Horsemanship How-to: Count Strides Between Jumps

This essential skill seems simple, but it takes practice to get it right.

Hunter Horse


Are you an English rider who’s learning to jump a course? Sooner or later you’ll face the challenge of getting the right number of strides in a line. But before you can finesse your horse’s performance to that point, you must be able to count strides as you ride from one jump to the next. Although it sounds like rudimentary arithmetic, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Counting strides can leave even the most enthusiastic novice completely bewildered. Here are some basic exercises that will simplify the learning process.

  1. Begin by establishing a steady working canter, and maintain it as you continue on the rail around the arena. Concentrate on your horse’s rhythm at the canter. You’ll notice there’s a natural “one, two” cadence as his hind end pushes him forward and then his front feet strike the ground.
  2. To help put you in sync with your horse’s strides, count out loud, “One, two” in time with his canter.
  3. Once you’re comfortably in rhythm with your horse’s canter, refine your counting to merely saying, “One,” each time you feel his front feet strike the ground. (Actually you’re hearing and feeling the hoof beat of whichever front leg he’s leading with at the canter. So if he’s on the left lead, you’re hearing and feeling your horse’s left front hoof).
  4. Next, choose a focal point, like a tree or fence post, and as you canter past it begin counting for ten strides, from one to ten, in sync with your horse. This prepares you for counting strides from one jump to the next.
  5. Then it’s time to progress. Instead of starting with the number one at your focal point, make your initial declaration the word, “land.” (It doesn’t make sense right now, but it’s important to start the habit). Then continue on with, “one, two, three, four,” etc.
  6. Now when you ride over two or more jumps in a line you can use the same method to count the strides in between. As soon as your horse’s front feet strike the ground after the first jump, say, “land.” Then continue with, “one, two, three, four,” and so on, counting out loud in time with your horse’s front feet striking the ground, until he takes off for the next jump.
  7. Since you’re counting strides, it may seem strange to say “land” when your horse’s front feet hit the ground instead of immediately starting with “one.” But here’s the reason: You only count strides between jumps, not just hoof beats. When your horse’s front feet land after the first jump, he hasn’t yet taken a true stride; he’s merely touched down.

Knowing how many strides your horse will take between jumps will give you confidence. Your horse’s performance will seem more predictable and your jumping rounds will flow more smoothly. You can count on it.

Further Reading
Stop Horse Jumping Refusals

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Cindy Hale’s life with horses has been filled with variety. As a child she rode western and learned to barrel race. Then she worked as a groom for a show barn, and was taught to harness and drive Welsh ponies. But once she’d taken her first lessons aboard American Saddlebreds she was hooked on English riding. Hunters and hunt seat equitation came next, and she spent decades competing in those divisions on the West Coast. Always seeking to improve her horsemanship, she rode in clinics conducted by world-class riders like George Morris, Kathy Kusner and Anne Kursinski. During that time, her family began raising Thoroughbred and warmblood sport horses, and Cindy experienced the thrills and challenges of training and showing the homebred greenies. Now retired from active competition, she’s a popular judge at local and county-rated open and hunter/jumper shows. She rides recreationally both English and western. Her Paint gelding, Wally, lives at home with her and her non-horsey husband, Ron.


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