5 Ex­er­cises to Find Your Dis­tance

Try th­ese five ex­er­cises from hunt-seat trainer Ge­off Teall to learn to see your dis­tances bet­ter and im­prove your jump­ing rounds.

Practical Horseman - - Contents - By Ge­off Teall Pho­tos by Susan J. Stickle

Tim­ing, find­ing your spot, see­ing your dis­tance, us­ing your “eye”—th­ese are all terms for the same thing: guid­ing your horse to an ideal take­off spot. It’s the sin­gle-most chal­leng­ing el­e­ment of rid­ing a course in any jump­ing dis­ci­pline. There’s a com­mon mis­con­cep­tion that some peo­ple are born with a great eye and oth­ers are not. In re­al­ity, all riders have the same abil­ity to see a dis­tance. The only dif­fer­ence is the de­gree of con­fi­dence we each have in our abil­ity.

If you worry about whether or not you’re go­ing to “find” the right dis­tance to a fence, you’re al­ready set­ting your­self up for fail­ure. This anx­i­ety causes you to change your pace or line (or both), to pump your body, throw your­self ahead of the mo­tion or clutch at your horse’s mouth. All of th­ese things dis­rupt your tim­ing. So your fear ends up be­ing a self-ful­fill­ing prophecy.

The op­po­site is true when you have con­fi­dence. It would never oc­cur to great, bold riders like Les­lie Burr Howard, Louise Se­rio and Laura Kraut that they won’t get to the right dis­tance—so they never pull back on the reins or make any other com­mon mis­takes in their ap­proaches to fences. As a re­sult, they never get the wrong dis­tances.

The good news: Even if you’re an anx­ious rider with lit­tle faith in your eye, you can im­prove it sig­nif­i­cantly. I’m liv­ing proof! I’m by na­ture a timid, ner­vous rider who had no con­fi­dence early in my rid­ing ca­reer and a ter­ri­ble eye. But I trained my­self to over­come those is­sues and de­velop a great eye.

The most im­por­tant les­son I learned dur­ing that process and sub­se­quent years teach­ing stu­dents is that fo­cus­ing on your dis­tance doesn’t work. What does work is sys­tem­at­i­cally cul­ti­vat­ing a dis­ci­pline for rid­ing the right line and pace for ev­ery sit­u­a­tion. As that dis­ci­pline de­vel­ops, the dis­tances sim­ply ap­pear. In this ar­ti­cle, I’ll share the sys­tem that I’ve used suc­cess­fully with many stu­dents.

Have Faith

The first build­ing block of this sys­tem is learn­ing to be­lieve in your­self. You can de­velop a great eye! In the mean­time, un­der­stand that even if you don’t see a dis­tance, it will not be the end of the world. If you can keep your pace and track—whether that’s on a straight line or a curve—ex­actly the same in an ap­proach to a jump, the worst dis­tance you can ar­rive at will be a half-stride off. The vast ma­jor­ity of horses can make up for that half-stride and still jump the fence safely.

To take your tim­ing to the next level, you need to con­vince your­self that it’s pos­si­ble. Here’s a great ex­er­cise for do­ing that: Ask your­self, “Who do I know who is most clearly an ex­am­ple of a con­fi­dent rider?” The next time you ride, try to im­i­tate that per­son. You’ll be sur­prised by what a dif­fer­ence this makes. Do it in the show ring, too. Es­pe­cially if you tend to be re­ally ner­vous, pre­tend that you’re that ex­tremely con­fi­dent per­son. I’ve tried this method with count­less stu­dents—and it

works alarm­ingly well!

As you fo­cus your mind on this es­sen­tial build­ing block, grad­u­ally start to de­velop your sense of line and pace, as well, with the fol­low­ing ex­er­cises:

Ex­er­cise 1: In­vis­i­ble Jumps

Build a nor­mal course with only jump stan­dards—no jump cups, poles or other ma­te­ri­als (flower boxes, etc.). Then pick a pace and ride the en­tire “course,” can­ter­ing through the mid­dle of each pair of stan­dards and mak­ing straight lines and smooth turns just as if the jumps were there. Use your eyes to plan your track; as you ap­proach the end of each line, look ahead to the next one. Mean­while, try not to let the pace slow down or speed up even for a mo­ment. This is harder than it sounds. If you strug­gle to keep the same pace through­out the ride, don’t worry. Just keep prac­tic­ing rid­ing in­vis­i­ble cour­ses (over many ses­sions) un­til your pace con­trol feels per­fect.

I learned this ex­er­cise from Ge­orge Mor­ris. It re­moves the is­sue of tim­ing com­pletely, so you can zero in on your track and pace. It’s also a great op­por­tu­nity for check­ing in on your po­si­tion, mak­ing sure that you’re keep­ing your body still in be­tween the jumps. As you prac­tice it, re­mem­ber that we can do only

one thing at a time. So pay at­ten­tion to each skill—track, pace or po­si­tion—in­di­vid­u­ally un­til it feels right. Even­tu­ally, th­ese fun­da­men­tal skills will feel like sec­ond na­ture, so you can clear your mind for other chal­lenges.

This ex­er­cise also ben­e­fits quick or ner­vous horses who an­tic­i­pate the jumps (of­ten be­cause they’re wor­ried about what their riders might do in the ap­proaches). As your horse learns to trust that you won’t in­ter­fere with him—by pulling on the reins or chang­ing your po­si­tion dra­mat­i­cally in the saddle—he’ll be­gin to re­lax.

I don’t ad­vise us­ing poles on the ground for this par­tic­u­lar ex­er­cise be­cause they add back in the el­e­ment of tim­ing. You’ll worry about your dis­tances to them, so you won’t be able to fo­cus 100 per­cent on your track, pace and po­si­tion.

When you feel con­fi­dent rid­ing th­ese in­vis­i­ble cour­ses, grad­u­ally add the jumps back in. Mix sin­gle jumps with in­vis­i­ble lines—and even within lines. For ex­am­ple, make the jump into a line over a nor­mal fence, then make the jump out in­vis­i­ble or vice versa.

Pe­ri­od­i­cally re­visit this ex­er­cise, even as your con­fi­dence over real fences im­proves. You’ll find that re­fresh­ing your dis­ci­pline for pace and track will help to keep you from slip­ping back into bad habits. It’s also a great way to cope with nerves at shows. I of­ten have stu­dents prac­tice over a “miss­ing” jump in the warmup, pre­tend­ing that it’s set up right next to one of the ac­tual warm-up fences. They or­ga­nize their pace and line and then ride for­ward to it, just as if it’s a real jump.

Ex­er­cise 2: Five-Stride In­vis­i­ble Line

Next, we’re go­ing to get you in the habit of rid­ing for­ward to be straight. Most peo­ple who think they’re do­ing this al­ready are ac­tu­ally rid­ing back­ward—pulling on the reins—to get straight. Like the first ex­er­cise, this one elim­i­nates the is­sue of tim­ing, so you can fo­cus ex­clu­sively on your track and pace.

Set up two pairs of stan­dards five strides (72 feet) apart. Ex­actly in the mid­dle of the first pair, build a chute by plac­ing two ground poles par­al­lel to one an­other and to your track. Space them about 9 feet apart ini­tially. Do the same for the sec­ond set of stan­dards.

Can­ter to this “line” just as you would to a real line on course. Come for­ward off the turn, ride for­ward and straight through both chutes, then plan a smooth turn af­ter­ward. When this feels easy, roll each pair of poles slightly closer to­gether

(though never closer than about 6 feet). This will re­quire you to in­crease your ac­cu­racy—with­out, of course, mak­ing any changes to your pace.

Ex­er­cise 3: Jump on a Cir­cle

Now it’s time to trans­fer your track and pace skills to a sin­gle fence. We’ll start on a cir­cle to keep the track very straightforward. Build a small (2- to 3-foot) ver­ti­cal in an area large enough to in­cor­po­rate it into a cir­cle 36 to 40 feet in di­am­e­ter. Place ground lines on ei­ther side of the jump.

Un­like can­ter­ing over a ground pole—which many horses won’t jump over with care—this ver­ti­cal should be big enough to get your horse’s at­ten­tion, which means he’ll make an ef­fort to help you ar­rive at the cor­rect dis­tance. How­ever, don’t make it so tall that you’ll be overly con­cerned about jump­ing it.

Prac­tice can­ter­ing your 36- to 40-foot cir­cle next to the jump, work­ing to stay “straight” on the track—not drift­ing off your line to the right or left—by cor­rect­ing your horse ev­ery time he tries to bulge out or cut in. Use your eyes by look­ing across the cir­cle as you ap­proach the area of the jump. When you feel as if you can do that at a con­sis­tent pace, widen the cir­cle just big enough to in­cor­po­rate the jump into it. Again, use your eyes. As you come around to the jump, think, “no bulge, no cut, no bulge, no cut,” while also cor­rect­ing the pace ev­ery time it changes. Don’t try to “find” the dis­tance. Just keep fo­cus­ing on your line and pace all the way to the cen­ter of the jump, try­ing not to change any­thing at all.

As you ap­proach the jump, there may come a mo­ment when you feel some­thing in the pit of your stom­ach telling you to move up to it, set­tle back or sim­ply main­tain the same pace. This is your un­con­scious sense of tim­ing. It’s most likely to re­veal it­self if you’re con­sciously con­trol­ling your line and pace. When

those el­e­ments are truly con­sis­tent, the jump will say, “Here I am! Jump me!”

As soon as you get just a glim­mer of that feel­ing, make any nec­es­sary mi­nor ad­just­ment for­ward or back, then lift your eyes up and across the in­side of the cir­cle, plan­ning the line you want to ride af­ter the jump.

Don’t worry if you don’t get a sense of the dis­tance in the be­gin­ning. Just fo­cus on your line and pace and trust that you will ar­rive at a safe enough dis­tance—and that your horse will fig­ure out the rest. On take­off, lift your eyes up and across the cir­cle.

When you land from the fence, bal­ance your horse, or­ga­nize your reins and then ad­just your line and pace as nec­es­sary to get back on the cir­cu­lar track. Then look across the cir­cle to­ward the jump again. Re­sist the urge to do any­thing else. Just wait to see if that feel­ing emerges.

Prac­tice this sev­eral times in both di­rec­tions. Stop when it feels good. If it doesn’t feel good af­ter mul­ti­ple at­tempts both ways, don’t drive your­self crazy. Let it go for now and try it an­other day.

As your eye de­vel­ops, you’ll still find this ex­er­cise use­ful, es­pe­cially in stress­ful sit­u­a­tions, like a cham­pi­onship. If you’re re­ally ner­vous and feel like a deer in the head­lights, prac­tic­ing it over a small jump in the cor­ner of the warm-up arena will help you re­group and re­lax. You’re far bet­ter off go­ing into the ring af­ter jump­ing sev­eral low fences con­fi­dently than you would be po­ten­tially muck­ing up a 3-foot-9 oxer just be­fore hear­ing you’re on deck.

Ex­er­cise 4: Five-Stride Line With Jumps

When you be­gin to get a feel­ing for dis­tances in the cir­cle ex­er­cise, the next step is to de­velop a sense for what pace works in dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions. This ex­er­cise will help you do this while

also teach­ing your horse to bal­ance and come back to you on land­ing.

Set up a five-stride (72-foot) line again, this time with two small ver­ti­cals with ground lines on both sides of each one. Pick up the can­ter and make a cir­cle at the end of the arena to es­tab­lish the pace you’d use in the show ring— what I call your “home-base pace.” Then can­ter for­ward around the turn and through the line. Af­ter­ward, bring your horse to a halt on a straight line be­fore en­ter­ing the next turn. Then process how the ride went. Do you think you could have used more or less pace? Re­peat the ex­er­cise mak­ing that slight ad­just­ment. Then turn around and ride the line in the op­po­site di­rec­tion.

Con­tinue do­ing this, al­ter­nat­ing di­rec­tions fre­quently un­til you can re­li­ably pro­duce a nice jump in and nice jump out with­out hav­ing to change your pace mid­way through the line.

Ex­er­cise 5: Triple Com­bi­na­tion

This ex­er­cise is only for ad­vanced riders. It will give you a more nu­anced sense for how dif­fer­ent paces work in dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions.

Set up a line of three ver­ti­cals or square ox­ers at dis­tances of 36 feet (two strides) from one an­other, all with ground lines on both sides. Ride it just as you did in the pre­vi­ous ex­er­cise, find­ing your home-base pace in the in­tro cir­cle, then rid­ing through the com­bi­na­tion and stop­ping on a straight line af­ter­ward. Again, process how the jumps rode. Did you have to hit the gas mid­way through? If so, ap­proach the com­bi­na­tion with more pace next time. If the dis­tances felt tight, ap­proach it with a lit­tle less pace. Then re­peat the ex­er­cise in the other di­rec­tion.

Prac­tice this a few times—again, al­ter­nat­ing di­rec­tion fre­quently—un­til you get a sense of what pace works best.

As you me­thod­i­cally as­sem­ble th­ese build­ing blocks, your eye will grad­u­ally im­prove. All the while, re­mem­ber to be­lieve in your­self!

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.