How to Walk a Course and Count Your Strides Like a Pro!
When you are learning to ride a full jump course, one of the most helpful elements of putting it all together is understanding how to count horse strides.
Counting strides will help you develop a keen eye for distances and help improve your foundational skills as a horse person.
Horse Stride Basics
The dictionary definition of a stride is “a single coordinated movement of the four legs of a horse, completed when the legs return to their initial relative position.”
I like to think of it as the ‘beats’ you feel when you are in the saddle.
For example, a trot has two distinct steps and two beats. This is what you feel when you are doing a sitting trot, and you rise on one of the beats during a posting trot. In contrast, a canter has three distinct steps but still has a two beat feel.
When you are riding at a canter, you can practice feeling this beat by counting “one-two” out loud. Or, if you are musically inclined, “Row Row Row Your Boat” works really well for learning to feel canter beats!
Pro tip—the one (or downbeat) of a stride is when your horse reaches forward with their inside leg.
When you can identify the stride beat, you can start to learn how to see jump distances. The best way to start off is just watching people’s courses! This allows you to follow along, count the strides as they go, and see if you get the correct number count between each jump.
Ask your trainer if you can audit a jump lesson. Even better, see if you can find a local show and make a day of it! I love to watch Hunter Derbies to see some really excellent horsemanship.
Now that we have established that a stride has a definite rhythm, you can begin to count them between poles. But what does that really mean? Well, jumps are set at specific distances apart, and those distances translate into strides.
Learning to count (and see) the strides will help you with riding your jump course—finding the correct number of strides means finding that perfect takeoff spot.
My favorite way to practice this concept is over poles. To practice the approach, I count down from three strides out “3,2,1—jump!” and then I count the strides between the poles to see if I can feel and count them correctly.
If you want to improve seeing a distance to a jump, you can try and start your countdown even farther back than three!
The farthest I’ve ever achieved is five strides out– but I’m still learning. I will say that this exercise really teaches you how fast an approach can be, and how important the correct approach, speed of canter, and consistency is when jumping a course.
If you are a visual learner, this video is a great resource:
Now that you know how to count a stride, it’s time to calculate them. I know… math and horses?! Seems unrelated, but I promise it is important for the safety of you and your equine partner.
The average horse stride is 12 feet, and that is the basis for measuring distances. You also must factor in that an average take off and landing from a jump is six feet each.
Therefore, a two stride jump combination would need twenty four feet to accommodate the two strides, plus another six feet for landing in and six for taking off out of the line.
When you count strides in a line, you may count land-1-2-jump. Which would accommodate the extra feet, but you aren’t actually counting them in the stride numbers.
The only exception would be a bounce jump, where there is no stride in between two jumps. The horse just lands and then immediately takes off!
Now that you have all the tools to practice counting strides, I encourage you to go and try it out! After all, practice makes progress. Start small with poles or even just counting as your canter, and then work up to counting through lines.
And remember, when in doubt— sing it out! “Row, Row, Row, Your Boat…”
P.S. Enjoy this article? Trot on over to:
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