible after landing from the previous obstacle— remember never to use leg when asking the horse to slow down. It often helps to stand up in your stirrups to help eliminate pushing with the seat as well while slowing down on course.

4. Maintaining your own balance and steady soft contact with the horse’s mouth throughout the course so communication is never lost

5. Exhaling through the nose and pausing inhalation as you make your final approach to the obstacle (this helps riders decrease unwanted muscle tension in their own bodies, especially if they have had a previously unpleasant or nerve wracking experience while approaching a fence).

6. Building confidence in the process by also understanding that sometimes the way an obstacle is set on the track of the course does not automatically bring you to the takeoff on a perfect full stride length. If you have followed all the steps above and the takeoff to an obstacle still feels awkward, ensure you have approached with the appropriate rhythm, and then the next attempt, make a slight adjustment to your track in the approach— either going slightly deeper into the turn, or rounding it a bit more to give yourself more or less room in front of the obstacle.

Finally, if you’ve followed all the above steps successfully, the worst that can happen is that you end up a little long or a little short, but always at a jumpable distance to every obstacle. With time, experience and improving dressage skills, your ability to recognize the need for minor adjustments to stride length will allow you to fine tune the takeoff even more—especially important as jumps get larger and the window for comfortable takeoff for the horse gets narrower!” – McKrell Baier
Read more from McKrell Baierr in The Plaid Horse here.

“The most important element to finding a good distance is first to have a good canter! Out of a good canter, a horse can jump from (almost) any distance comfortably.” – Jessica Goldstein Holmes. Check out Jessica Goldstein Holmes’s answers in this previous Trainer Tuesday article here. 

“One of the most important elements of finding a good distance is rhythm and pace. Having and understanding a good canter will help you find your jumps.

Most riders think there is this a “perfect” spot that they must hit or the jump is bad. That’s not necessarily true. There are so many elements to finding a jump that not only includes rhythm and pace, but also involves approach, connection, and rider’s position (not tensing up). Be confident in your approach and make sure to work with a good trainer to help you hone your skills. As we like to say at Wynmore Farm, confidence is king!” – Sybil Greene. Listen to Sybil Greene on The Plaidcast here. 

“Ronnie Mutch had us canter poles with the idea to place the front feet as close to the poles as possible. You shortened, lengthened, or stayed the same to make that happen. He would then put the poles at the perfect takeoff distance in front of the jumps, and voila, there was always a good distance!” – Missy Roades. Check out Missy Roades answers in this previous Trainer Tuesday article here. 

“Key elements to finding a good distance? The magic question! Pace, track, straightness and rhythm are so important. I do all the things with my students. They count 1-2-1-2 out loud (so I can see what’s going on in their heads) and it makes them commit. One day, at a quiet schooling area one late afternoon after the show was over, I was giving a bunch of 2’6 girls on good horses. I told them to canter around the corner, line up the jump and close their eyes—yes, they all thought I was crazy! But, they all did it and had a lovely jump! So, we discussed the idea of ‘do we screw up a distance, or does the horse?’ They all laughed and said, ‘obviously it’s us!’ My old trainer used to tell me ‘if you don’t see anything stay the same! It will be much better than if you are kicking or pulling!” – Jennifer Pigue. Check out Jennifer Pigue’s answers in this previous Trainer Tuesday article here. 

“Balance, track and rhythm are the ingredients to being able to affectively ride a good distance. Having a straight landing is crucial, if you cut your turn to early on your landing, it affects the track to the next fence. You then more than likely need to adjust the stride greatly to make up for it creating a snowballing affect through the course where you’re waiting or moving up. Landing straight and establishing the rhythm before the turn is crucial. Also, it depends on the type of fence an oxer from the corner you aren’t going to want to ride backwards to, they need to get the width. In contrast a double vertical you make raise their eye a bit and ride a touch more carefully. Bringing young horses along is different, you don’t want to be holding them off the fence and pushing to the next, especially if they’re careful. Keep it on a rhythm and ride to the fences consistently, then they can get their timing right.” – Nicholas Latina. Check out Nicholas Latina’s answers in this previous Trainer Tuesday article here. 

“Seeing a distance is entirely dependent on your understanding your horses’ stride. The rider must be able to maintain their horse’s pace on all different stride lengths. Basic exercises include cantering a pole three strides in front of a small vertical and maintaining a stride length that brings you to the correct distance to the vertical. Cantering a line of 2 small jumps at 70 or 72 feet apart and jumping it in a soft 6 strides and a smooth five strides until the rider can feel maintaining pace. A very common error is allowing the horse to speed up after the line. Once a rider can maintain pace and straightness to the jumps and away in these exercises, there eye will begin to see the distances smoothly.” – Robin Greenwood. Listen to Robin Greenwood on The Plaidcast here.

“The three things that I emphasize with my students about finding a distance are: pace, line and balance.
1) Pace is your speed. A horse canters about 10-12 mph on average, as a rider you need to establish the right pace for the exercise.
2) Line is where the rider looks in at the jump to find the line or track that they want to take to ride the exercise correctly 
3) Balance is where the horse is carrying the rider, the poll is just above the withers and the nose is just in front of the vertical while the horse is engaged with the hind end keeping the front-end light.” – Gregory Franklin. Check out Gregory Franklin’s answers in this previous Trainer Tuesday article here

Read last week’s Trainer Tuesday Article here.