How to see a stride to a fence
I'm sure there are plenty of people out there that the phrase 'see a stride' still brings a wave of fear over them..
Those people whose instructors say 'You couldn’t see a stride there could you?’
WELL CLEARLY NOT SUSAN.
Hence why I'm crumpled in a heap on the floor..
So can you please, for the love of god tell me what exactly I’m supposed to be seeing?
And for that matter,
what on earth does it even mean to see a stride?!
I genuinely used to think that at some stage, I would start to visualise canter poles everywhere I rode...
The trouble was, then if there were canter poles in front of a fence, I would create a whole world of drama for myself by fixating on them so much through the fear of riding them wrong that I'd stop riding altogether!!
And honestly, that’s the worst mistake you can make, and one that I (as a compulsive overthinker) used to do daily...
I'm no perfect rider nowadays.
Do I still come round a corner sometimes and enter into a blind panic because there's nothing there??
95% of the time I can react quickly enough that I've sorted something out when I get to the fence, which is all that really matters!
No one need know that 5 strides ago I was getting ready to bail out...
To the outside eye, I'm riding a beautifully calm and collected round...
Which brings me nicely to my first point to remember when trying to see a stride is....
DRUM ROLL PLEASE...
1.) Stop trying so bloody hard to see a stride!!!
Easier said than done right?
But honestly, the second you realise that it's not the end of the world if your not on the perfect stride, everything changes.
Here is a slide show to help you see what I mean..
Hands up anyone who enjoyed that as much as me...
OK, but the bottom line is, the harder you try to see something, the less likely it is to be there.
When you're worried about seeing a stride, you're going to become tense, which in turn makes your horse tense, therefore shortening his stride, meaning that the stride your so worried about seeing is no longer there anyway.
See, complete rabbit hole effect.
So just stop stressing about it!
I know that's easy to say when your not in the rut of trying to see a stride, but the good news is -
It does get easier with practice.
A good starter exercise to try to help you see a stride is this -
Start off with five or six (or as many as you can fit) canter poles in a straight line to a fence (1 horse stride eg. 4 human strides in between each pole) ideally down the centerline of the school so that you can ride it off both reins.
And just keep coming round and riding the line to the fence.
Repetition is everything.
Really practice trying to keep the same canter around the corner as over the poles to the fence. If you feel that your canter is suddenly getting longer at the poles as your horse is trying to stretch to meet them, then you had shortened too much beforehand (probably because you were overthinking).
Once you can happily ride down the line and keep the rhythm, start removing poles one by one beginning with the pole immediately before the fence, working your way out to eventually just having the one pole, 5 strides away.
Keeping a consistent canter and rhythm the whole time.
The best trick to this is trying to completely ignore the pole on the floor and keep your eyes up and on the fence and concentrate on having a good canter and a good rhythm the entire time.
This leads me to the best saying in all of showjumping history!
"Canter rhythm, line, gets it right every time."
I saw Tim say this in a video I watched when I was probably 11 years old, and it's stuck with me because it's SO ACCURATE.
So let's go into it in more depth.
Canter is KEY.
Just remember, your horse is more likely to be able to take off from the wrong place with a strong canter than the perfect place in a weak canter.
And by strong canter, I don't mean a fast canter.
POWER ISNT SPEED.
But you do need to put your leg on to create the impulsion, whilst keeping a soft contact to prevent losing the power through the front end, thus creating bounce in the canter.
Think about toothpaste...
If you squeeze your toothpaste with the cap off, the toothpaste goes everywhere.. the key with toothpaste is applying enough pressure to get a steady flow onto your brush. And if you put the cap on and squeeze the toothpaste up against the lid, you know your ready to go when the cap comes off.
Thats how you want your horse to feel, like he’s squeezed up to the cap.
Your horse is toothpaste.
Did you ever think things would get that deep here?!
Equally, if you stop squeezing, nothing is going to happen = weak canter.
If your horse doesn't feel like he is ready to burst through your cap, he's never going to end up on your toothbrush because he doesn't have enough canter, he is behind your leg making it harder for him to get you over the fence (on your brush) safely.
Things got weird for a bit there didn't they...
Rhythm = consistency
Once you have nailed the perfect canter, it's important to maintain it the whole way round the course.
This gets easier to more you practice as the horse is getting stronger and more balanced, he finds this strong canter easier to maintain on his own.
He isn't dipping in and out of the weak or fast canter, therefore what you are seeing to a fence is staying the same. You are then learning what that looks / feels like and before you know it you can see a stride!
There's a but,
If you don't see the fence until the last minute, how do you expect to see your mythical stride??
Give yourself half a chance to see a stride by riding a good line to the fence.
You know when your instructor is telling you to look early around the corner to the fence? They are not saying that to get you to see a stride, they are saying that to make sure you are on a good line.
A good line is arriving at the fence dead on (unless you're in a jump-off but that's for another blog, and if your attempting jumping on a diagonal line in a jump-off I hope to hell you can already see a stride for your own sake!!)
This is especially key for a young horse or a horse that lacks confidence that is likely to run out.
To make sure you arrive at a fence dead on, you need to plan how you are getting there. This means a smooth turn NOT a last-minute handbrake turn.
You are on a horse, not a motorbike.
And it's a bit of a waste of all the time you spent perfecting your rhythmical and balanced canter just to loose it all on a rubbish turn.
It's all in the preparation.
After all, it's your horses job to get you over the fence, it's your job to get him there nicely.
So you just worry about your job and leave the rest down to him.
Ride your lines, not the fence.
5,) Preparation + practice = perfection
You need all of the above points to see a stride, they come hand in hand, and annoyingly if you loose one, you tend to loose the others in a domino effect..
BUT IT WON'T
because you remembered point one...
and you didn’t panic.
After all, what is horse riding if it's not simply reacting to what the horse is doing beneath you? Sometimes you can have everything perfect but then your horse spooks at something or throws in an excited buck and completely throws you off again.
Let's be honest, since when do horses like to make things easy for us?
But the more you practice, the more prepared you are for this, and the quicker you can react to what's going on underneath you.
So I think the best tip is this -
Don't stress about seeing the stride, if you've got the canter, rhythm, and line, chances are the stride is there. If it's not so be it, your not Scott Brash after all, and luckily you've got it wrong enough times before now to be able to react in time to figure something out!
Lastly, IF IN DOUBT, ALWAYS APPLY MORE LEG!!!