If you were to judge by range of his of work, Bernie Traurig may be the most accomplished horseman in North America. He has achieved in 4 equestrian sports what most people only hope to realize in 1. He’s been short-listed for the Olympic teams in show jumping, eventing and dressage. He claimed both the AHSA Medal and the ASPCA Maclay Finals as a junior. And he was recently inducted into the National Show Hunter Hall of Fame.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Traurig is one of the most versatile riders to have set foot in a jumping ring. So, when he says that having an accurate eye for distances is a skill not an inborn talent, it’s likely he knows something about it.
“I think an eye is something that can be highly developed through exercises. It could be true that some people have a better sense of depth perception than others,” says Traurig. “But I find that a lot of people, like myself and my daughter, were not people born with a great eye.”
In fact, Traurig says that the first time he remembers actually seeing a distance 3 strides away from a jump, he was 13. “I went through a period of time as a junior, especially at 14, when I made wrong decisions, like we all do. The hunter courses in those days the last jump was a long way off and I’d see what I thought was the forward one, go for it and chip,” he recalls. “I made my father crazy!”
Traurig’s coach at the time, Vladimir Littauer, used exercises to help develop his eye. “Littauer used to draw lines on the ground; at a normal 3’3” jump he’d put the take off line about 6’ off. He’d say try to ride to that line. Then he’d put one 12’ away, so one stride from that take off spot, and say try to ride that line. He’d repeat that until we’d get 2 strides away, then 3 strides away (36’ from the 6’ take off spot). That exercise helped me a lot when I was 14,” says the associate chef d’equipe on the West Coast for the US Equestrian Team.
Today, Traurig uses modified versions of the same exercise with poles and cavalettis. In part 1 of this 5 Minute Clinic series he reveals his secrets to developing a better eye.
Step 1: Identify the goal. “Our goal is to arrive at the correct take off spot, with the right balance, speed and impulsion for the size and width of the jump,” says Traurig.
On courses over 3’ high, “the spot” is generally measured about 6’ away from the jump.
“When we start we’re happy to see a distance 1 stride out, 2 strides out. As we gain experience through exercises, that eye develops and over time we can recognize that take off spot 6, 7, 8 strides out,” he says.
Step 2: Set a pole course. Using poles and cavalettis in place of jumps, set lines, singles, even courses to exercise your eye. “Use a pole on the ground if your horse jumps poles well or you don’t happen to have any cavalettis. If he’s not impressed by a pole, set a jump with an 8” pole,” says Traurig.
Allowing for a 3’ take off and landing (+6’), set related lines of varying lengths. “Set different lines, bending lines, lines of 3 strides, 2 strides, 4 strides,” he says.
Step 3: Play with the distance. Traurig typically sets poles on a 12’ stride. “That works for a normal horse with a normal canter,” he says. “If the horse has a short stride or a long stride, adjust the distance.”
You can also play with the distance to make the exercise more challenging. “You can make it short where you have to land and shorten the horse’s stride a little bit. Or you can make it longer where you have to land and lengthen the horse’s stride a little bit. You should begin to see the distance from your landing or your first stride. Develop your eye earlier,” he says.
Be sure to count the landing, he adds. “I tell people to actually say ‘land’ because many people mistakenly count the landing as ‘1’; they don’t even realize they do it.”
Step 4: Practice daily. “As an amateur or young rider you don’t get the practice a professional gets riding 10 horses a day jumping, jumping, jumping. So you have to devise ways to maximize the development of your eye,” says Traurig.
“If you school twice a week with your trainer and jump maybe 30 jumps each time, so 60 jumps a week for 4 weeks, you have 240 jumps in a month to exercise your eye. That’s nothing. Go out there every day and practice these cavalettis. I don’t think it takes anything out of your horse to practice this everyday. It’s not like jumping big jumps.”
Step 5: Watch and learn. Study other horses at horse shows. “You can see distances from the ground sometimes a lot easier than you can from the tack. You start to be able to see 5 strides out and know where that horse is going to end up. Watch to see what the rider is going to do about it. Analyze that. That’s helpful,” says Traurig.
For video footage of this and other exercises you can incorporate into your flatwork to work your eye without overworking your horse, go to equestriancoach.com.
(If you click on the video, it takes you to another website that has the video on it. Sorry!)
Part 2: Trouble Shooting Going to a jump there are 3 distances that will present themselves “on the screen,” says USET veteran Bernie Traurig. “You’re on stride, so you have nothing to do but maintain the rhythm. The jump is coming up a little short, so you have to shorten the stride. Or it’s a little long, so you have to lengthen the stride,” he explains.
The goal is to become proficient at recognizing and executing all 3 distances. “You have to experiment with both ends of the spectrum. The ones that are very forward, you have to experiment until you and the horse both believe you can do it smoothly. Same with the adding strides to the jump,” he says.
Unfortunately, in the effort to find the correct distance, many riders get in their own way or that of the horse.
Here are the mistakes Traurig says are most common:
Interfering with the horse too much. A rider who “picks” to the jump becomes too involved in setting the horse up for the correct distance and ends up getting in the way. “I think those riders need to relax a little bit and remember that a horse has an eye on its own, especially an athletic horse,” says Traurig. “A horse that is really an athlete can easily leave from a long spot or get a little deep, pat the ground at the base of the jump and quickly shorten his stride.”
Sitting in a “backward” seat. For jumping and galloping, in general, Traurig advocates the forward seat. “Don’t be seated on your butt looking for forward distances. It’s non-productive,” he says. “Get up in the your half seat, stay light on the reins and you’ll find the distances come to you easier.”
Not reacting instantly to what you see. “When you see the distance, the sooner you use your aids—your leg to go forward or your fingers to shorten the stride—the more successful you’ll be finding that distance. If you’re wondering and late a stride, it usually doesn’t work,” he says.
The horse is not reactive. “If your horse is behind the leg it discourages the rider from wanting to execute the forward distance. The horse has to be instantly reactive to the breath of the boot on his hairs and has to be obedient from the hand to shorten its strides to pressure from the fingers. If we’re too passive about shortening or lengthening we’re going to get there wrong,” says Traurig.
Not looking at the jump. “I find this a lot in clinics. I’ll watch a rider’s eyes going to a jump and they are looking up at the trees. How in the world are you going to find the distance to that jump when you’re looking at the top of the trees?” he asks. “Focus on the top rail until you’re confident in your spot, then maybe a stride away or as your horse leaves the ground your eye level goes up.”
Looking too late. Look early, says Traurig. “The earlier you can adjust the better the outcome. Take a person like Rich Fellers, Eric Lamaze, Ian Millar, watch how early they look for the jump and how far back they make their adjustment. Study those people. A lot of us are too late in looking,” he says.
“The advanced rider adjusts his horse, invisibly, to arrive 3 strides away from the take off spot dialed in with that distance, leaving fine tuning only for the last 3 strides.”
THE EXERCISE In part 2 of his 5 Minute Clinic, Traurig makes the cavaletti line more challenging to train the eye to the 3 stride distance.
Step 1: Set a cavaletti line. “Set a cavaletti or little jump about 2’6” high. Take about 13 3’ steps and set a pole or another cavaletti. That’s a very easy 3 stride to the jump with about a 4’ take off spot,” says Traurig.
Step 2: Look on landing. As you jump the 1st fence into the line, look immediately for the take off spot of the 2nd jump and count the strides—1, 2, 3.
“This exercise is the first step toward achieving that 3 stride distance,” he says. “Three is a magical thing.”
Step 3: Change the line. When you can jump the 3 stride line in a rhythmical, balanced canter, make the line longer. “Lengthen the line by 12’ to a 4 stride and practice looking early and counting. Then add another 12’, make it a 5 stride and practice. Keep doing that,” he says. “You want to train the eye to identify the distance further out.”
Traurig practices lines up to 9 strides long. “In the jumpers, in particular, you will often see a 9 stride bending line into the triple combination. So you really want to have a feel for that,” he explains.
Step 4: Adjust within the line. Make the exercise more challenging by changing the distance between the cavalettis and making your adjustments in the line, not on the approach. “Set the line 3’ longer and practice jumping in at a normal pace and lengthening in the line. Then set it 3’ short, jump in at a normal pace and practice shortening in the line,” says Traurig.
Step 5: Be smooth. In all cases the goal is to make the adjustments as smoothly as possible, says Traurig. “This is nothing to do with being rough. It’s all invisible stride adjustment. You want to arrive at the jump in a rhythmical, balanced canter, on stride,” he says. “But if you’re doing nothing, nothing is going to happen.”
As you become more adept at recognizing distances, don’t be satisfied with “good enough.” Strive for perfection, says USET veteran Bernie Traurig.
“As you get a little better, don’t be happy with cantering to the wrong spot. Lose a little sleep over that. Perfect practice makes perfect. Imperfect practice just solidifies your weaknesses,” he says.
“That doesn’t mean you have to have a perfect eye,” he continues. “It’s fine to be wrong, but don’t dismiss a distance that you’ve gotten wrong to a jump without thought. Think why did it go wrong and how do we fix it? Maybe your preparation wasn’t correct. Did you get there out of balance? Did you get there at the wrong pace? Was your track wrong? Self analyze what went wrong. I find that riders don’t do that a lot.”
In part 3 of the 5 Minute Clinic with Bernie Traurig, the techniques become progressively more difficult to develop range and versatility in the eye.
For these exercises, set a low jump or cavaletti in the center of the ring and another on the quarter line. “You don’t have to jump big jumps to improve your eye. It’s the daily practice over small jumps that really help,” he reiterates.
Step 1: Adjust early. Jumping a single cavaletti off both reins, identify and adjust early for the distance. “The advanced rider wants to adjust his horse, invisibly, to arrive 3 strides away from the take off spot pretty much dialed in with that distance, leaving only fine tuning only for the last 3 strides,” says Traurig.
“I teach advanced riders to look for that spot way back—6, 7, 8 strides out. You want to find that distance correctly and not make all your adjustments in the last 3 strides.”
Step 2: Execute a plan. “Riders at this level need to be able to create a distance to a jump and not just take what comes up or be lucky with a distance. That’s very useful. For example, if you can plan your entry jump into a line—the line may be short, it may be long—it helps in executing lines smoothly,” he explains.
Plan a forward distance or an easy distance and practice disciplining yourself to meet the jump as intended.
“Often riders get stuck riding to jumps in the same 12 mile an hour canter,” says Traurig. “If you want an eye that is versatile, vary your speed to the jumps. Step up to a 14 mile an hour canter, 16 miles an hour and try to hit that perfect spot out of a faster pace. It’s easier to go slower; harder to go faster.”
Step 3: Change your approach. There are 3 tracks to a jump off a turn, says Traurig. “The normal track down the middle. The direct track where your eye sees something a little earlier and you take the 1st distance you see to get to it. Or the wide track where you go slightly past the center line to make that distance fit,” he says.
Approaching the same jump, practice executing tidy turns off all 3 tracks. Then repeat the exercise off the other rein. “You want to get to the jump in the right balance with the right rhythm and track. And ride that track the way you want to ride it,” he explains.
Step 4: Identify the balance point. For a rider with a sophisticated eye, practice exercising your options at the balance point. “If you’re 7 strides out and you don’t like what you see—it’s a little too long or you’re not sure of the distance—this is the time to coil the spring 10%. Package the horse 10% and the next nice, easy distance will come to you,” says Traurig.
“It’s an invisible adjustment, but you are actually creating rideability by coiling that spring a little. If you have to hold to a deeper spot, you’ve got a horse that has already started the process of packaging somewhat. Without that balance up you’re going to get there deep with a long horse.”
He cautions that the balance point is not an exercise for a rider in the habit of picking to jumps. “One has to always exercise the opposite of their habits,” he advises.
Step 5: Fine tune the balance. “This is a very fancy move that very few riders in the world have—Ian Millar has it; Rich Fellers has it,” says Traurig. “It is very handy on a jumper, especially over big jumps and in a jump off.”
In this exercise, the rider identifies the distance 8 strides out and slightly overrides so they arrive slightly early at the distance 3 strides out, as opposed to on stride or slightly long. “As you get there, the jump is coming up slightly deep and the horse learns to back himself up and compresses the last 3 strides a little bit,” he explains. “That produces the best jump for a big jump.”
To practice, gallop at 14 to 16 miles an hour to an oxer and move up to a slightly deep distance. For the last 3 strides, sit in a quiet, non-disturbing way, with the motion, and allow the horse to compress and jump naturally.
We’ve all done it. You’re 5 strides away from the jump, you don’t see a good distance, panic sets in and you CIRCLE! Do it too often and this frustrating tendency can develop into a bad habit, says USET veteran Bernie Traurig.
“The habitual circler will be having a great round and then get confused going to a jump, become overwhelmed by indecision and circle out of the problem,” he says. “It’s frustrating for both the rider and trainer.”
In Part 4 of his 5 Minute Clinic series, Traurig shows you how to fight your way out of the circle. For this exercise, set a single cavaletti or low jump on the quarter line.
“You need a cooperative partner for the exercise,” he says. “The more obedient to hand and leg the horse is, the more productive the exercise will be and the more success you’ll have.”
Step 1: Tackle the circle zone. “Walk up to the spot where you might circle, about 6 strides or 78’ away from the jump. Ask for a prompt canter departure, immediately package the horse on a short stride and add as many strides as you can to arrive at a comfortable distance,” says Traurig.
On landing, ask for a prompt walk transition 5 to 7 strides away from the jump. Change the rein at the walk and repeat the exercise from the other direction.
“The goal is to build your confidence so you can get comfortable in the ‘circle zone’ and make a distance happen,” he explains.
Step 2: Shorten the distance. Work the bottom range of the ‘circle zone.’ “Walk a little closer to the jump—4 to 5 strides away—and repeat the exercise, adding as many strides as possible,” says Traurig. “Make it work. Manufacture that distance.”
Step 3: Raise the difficulty level. Once you can execute the exercise comfortably over a low jump, raise the height up to a maximum of 3’ and repeat the exercise off both reins.
“If it doesn’t go well, lower the jump and start over,” he advises.
Step 4: Mix it up. The risk with only practicing adding strides to a jump is that you can train your eye to only see the short distance.
“You don’t want to develop into a ‘picker,’” says Traurig. “Mix it up. Walk 5 to 6 strides away, ask for a prompt cancer and execute the first forward distance you see. Then do it, executing a regular, on stride distance.”
Again, ask for the canter–walk transition approximately 6 strides on landing. “Keeping the horse packaged on landing will enhance its rideability,” he adds, “especially when executing the forward distance.”
Step 5: Alternate between distances. When you can do both distances well, raise the jump up to a maximum of 3’ and alternate between the short and forward distances. “Walk a little closer—4 to 5 strides away from the jump,” says Traurig.
“The goal of the exercise is to make you reactive and to make the horse reactive. If you can walk up to a jump 6 strides away and execute 2 or 3 different distances at home, you should be able to do at least 1 distance in the show ring,” he concludes.
So I made a big mistake, and I would like to apologize for it.
These are copyrighted articles, which I did not realize, and should have asked permission before posting. I am going to get them shortened (hopefully to one post) and then please follow the links to the website to read the complete articles.
By posting the articles to here, I unitentionally took "hits" away from the getmyfix website.
My apologies, but please go look at the articles from the links provided!