Exercises for improving the eye + confidence over fences

What is everyone’s favorite low-impact exercises for training the eye and feel to a fence? I’m talking something that can be incorporated into causal rides - poles, cavalettis, challenging arrangements of the above, etc.

I’ve found myself to be anxious to start jumping with my new lease - she’s talented and experienced, but I don’t have enough confidence in my eye or ability to keep it together when things go anything other than absolutely perfect. I think I just need the exposure and practice, and enough repetitions of doing it right, and doing it well, without taxing her legs. I want to have fun jumping, and I’m the only one holding myself back at this point!

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The lowest impact eye training exercise I know is to walk down a sidewalk and pretend the cracks are a jump. So you look for your distance to the next crack when you ‘land’ and adjust your stride accordingly. It’s quite fun, and a bit addictive. :grinning:

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Cantering over poles.


I do this, too! All.The.Time!

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I like setting two poles or cavalettis at a set striding, say 4 strides. Canter it in 4 strides, then in 5 strides, then in 3 strides, etc etc.

Also just setting a cavaletti at a medium or high height in the middle of the ring and canter over it on a circle or figure 8. Make a bigger circle, make a smaller circle, come from an open canter, come from a quiet canter, just keep catching it and changing the apporach. To me it’s not about ‘seeing’ a distance, it’s about feeling & knowing your horses’ canter.


Poles, cavaletti, low jumps. If you biff it, don’t psyche yourself out, just give her a pat for bailing you out and come again. And I 100% agree with @173north, get a good canter and there is no such thing as a bad distance.


I agree and, more significantly :rofl:, so does Lucinda Green: https://youtu.be/YJoAq3PzeZo (recent video called: “How important is it to see a stride XC”).


Sign up for lessons or a clinic from a good coach, and ask for help with the assignment of exercises that will help you. Line, pace, rhythm, balance and impulsion are the five main components to finding your take off distance at a jump. With a horse with talent, there are no bad distances, only bad rides. If you “blow” a distance, the cause is one of the five listed. Don’t “look” for the distance, the distance will come to you when you have achieved the above components. If you “look” for the distance, you will “pick”, lose impulsion, lose rhythm, wobble your line. Let the distance come to you, don’t look for it. Once you truly understand this, and are sitting on a horse with talent, confidence comes. Don’t ask untalented horses to jump. .


Poles on the ground! Like set an entire course of just poles on the ground. It’s actually really hard to “see a distance” to a ground pole because you have to get so close to it. So instead of looking for a perfect take off spot, I found it helps train you (and your horse) to focus more on rhythm and straightness. When you have a straight, rhythmic canter—doesn’t matter if it’s big or small or fast or slow—you seem to go right over the poles no problem. And it’s not a big deal to chip or break gait if the horse doesn’t meet the pole correctly. I think it gives them the opportunity to learn what works and what doesn’t so they can get from one side of the pole to the other on their own.


Carrots and kicking harder.

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poles poles poles poles!

My friend also a vet said that poles are amazing and not taxing on them. It is just another stride while you can finesse your eye. I did it all last winter and it helped so much!


Its also hard to learn a good canter though! I’ve been actually struggling with this. Its not wrong, a good canter is the recipe for a good distance, but its very hard to know if you have the right canter all the time if you’re on a slight short strided horse. Only speaking with my own experience. I wish there was a way to also train us the right size canter with the perfect amount of activity and jump within the canter.


put two cones in the arena 20’ off the rail on the long side and 60 feet apart. Imagine a line that runs from the cone to the rail. Work on getting your horse to canter past the poles so that their front feet land exactly on that line at the first cone and then 5 strides later land on the same line at the second cone. You need a spotter or to rake the sand before the exercise so you can see you are accurate. once you can do that, then collect and do it in 6, then stand up and gallop and do it in 4. You will learn how to feel a 12’ stride in no time.


Thanks everyone! These are all great suggestions - please keep them coming!

Completely agree on what many of you are saying, that it’s all about feel and coming out of a quality gait. I’ll be the first to admit the consistency and adjustability of our gaits is not quite where I’d like it to be, especially at the canter, and that’s more on me - she is a bit of a step up for me so I’m still learning how to give more of a skillful ride. I can see how once that piece begins to come together it will make over fences work a million times easier.


Don’t get discouraged or get too wound up about it. Keep chipping away (hopefully not literally haha) and before you know it this stage will be in the rear view mirror. :blush:

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For sure! I’m learning to enjoy and be humbled by the process. All about the journey, right?

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Try to get outside the arena and ride over different terrain. Try different canters around the perimeter of a field or up a hill or down a hill, on grass, mud, dirt. Try speeding up and slowing down using your body position and seat rather than hands. Learn how your position affects the horse as it moves forward freely, somewhere without the need to go round corners or dodge a fellow rider. No jumps involved but it certainly is an eye opener. Then when you trust your ability to ride at an appropriate speed and canter, the xc jumps just fall into a nice rhythm. It is only as one moves up through the levels and fences get increasingly technical that it is necessary to see a stride to ride a complex fence. Cross country is not about “perfection” and “not very pretty” is just a different way to get over between the flags. Watch 200 horses over a xc fence and see 250 ways of jumping it!

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Do you do gymnastics? This really helps your horse with less interference from the rider and both of you will learn to enjoy the forwardness safely. Once you get and learn the striding and balance from this it will be easier to find on your own bc you will know the feel.

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I would also suggest to keep a couple of poles out all the time and use them. Not just for specific pole work sessions but during routine flat sessions as well. I used to do this with my old tb. While doing my canter work I used to randomly go over poles. I’d be asking myself while cantering “am I happy with this canter, would I consider it a quality canter?” If it was, I found my eye would kick in and I could ‘see’ a distance. If I didn’t have a decent forward balanced canter, I literally saw nothing coming into the pole.