Spotting your take off stride when jumping is a bit of an art. Some people have an innate eye, but for most of us it’s practice.
In the old days we were taught to collect the canter then three strides away from the fence fire the ponies. I’m not sure how much of this technique was developed and taught in order to keep the slightly mental ponies under control…
Regardless, I could never count down correctly, despite rarely getting in front or behind the movement.
I prefer to teach, and indeed jump, with an energetic, positive canter that is the same before the turn to the fence as it is on the penultimate stride. If the rhythmical canter is maintained I think it is then easy to develop an eye for seeing a jumping stride.
To teach this, it is not always so easy to explain. I’ve recently introduced the idea of seeing a stride to a young client. Since I’ve been teaching him we’ve worked on his position over fences, riding straight lines, thinking about his lines between jumps, as well as the rein contact and different types of canter on the flat.
I don’t want him to get too obsessed with finding his stride; I think that may cause him to look down at the fence, but I do want him to learn the feel of a good jump. The slightly further away take off spot, and no sneaky chip in stride by his pony. I think when my client understands the feeling of a good canter on the approach and the effect it has on the jump itself then he will subconsciously ride to the fence better, and perhaps start to ask the pony to take off at the correct point, instead of a bit too close.
There are two problems to overcome first of all. The pony is used to, and likes getting close to the fence. My rider is also used to that short penultimate stride, and often tips forward on the stride, sometimes causing a refusal. So we need to train and build the pony’s confidence in jumping a wider bascule, and we need to teach my rider not to expect the chip-in before the fence.
The obvious answer was a grid.
After warming up with a discussion of the gears in canter I had my rider canter over three canter poles. Once he was able to generate a better canter beforehand he could feel that the poles were inconsequential to the canter – the pony didn’t need to make an effort for them.
Then they jumped a cross pole with a placing pole. Again, it took a couple of tries to be able to maintain the canter right to the jump. I then introduced a landing pole. This was to help maintain the canter after the fence.
Once this combination was negotiated successfully I moved on to the second fence. Eventually it would become an oxer to help open up the pony’s stride. The second fence started as an upright, once stride away from the cross pole, however the landing pole would ensure that there was only one stride between the two jumps.
We had a couple of issues when the canter died in between the jumps and my rider tipped forwards and the pony chipped in. But we got there, jumping it from both reins.
It was here that my rider asked an intelligent question: why was I insisting he alternated the rein that he approached on. So I quickly explained the asymmetry of canter and how we needed to make sure both hind legs were equally strong, and make sure he and his pony were straight. This led us onto the fact that the pony drifted right through the grid when he came off the left rein, so we had a break from the exercise to establish straightness between the fences.
I like being challenged by my riders when they ask questions like this, and also when we move on to discussing another topic which they have initiated. I think that helps them learn and retain information.
Back to the original grid. We now had the second fence as an ascending oxer. Without using any placing poles, I added in the final fence. A substantial upright (well, it is when you’re only twelve hands high!).
After riding through the grid a few times my rider could feel the difference in the canter between the fences; could feel how lovely the bascule was; and most importantly understood that he was now meeting the jumps on a perfect stride.
I even heard a couple of “wows” as they flew the last jump, he felt it was so good!
Our next few lessons will carry on the same theme, of creating a good, jumping canter, and maintaining to the fence as well as closing the leg before the fence to prevent the pony chipping in. Eventually I want them to be able to ride a course of showjumps whilst meeting every fence on a perfect stride.