Checking to a distance

I recently developed a habit when I don’t see a distance I start to check or pull back on reins 2-3 strides before a fence. I know this is so wrong. I’ve gone back to basics, counting strides, etc. but any thought on how to stop this?

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It’s wrong but it’s so human nature! Maybe try grabbing mane or a neck strap a few strides out to retrain yourself? I realized I was doing this in stadium at horse trials this year due to nerves, so I rode the next stadium round with one hand holding the racing yoke I use as a neck strap. I wasn’t physically able to ride backwards with my hands like that and of course it felt and went much better. My horse is a great sport but he was probably like, “finally, she’s leaving me alone to do my job!”

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Another technique is to put cones, jump standards or other markers three strides out from a good spot from your schooling fence.

Using a neck strap like @Libby2563 suggests, ride your schooling fences and NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS, at the marker, hands in mane/neck strap and leg on.

Do this until you start to recognize the three stride out distance without the marker. PAY ATTENTION to the fact that the fence pretty much always works out fine if you leave the reins alone and add leg three strides out.

If you’re really having trouble breaking the habit, here’s something saw I Wofford do in a clinic which I would be afraid to try, but absolutely worked: he took the rider’s reins, crossed them over the top of the horse’s neck, and buckled the bight under the neck. The rider could hold the reins in front of the cross, and had enough slack to steer, but could not pick their hands up or pull back.

It took a handful of fences with this setup for the horse to relax and start setting itself up for the fences without worrying about the rider’s interference.

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It is the result of an ineffective/nonexistent half-halt.

However, the upper body has a purpose when it comes to achieving good balance and communication with the horse. For instance, leaning forward with the body says to go forward, while bringing the body back says to come back onto the hind legs and collect. Throwing the upper body forward too soon at the take-off for a fence—or jumping ahead—can cause you to ride “into the hole.” Becoming proficient with your upper body as an aid will help with control, balance and the quality of jump.

“When we want to bring them back, we have to come back with our upper body. That is the biggest mistake the riders are having. The problem is when we stay in front with the upper body, the horse doesn’t listen and then we try to bring them back too much with the rein. This is not necessary when we can use our body to bring the horses more to the hind leg.
By pulling the shoulders and upper body back while maintaining contact, a rider can half-halt and apply the leg so the horse carries himself better, thus creating the active and powerful canter we desire to jump safely. “They don’t do that when we start to fight with the bit or pull on the rein.”

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Building on what @Equibrit said, do practice using your upper body to control speed. It is probably easier outside where conditions aren’t so controlled. Go into a canter, get it nice and rhythmical, forward going, and play around with your upper body position. It is a really good thing to identify how much you alter your horse by sitting up or leaning forward and it begins to teach you how to ride over undulating terrain in balance, as a pair.

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This is brilliant. And yes, I do tend to push for the long spot with my upper body. And he loves to blow thru my half halt. I had a lesson today and I was really cognizant with my shoulders and balance and I was much better with my hands! Thank you! I always get great points from my fellow eventers!

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Struggling with the same issue myself. Excellent advice above. I can add that the recommended exercises are also valuable for learning how to balance and add impulsion through corners while staying out of your horse’s face, and the better you can do that, the less you have to do to prep for a fence.

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Very interesting advice from @Willesdon and @Equibrit.

Yes, absolutely, riders who are nervously lifting their hands and picking at the horse are almost always, if not always, ahead of the motion, which makes the picking ineffectual and annoying to the horse, in a way a big half halt opening your hip angle does not. (You don’t have to have your seat bones in the tack, but you sure as heck do have to have your shoulders over your hips and be “sitting tall.”)

I would like to humbly suggest combining the advice given. Using the three stride marker, sit up tall, shoulders over hips with a firm back, and add leg. And don’t touch the reins.

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There is a lot of excellent advice here so my suggestion is quite simple…using poles on the ground for practice. You can practice using speed, stride length, and even set up combinations to practice adjusting stride using your eye.

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In addition to the poles I would also add to be mindful of the canter and work on the quality of the canter. A forward, in front of the leg canter will allow you to ‘see’ a distance. I know personally if I don’t have the canter I want, coming into a pole or jump I see nothing.

When I find myself starting to get handsy etc into jumps I go back to poles to practice riding forward and get my canter again. Even if I’m just flatting I’ll have a pole or two out so I can periodically test my canter.

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How, in 30 years, has no ever told me to half halt with my upper body? This is genius and makes so much sense to me.

I am shit at distances anyways, and if I don’t see one, I panic and start trying to change all kinds of things 3 strides from the fence. I need to learn to just sit there and wait.

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Go and watch some videos of the pro rides and watch their upper bodies until you SEE it.

Especially watch in turns when they sit up to use the turn to rebalance a horse.

I always advise riders to learn to see by picking out one body part at a time and then they will soon see the big picture.

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Thank you all for the great advice. As I pull this apart, it all comes down to the quality of the canter and I’m now realizing that my horse is a touch behind the leg when cantering. I really appreciate all the thoughts. I think once I fix my canter and get my shoulders back to help with the half halt, I’m pretty sure my hand problem will disappear

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@Ruth0552,

At one of the first xc clinics I attended (Karen O’Conner was the clinician) she had everyone shorten their stirrups, get up off the horses back, and practice shortening and lengthening the canter by opening and closing their hip angle.

I was okay with this because I had galloped racehorses and it’s exactly how it works with horses on the track.

After riders had mastered it in the ring, she took them out in the open and had riders do it up and down hill.

It was interesting to see how some riders struggled with it, and how much better their horses went once they had mastered it.

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Try going hunting; you’ll soon learn how and why to control your upper body :smile: :smile:

REMEMBER this from the article above;

Responsibilities of Horse and Rider

As Andreas sees it, both horse and rider share responsibility when riding cross country. The rider’s responsibility, he says, is to show the horse the right direction, give him the correct speed, keep her own balance and know the condition of the horse and her own fitness. The horse’s responsibility is to find the moment of take-off.

Finding the distance is practically an obsession for riders who compete in jumping disciplines, but Andreas insists that on cross country it is “absolutely dangerous” for the rider to count down strides and tell the horse when to jump. If the rider gets it wrong or the horse is distracted and takes an extra step, they can wind up too close to the fence. Usually this occurs when the rider is in front of the motion, lacks contact and balance and tries to determine the moment of take off for herself. Andreas calls this “riding into the hole.”

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I was advised to stop looking for a stride about five out in front of a fence: it is the horse who makes the jump. If the speed, rhythm balance are right then the horse can jump out of the stride. Alternatively, he has time to sort himself out if you, rider, have got things a bit wrong.

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Lots of good suggestions here, much more helpful than what I have to offer:

I, for a period of time, rode a somewhat fried hunter whose “move” was to stop halfway over the jump if you used your hands within three strides of the fence. That will cure a person of picking to the jumps rather immediately!

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I suffer with checking.

  1. I do not have the right canter
  2. cannot see a distance, and the check is usually 3 strides out.

Poles have been my bestest friend. And the best thing about poles, is you can do them every single ride, they are just another stride, but for us, they are great to train our eye.

I also find if I don’t jump at least once a week, my eye becomes less sharp. Nice to see its not just a struggle for me and can be quite common.

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Last question! So I realize it all comes down to a poor canter. I have a TB that is very scopey but a touch lazy. But when I get after him with a spur or stick, he then gets on the muscle. Go back to the flat and being insistent he is in front of my leg? What are your go to exercises?

Sounds like he lacks suppling in a bigger gait. He needs to come more over his back. Honestly, for me, it came down to more leg. When they muscle we tend to go to our hands instead of adding leg, asking them to step under and lift their backs.

How is his adjustability when riding in general?
I would do a lot of poles, this will also help, takes the guess work of the jump away and can really help you work on yourself and him, and poles should keep him thinking. Do canter poles on a fan, one stride or bounce. Do 5-7 stride poles down the long side and play with his adjustability to have the right canter. It comes down to being accurate yourself as a rider.

Your post speaks volumes to me as this is my current struggle. My horse will lock in his withers towards a jump, and poke his nose out. As he would rather not use himself. We have been doing a lot of poles with lots of thinking required. Cavaletti’s on circles can do wonders too. Hard to keep the active pace on a circle, great for you and great for your horse.

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