Get the Distance!
I have been jumping for a long time and finally my horse is treating me like an adult! When I first started riding her she would almost always get the right distance to a fence while I focused on just getting in two point and staying on. Now way I'm past that stage (thankfully) and I've been introduced to the world of the RIDER getting the horse to the correct distance. Obviously my horse likes this -less work for her! So now I'm in charge of that. I'm pretty good at it for the most part but I definitely have work to do.
What are your tricks for getting the perfect distance to a fence (especially CX)?
Practice, practice, practice.
My favorite exercise was given to me by Heath Ryan. He put a pole in the middle of the arena and had us canter up over it, focusing on getting the perfect distance every time. He had another, similar exercise that was pretty difficult. There were three poles at bounce distance (9 ft) apart leading up to a 5-bounce gymnastic. If you got the distance to that very first pole, chances were your horse would get through the line perfectly, if you didn't get the right distance, you were more likely to fumble through the whole line and pull rails.
Really, it's all about perfecting your eye. If you get a chance, I suggest hopping on other horses and jumping a bit too. Just because you can find a distance on one horse doesn't mean you can on them all! The more flexible you learn to be with your eye, the better you'll be at finding distances.
I had a clinic with Jeremy Inglis once, and he told me the best way to get the right distance was just to keep the same steady pace. Chances re, if you bowl along at the same pace you will get the distance - if you allow to the to slow down or speed up at any time in the approach it will get messed up :)
As for seeing distances on my own horse, I watch the fence through the space between his ears. By the time I'm about 4 strides out, i can usually tell where i expect the front rail to be in relation to his ears. I know it sounds a little nuts... but it seems to work out well for me. :-)
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