One of the things that all jumping riders, at some point, have to learn is how to see a distance. I’m not talking just counting strides between lines – seeing (or feeling) is as important in the cross country field as it is in the hunter ring as it is in the jump off. But if you’re like me, you’re not jumping around on your horse every day (and you shouldn’t be! I’m a big proponent of Not Jumping Every Time You Ride, an idea my teenage self would be shocked at), and learning how to see distances is hard to do without that hands on experience.
…Or is it?
Ladies, gentlemen, distinguished guests: I present to you my favourite unmounted trick for exercising my eye.
Everyone knows the “count down from X strides away” approach to learning distances. It’s a great one. (Trainer has Kelsey do it a lot!) But you don’t have to physically be on the horse to practice it. No matter what you’re having trouble with, helmet cams can help you with it.
Of course, you’ve got your show jumping helmet cams. They’re great, straightforward, and fun, and you get practice judging related distances, too – without the advantage of having walked them first. Can you tell before they jump in how many strides it’ll ride in? Was it short or long?
Maybe you’re an eventer, and you need help seeing long approaches on the cross country course. See if you can count back from ten strides instead of three or five! (Fair warning: this takes time. Work up to it – start at five, then once you’ve got five down, move to seven, until you’re ready for ten.)
If you need help with ‘nonstandard’ approaches and things like trotting jumps, then foxhunting is for you!
If you’re a hunter rider, all this might be a little fast-paced for you. If course it’s important to be able to see a distance at any speed, but hunter courses are simply set up differently. Don’t worry, though – helmet cams have still got you covered!
Obviously, this is no substitute for actually riding to fences on a regular basis, especially because this can’t teach you how to make distances. But alas, if only we could all be so fortunate! If you, like me, have a limited riding schedule, this is an easy way to keep those skills sharp.
It takes a little bit of getting used to – every horse is different, and since you’re not riding them, you can’t feel that. There’s a little bit of an ‘adjustment period’ when you’re counting strides via helmet cam every time you watch a new one. (For example, this horse has a long, fast stride – you can see her front feet extend beyond her head! But this horse has a shorter, more collected stride, and you’ll have to take that into account when you’re counting strides.) But I’ve found that within a few jumps, I can pretty accurately predict distances!
Do you have any out-of-the-saddle riding tricks you use to exercise your riding muscles (or brain)? Let me know! And if you try this method, definitely tell me how/if it works for you!